COMMENT: PLATFORM; Forget job titles to ease this PR skills shortage

PR agency hierarchy could be to blame for the recruitment problems currently experienced by the industry, says Matthew Ravden

PR agency hierarchy could be to blame for the recruitment problems

currently experienced by the industry, says Matthew Ravden

Unless I’m much mistaken, there is a quite serious skills shortage out

there right now. It also seems to be particularly acute in the

technology sector.

Agencies can make life unnecessarily difficult for themselves by having

rigid, hierarchical management structures which intimidate potential

employees and make recruitment decisions more complicated than they

should be.

Even going beyond recruitment, the traditional agency hierarchy -

account director, account manager, account executive - promotes

divisiveness and inefficiency.

Divisiveness because junior people are made to feel junior. If you’re

taught that tracking features is an ‘account exec task’, then you’ll

spend your time desperately trying to shed that mantle, gain promotion

to the next level and then dump the ‘rubbish’ onto the next unsuspecting


Similarly, if you work in an environment where account managers do most

of the media liaison, you’ll probably distance yourself from it when

you’re promoted to account director. So we have many, talented people

in the industry who have lost touch with the art of getting coverage

because it is perceived to be below their station.

Dividing up the PR function into job titles is arbitrary to say the

least. What, after all, is the difference between an account executive

and an account manager? If I were to ask 100 different agencies, I’m

sure I would get 100 different answers. Basically it doesn’t matter.

The alternative is to develop an extremely flat structure, where job

titles are de-emphasised and teamwork is paramount. That might sound

like idealistic waffle, but actually it isn’t. If you remove job titles

from business cards you discover that clients don’t actually care about

them. It means individuals are not perceived in terms of their level of

seniority and the specific role that goes with it, rather in terms of

their PR skills, personality and style.

The upshot is an agency full of all-rounders, rather than an

uncomfortable mix of specialist senior managers and specialist


The traditional PR hierarchy is not an accurate reflection of career

growth. It deals in career jumps, not career paths. It’s far healthier

and more natural to have a continuum, where there is a smooth path -

essentially tallying with experience - from the most junior to the most

senior member of a company. There will always be a pecking order, but

it’s a tacit knowledge rather than something that dictates every action.

The same fluid approach to management structures can be usefully applied

to recruitment. Again, the key is to forget about job titles. When we

recruit, it’s not so much a case of looking for account managers, so

much as simply looking for bright, ambitious, like-minded PR


Focusing recruitment on job titles means homing in on others’

definitions of an account manager, rather than the qualities you are

looking for in your own agency.

Of course, I can intellectualise all I like, but much of the success or

failure of a recruitment campaign comes down to chemistry. Our third

interviews take place at the local pub and I’m sure it is more

intimidating and nerve-racking than any formal interview process. At

the end of the day, though, people who are likely to fit in and thrive

in such an environment fall in love with us, and invariably it’s mutual.

Matthew Ravden is managing director of consumer-tech agency Bite

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