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By Holmes Report

  • Recruitment of senior and mid-level is biggest challenge
  • Majority of firms cannibalise talent from competitors
  • Salary and skills seen as obstacles to non-traditional talent


With talent identified as the most pressing challenge facing the global PR industry, this year’s World PR Report investigated the area further, asking a number of questions to try and unravel why PR firms struggle to recruit and retain the people that they want and need.

In particular, it appears that agencies are struggling to hire senior (43.6%) and mid-level staff (41.3%). These were two biggest challenges cited when it comes to PR agency talent strategies.

Retaining key talent (33.9%) is another significant issue, ahead of training and development (25.2%). Interestingly, respondents pointed to ‘motivating young executives’ as another area of concern (20.5%), ahead of finding people from non-traditional backgrounds (20.1%) and incentivising senior staff (20.1%).

The majority of public relations agencies (62.5 percent), meanwhile, continue to look to rival firms as a premier source of new talent, and other traditional talent pools continue to be the most popular, with 41.3 percent recruiting from graduate programs, 34.1 percent recruiting from journalism, and 22.2 percent recruiting from in-house PR departments.

By contrast, just 29.7 percent of PR firms are looking to other marketing services disciplines for fresh perspectives, while 22.2 percent are seeking practitioners with a data and analytics background, and 18.8 percent are looking for new people in other professional service firms such as management consultancies or law firms.

“The first instinct of many PR agencies is to cannibalize other firms for talent, which is understandable given the need for experienced professionals,” says Holmes. “But it is encouraging to see others turning to the broader marketing and professional services world, or to data and analytics—the industry desperately needs the new skills these people can bring.”

Interestingly—and a little disturbingly—firms in developed markets were the most likely to look for talent at other agencies: 75.0 percent of firms in North America and 75.6 percent of firms in the UK. Firms in Latin America (31.2 percent) were least likely to see their immediate rivals as a leading source of new talent.
On the other hand, firms in Asia (42.4 percent) and North America (31.2 percent) were most likely to bring in people from other marketing disciplines, while firms in Latin America (31.2 percent) and Asia (30.3 percent) were most likely to consider data and analytics as a rich source of future talent.

Asked what prevented them from sourcing talent from outside the PR industry, most firms (44.2 percent) cited expected salary levels, while 37.1 percent indicated that lack of transferable skills was an obstacle and 25.5 percent complained about a lack of interest from potential recruits.

Agency leaders were less likely to cite their concerns about the investment in retraining (24.5 percent), unwillingness of challenge the status quo (20.1 percent) or recruitment consultants (6.1 percent) as major obstacles.

“The report very much echoes what we experience across the UK, European, US and Australian markets daily,” said Capstone Hill Search managing director Jamie McLaughlin. “Improving economies have shifted the primary focus of many agencies to attracting high quality talent, particularly those who reflect the broadening expectations of their clients.

“Securing talent with specialist skill sets (social, digital, measurement, analytics) is a universal and growing challenge. While specific sector experience fluctuates per geography, demand for technology expertise is prominent in all regions.

“The historic lack willingness to source talent from outside PR has compounded the general shortage of talent, although along with an increasing willingness to invest in external talent search, many are now beginning to broaden vision which we believe will assist greatly in the longer term easing of talent shortage and improved breadth of available skills.”

The World PR Report was first published in the Holmes Report  on the 15.07.2014

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