Why talent remains elusive for the PR industry

The media landscape is changing. That’s a fact. And if that’s the case then PR has metamorphosed. Quite frankly, we have moved from days of distributing news releases and media packs to media via fax or post. It’s even unthinkable to transmit images on a reversal film or video on compact disks. Similarly, it would almost be unforgivable to still measure column inches with a ruler to establish the corresponding advertising value. It appears a tad tiresome and protracted, but this was the situation (a few years back).

Presently, PR activities are not singular entities bearing their individual fixed goals, stratagems and objectives. Successful PR ought to be incorporated into marketing campaigns while touching on both social media and online content to offer a joint system of attaining concrete business results that can be measured and assessed. As a result of the digital media uprising, publishing of stories is almost instantaneous, giving audiences up-to date news and a chance for media executives to certify that their client’s material is striking audiences quicker and effectively.

While this transformational outlook looks good, there’s concern that the industry is not adjusting fast enough to the new media landscape. Worse still, there isn’t adequate talent to necessitate growth of brands and agencies. A spot check across local PR agencies reveals that the industry is still prioritizing traditional PR skills, such as writing, strategic planning and verbal communication skills over the newer digital skills needed today. These findings are further bolstered by a global landmark survey conducted recently.

The research, spearheaded by USC Annenberg Centre for Public relations in partnership with the Holmes Report, reached out to more than 1,000 senior public relations senior executives. One of the main reasons given from the report on why talent remains a hurdle is because both clients and agencies continue to lay emphasis on traditional sources of talent. For example in-house leaders prefer recruiting from in-house departments, followed by PR agencies and news media, in that order.

Agencies on their part would rather poach talent from their competitors. Yet, they would readily be more open than their client-side equals, to channel their recruiting efforts in unconventional segments such as research and analytics, advertising and marketing and other specialized services such as law and management consulting.

Analysts referenced in the report argue that the industry cannot scratch and bandage itself in the name of filling its talent gaps. They further argue that the tendency to draw fresh talent from their competitors and in-house communication departments is a risky endeavor, this at a time when new forms of thought and skillset are required.

Oliver Magara, a local communications consultant and researcher shares the same sentiments noting, “The present industry model undermines the impulse required to advance the profession. As a remedy the industry must streamline itself by shifting from a hierarchy of generalists to communities of specialists- such as predictive analysts, content producers and media buyers.”

The thoughts proposed are ideal but they present other practical challenges. For instance, how can senior executives manage the overlap of “generalists to specialists? Similarly, how will senior executives develop and create opportunities for Gen Y/Millennials within this new model? On this Mr. Magara suggests “Generalists need to embrace the opportunity to pursue alternatives that are geared towards developing specialist skills.

He goes on to add that agencies need to explore supplementary ways of coaching millennials outside the parameters of key PR talents. “A proactive methodology is required to assimilate and retain millennials. This can be done through offering on the job training that incorporates added skills such as competence training and interpersonal abilities–as opposed to the common PR skills.”

In sum and as espoused, talent is a major drawback for the industry. Therefore, the industry requires a real and deliberate intervention in trying to navigate the same-as talent will not create itself. This will mean seeking ways to rally together to advance this pipeline and tackle it in a meaningful and sustainable manner.

Featured Image Credit: Rock Center

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