Golin London MD Bibi Hilton told PRWeek's podcast that although the industry has made positive steps forward, she believes some agencies aren't genuine with how they design flexible roles.
"Now large organisations advertise their roles as open to flexible terms and say that they do flexible working, but in some cases it has become a box-ticking exercise," she said.
"We've embraced the concept of flexible working and many places are doing it, but we have got to think about how we transform the industry and our businesses.
"We need to think about job design so we are really adapting and changing the whole culture around flexible working and it's not just the minority over here doing job shares or four-day weeks."
Hilton was joined by on the podcast by host and PRWeek editor John Harrington, The PR Network co-founder George Blizzard, Radioactive PR founder and director Rich Leigh, and Sesame founder and MD Emily Buckland.
Blizzard said the industry has to shift its attitudes toward men engaging in flexible working, particularly around the age when people have children.
She said that while progress in the industry has been positive, there are still stigmas attached to fathers, rather than mothers, working flexibly to look after their children. The PR Network, which Blizzard founded with Nicky Regazzoni, operates as a ‘virtual agency’.
The 'f' word
Recruitment agency Sesame specialises in finding PR professionals work. Founder and MD Buckland agreed with Blizzard and said that the "f" word is talked about in her office quite a bit, although she sees "pockets of brilliance" in smaller start-up agencies, where it is easier to "create your own rules and adapt".
"It's slightly more difficult if you are a big global agency," she said. "It's not to say that there aren't big global agencies out there embracing and doing things differently, and we see it more if there is a role that can be a contract role and the global agency is a bit more willing to be flexible with set-up."
However, Buckland said that her "heart just sinks" when she comes across "brilliant talent" who wants a three-day role, such as younger professional who may want flexibility to embrace a "side hustle".
"Ultimately, I know that at associate director and down, to get a three-day, meaty job to get your teeth into is still pretty tough at the bigger agencies."
Radioactive PR has hard-baked flexibility into the way it operates by rolling out a four-day working week for all staff.
Founder and director Rich Leigh said he decided to implement the four-day week in 2018 because his agency was small enough to do so and adapt the working culture.
"We've been doing it for about 18 months," he said. After making the change, "we grew turnover 70 per cent and net margin stayed roughly the same. The number of sick days halved and CVs we received per job role advertised doubled."
Hilton added: "The point around delivering output (rather than hours) is at the core of this flexible-working discussion."
But what do clients think?
Listen to the podcast to find out more about how Radioactive PR, Golin and The PR Network go about flexible working, whether they receive any client push-back, and what they think the industry needs to do to evolve flexible-working practices.