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Having recently been through a major recruitment drive, I wanted to share what a positive experience it was. However, it was disappointing to hear how many PR agencies are still letting employees down with rigid, inflexible structures.

Posted on Thu 5th Sep, 2019 in: Appointments, Culture, Industry Comment, Jobs, Public Relations, Recruitment by Tim Downs

Any agency head will tell you that recruiting new members for your team can be one of the most time consuming and sometimes frustrating tasks that come with running a consultancy.

It’s especially important when you are a relatively small team and the impact of that new person can be significant. To date at Aberfield we have been very lucky and we pride ourselves on taking the time to find just the right people. Particularly as we don’t use the traditional agency structure of execs, managers, ADs etc and the various junior and senior titles that sit in that model (but more on that antiquated approach later), which not every applicant can get their head around.

We have recently recruited three roles from more junior to senior and, having finally filled them, I can report that this has been a hugely positive experience.

From the greenest of grads to the most experienced account leads, we have seen some fantastic candidates, talented, thoughtful and with bags of potential and passion for the industry.

What’s been refreshing is their openness to discuss what they are looking for in a role and what we are looking for in candidates and, to honestly appraise together if it’s the right fit.

Sadly, while the reasons for them looking for a new role have varied, there have also been a couple of common threads, and this is where I come back to the old way of structuring accounts and teams.

Too often I heard the phrase there is “nowhere for me to go” in their current agency or that they can’t progress because someone has to leave to allow them to step up. Frankly this is just an excuse used by agencies not to promote and pay people more. There is no barrier to promotion, it’s entirely invented. Who says there is a limit to the number of managers etc that you can have?   

The other common thread was about achieving a better work life balance. Apparently starting early and working late is still the norm rather than the exception at some agencies. I’ve never understood this. Clients pay you to get work done in work hours, if you’re going beyond this, you’re working for free! Something somewhere, either in your approach, pricing or the scope of work agreed has been cocked up.

At Aberfield we started out with only two real roles, consultant and senior consultant. The reasons for this are that we believed the traditional model limits opportunities, in some cases builds an unhealthy level of internal competition and some clients can get a bit hung up on seniority. As far as we’re concerned if you have the ability and want the responsibility, the opportunity should be there to for you work at the level that is required, not what your job title dictates.  

When we (and I mean the whole team) agreed a five-year plan for the business, one area we placed a huge focus on was trying to build a new career model in PR that moves us even further away from that traditional structure.

Too often progress is linked to a set list of responsibilities, often dictated by role. Not everyone is able to master some of those skills or just don’t enjoy them and can suddenly find their progress halted, despite being brilliant at other aspects of their job.   

We’ve said its fine to specialise and focus on core skills and still progress in terms of pay and responsibility, and if you’d like to develop in other non-traditional routes we’ll look to support that if we can see a value to the business. 

What we’re seeing is that this approach seems to be more in tune with what many of today’s candidates are wanting from a role. We understand it’s not for everyone and some people want that more structured environment, but it works for us and our clients.

One last point I’d like to make as we wait for our new team members to start. I’d like to take a second to thank some of the recruiters we’ve been working with.

Everyone seems to have a horror story about when recruiters have got it wrong, but the small group we’ve been working with have been diligent, understood our needs and sent through strong candidates. They’ve also been the first to flag when they’ve seen some warning signs from candidates they were unsure about. These relationships are really valued.

But from what we’ve seen, the next generation of PR talent coming through are incredibly switched on, realistic about their expectations, mature in their outlook and selective about where they want to work. We’ve just got to make sure that we give them the right kind of agency environment to help them flourish.

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