Growing your own in PR

As regards talent in the workplace, ongoing development is best, as Dr Martina Byrne writes

A HR survey for business and employer group IBEC shows that the priority for 2018 is attracting and retaining talent, along with addressing skill shortages. Globally and locally the research indicates it is the big challenge facing PR. One way to address the thorny issue is to grow your own talent by investing in continuous professional development (CPD).

But what if employers are ignoring CPD? Will they survive in PR – arguably one of the fastest moving areas in professional services? A 2016 worldwide survey of over 1,000 senior PR executives in agencies and in-house, conducted in tandem with The Holmes Report, cited the ability to recruit and retain the right talent as one of the biggest challenges in recent years.

In Ireland, a PRCA survey from two years ago reported similar concerns. In the UK, employee churn in PR is estimated to be 20 per cent. The Hays Ireland Salary & Recruiting Trends 2018 report says that outside of salary, employees are looking for positions with scope to develop their careers, but 41 per cent of respondents do not believe it exists within their employment.

Hays found that one if four of those interviewed plan to move due to the perceived lack of opportunities. Rising in tandem with the increased activity in PR, there is a buoyant recruitment market. Each week, the PRII newsletter emailed out to members advertises 10 or more job vacancies, from senior to entry level roles – in both the public and private sectors.

The positive market indicator brings with it challenges. The education credentials, experience and skills being sought by employers are not always easy to find. If the skills gap is not addressed, it could negatively impact on productivity and growth. Staff churn is also a costly issue, not only for the time and cost involved in finding and training a replacement.

Operation home talent: Firstly, make provision for an annual CPD budget as a tax-efficient way of rewarding and showing   commitment to valued employees. Two, discuss with staff what skills or knowledge they find useful. Three, make CPD discussions part of annual reviews/appraisals. And finally, encourage your staff to apply for funds from the CPD budget throughout the year. Dr Martina Byrne is pictured with PRII president Cian Connaughton.

There are also the employee morale issues associated with team changes and potential client dissatisfaction when a new manager in the agency is introduced to the account. Many client contracts identify the individuals who comprise the PR team on the account and any replacement that comes on board must, to the client’s satisfaction, be of a similar or higher calibre.

One way to overcome the issue of employee retention and recruitment, and address any skills shortage internally, is for employers to invest in the people they have already. Research shows employees are more likely to stay where they feel valued and can see career progression and employer brand is also improved by demonstrating investment in up-skilling and training.

While graduates entering the profession embrace social media and other tech skills, they may lack knowledge of PR tactics, strategic thinking, measurement and evaluation, and the business savvy to understand how professional services’ companies generate growth and profits. Increasingly, private sector clients and public bodies such as the Office of Government Procurement (OGP) are rewarding commitment to professional development in assessing potential service providers.

Last year’s RFT for the Framework for the Provision of PR/Communications for all public sector bodies awarded 10 per cent of the overall marks for evidence of key individuals’ ongoing professional development. The OGP also stipulated a requirement that agencies interested in tendering for business must submit verifiable proof of CPD with an external body like the PRII.

The overall profession also benefits from a demonstrable commitment to CPD as the primary attribute of professionalism is education. No one wants to hire a professional who relies on a decade-old degree or qualification and has not kept up-to-date with developments and best practice. The expectation of a communicator is that they are committed to ongoing education or CPD.

Recent years have seen the increasing specialisation of PR practice in areas such as public affairs, social media, internal communications, and crisis and issues management. As bodies continue to appreciate the strategic contribution the communication function makes to organisational success, those working in PR and communications equally appreciate the need to hone their skills.

The PRII tailors its CPD offering annually to match the profession’s needs to upskill and recognises the need to stay informed on changes, such as lobbying regulation and GDPR. For the individual, CPD includes reading the latest books and research to attending the annual PRII conference; from evening courses over an academic year such as the PRII diploma to one-day workshops; and from lunchtime briefings to certificates in specialist areas over four weekends. Details are on Being up to date is vital to ensure PR professionals stay relevant and ahead of trends. There is no alternative.

Dr Martina Byrne is chief executive of the Public Relations Institute of Ireland (PRII) and the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA)








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