“You just can’t get the staff…” says ICCO

Earlier this year in Barcelona, the International Communications Consultants ICCO LogoOrganisation (ICCO) revealed its latest state of the industry report. This is now available in full online here.

The number one challenge identified was managing personnel – not just the ongoing saga of trying to find the right people; but also a worrying trend that potentially earmarks PR teams as being overstaffed and inefficient.

“Overcapacity across industries coupled with a shortage in human capital – in short, an enormous staffing problem. According to {our} survey, this is not just a problem but the
number one problem for PR consultancies. Simultaneously, it represents a public relations challenge for organisations downsizing their personnel while trying to attract and retain the right talent.”

“In line with the preceding discussion and as in previous years, the “talent” issue is one of the most pressing concerns for
PR. Consultancy heads worry about first attracting people with the right mix of skills and experience and then retaining them
over time. General business and analytical skills are increasingly
important to find but especially hard to come by at the right price.”

Source: ICCO World Report 2012

Staffing is a nightmare. There is nothing worse than when your best staffer, or your favourite consultant resigns. It’s why so many companies shift agencies, and I suspect more would do so if their procurement systems allowed.


Barcelona skyline – Stephen King

I think there are a few necessary steps to be taken by the industry as a whole to rectify this situation.

1. No more ‘Them & Us’ 

Recruitment and staffing is a mutual responsibility – it’s not just the agency’s job to magically identify and provision their client with the best talent on the market. It is possible, that the reason the client finds difficulty hiring quality people is also hindering the agency and forcing them to field a weakened squad. A good employment track record and respect of people is therefore a joint goal to promote that will encourage and fuel the success of the department.

At the end of the day, both ‘sides’ (which no-longer exist in this argument) have the same goal – to provide exceptional service to the company’s shareholders. It should therefore be at the top of the communications team’s agenda to discuss how they can make this account the strongest and best staffed and to potentially include some good HR people to advise.

2. Make young people work

My first job was at a London agency close to Westminster. It was hell. I was 19 just graduated from university and was required to be in their central London office by 7:30 to fill the photocopiers, dust the plants and ensure that the bread and milk was ready for the account team’s breakfast. I was then tasked with simultaneously working front desk (reception), tracking and preparing media reports, drafting releases and selling front page ‘news’.

Eventually we would be allowed home to reach by 8pm when we were expected to revise the names of the publishers, editors and reporters of practically every UK newspaper and magazine off by heart.

When I sat with the company’s MD in the early days, he was always very transparent. “You are young, you add little value today, so work hard and eventually you will contribute” – are words that I remember till today.

It was hell back then, now I look back and think that is what made me and without this experience I couldn’t have achieved half of what I have today.

At the time this company was a small agency and growing rapidly – it is now one of the largest independent PR agencies in the world.

I stuck it for a year – I probably would have liked to stay longer, but I couldn’t stay the pace. To my credit I remember there were at least a hundred others didn’t stay that long. But there were some who continued and made it work, and today you can find them working in very senior roles at major agencies across London and around the world.

3. Share the spoils

The CEO comes in and informs his staff proudly – ‘We have just won a new client’. Always the worst thing that any PR account manager or executive can hear. It means more work, more stress and marginally more security.

Agencies have historically failed to share the wealth (which has been made worse by the trend of selling PR agencies to stock-market listed advertising conglomerates) and when the gap between the richest and poorest becomes too large, then you will shed staff – good staff probably.

Again, a former employer of mine had the right balance. Every three months there was a pay review, every three months there were crazy and creative bonuses and every three months there was a party. They offered prizes for top performers including holidays, a loan of the boss’s car for a weekend and always the promise of that elusive diamond of ‘partnership’.

All staff were invited to these events – that is if you had performed and were still there as it wasn’t just the new starters that were put through their paces. Senior staff were also expected to operate to the same Kilimanjaro standards.

It really helped you to stay in touch with ‘reality’ – it was ‘work hard-play hard’ defined. And just like climbing the highest mountain, the view from the top was amazing and any challenge faced since has been a foothill by comparison.

Can you imagine the same kind of incentive and work ethic being promoted in your agency or team structure?


About stephenking2012

In 2012 I volunteered to hold the position of Chair - Standards & Ethics Committee for the Middle East PR Association (@MEPRA_org). I have set up this account to assist in this effort. You may also like to follow my Blog or connect with me on LinkedIn. In any case, please do visit www.mepra.org, and if you are not yet a member, please do sign up!
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s