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Talent Challenge: The PR Industry As An Employer Of Choice

The world of PR and advertising is nothing short of competitive. With more and more graduates entering the industry, the acquisition of a job within an established agency is highly sought after. The PR industry offers exciting and challenging opportunities for ambitious job seekers keen to carve out a career in this dynamic and exciting sphere of business. Speaking at the inaugural African edition of the In2 Innovation Summit, Joanna Oosthuizen, National Managing Director, Ogilvy Public Relations South Africa and a member of the Ogilvy PR Worldwide Exco, joined a panel of industry experts to discuss the changing needs within the PR industry, the skills required from PR professionals in meeting these needs and the concept of attracting the right kind of talent to navigate this multi-faceted and flexible discipline.

Defining the future of PR is all about collective engagement, bringing agency and corporate professionals under one roof to give insights into issues and practices that affect our industry. Sitting down as one third of a panel discussion which included Kate Johns, Senior Media and Public Relations Specialist at Standard Bank and Mich Atagana, Head of Communications and Public Affairs, South Africa at Google, presented an opportunity to delve into the talent challenge facing PR industry and to share best practices move our industry ahead of the curve.

One of the interesting outcomes of being a part of the ever-changing PR industry on the boundary of academia and practice, is the often asked question relating to finding PR talent. There are a number of factors that one can narrate to the challenge which the expanding PR industry faces in respect of demand for talented junior and mid-career professionals. On the one hand, there is a misconception that anyone can work in PR – but on the other, the industry has a shortage of those who have the communications competencies that are the mark of an effective PR professional. As the war on talent continues to rage, key trends to look out for include:

Ensuring a future fit skills set – hiring professional skills of the future of PR beyond a press release:

The skills defining the future of the communications professional rests on the ability to be an all-rounder, this encompasses the ability to get the basics right. To be successful, professionals need excellent writing skills to be able to write a range of content; good contacts from a media, influencer and stakeholder perspective.

The ability to understand other disciplines in relation to our business also puts professionals in good stead to come up with new ways of engaging with brands and approaching new clients. More than this, the right skills for the future include a deep grasp of content, social media and technology. In some more extreme cases its about a T-Shaped hiring model which looks for deep expertise in the client sector and an aptitude (and attitude) to learn the rest in terms of pure play communications. 

Seeking out those who are nimble and resilient – The best of both as we seek to model an environment built on a combination of “specialist” and “generalist”, those able to move beyond just PR in how they consult with clients and client leadership

The expansion of the industry sees the traditional agency model being redefined. This calls for a mix of generalists and specialists to ensure agency success. Once upon a time it was common wisdom that you had to be a specialist to climb the communications career ladder however the changing PR landscape sees generalist with specialist skills becoming more relevant to the industry.

Within the agency realm, the ideal approach for agencies is at best a blend of generalists and specialists. Generalist still play an important role in integration. Our clients look for well-rounded services and it is usually the generalists who are able to give a 360 degree perspective. Due to the specification of their skills and the importance thereof, generalists are still able to pursue alternatives of developing specialist skills. When it comes to certain types of PR and engagement, there is still a deep need for specialists. What we continue to witness is the requirement for more senior consultants to have an ability to understand and interpret clients’ business problems – whether it be PR, ATL, digital or social – and identify a course of action to address these. Future communicators, while moving into a more senior positions, will still require these type of skills in order to survive in our business. 

Attitude and culture win over pure functional ability – Hiring for your team is more than a transactional relationship

When looking at team dynamics, each area of business – agency and corporate – has different types of team requirements. While Kate Johns highlighted that her line of business requires a Content Director that can manage content across all their platforms in South Africa and in Africa, Mich Atagana noted that her team structure necessitates working through an agency. While there will always be a need for old school PR, more and more clients are asking us as an industry to understand their business and in doing this, to provide them with content to transform their brands.

PR today and in the future is about changing the behaviour of consumers and we have to provide clients with more creative ways of presenting content to different audiences if public relations is to move into – and flourish in – the 21st century. This is an evolution of skills in a PR agency, and talks not just to the change in work bring demanded from our industry but also to the skills agencies are needing to invest in to evolve ahead of the curve.

Quality is our collective responsibility in closing the talent skills gap – Finding new talent: supply vs. demand is a real challenge and requires efforts to build and grow skills at a grass roots level

By any measure, PR has come of age but there remains one major qualification and that is having enough trained people to meet the expanding demand for PR practice. From both ends of the business spectrum, the biggest challenge facing the industry currently is that supply is not meeting demand at all. The massive need for agencies and corporates to spend money on attracting PR professionals is not only becoming more apparent, but also becoming more urgent.

This is further evidenced by comments from the other panellists who noted that it has become increasingly difficult to find the right people with the right skills. As a business that is always looking to retain the best of breed to join our burgeoning PR teams, our talent is rightly sought out from reputable academic institution, via social media networks/channels and through word of mouth. This requires a real and deliberate intervention as an industry on how we find and grow future skills (those will lead our industry in the future) as well as how we provide opportunities to meet the demands of our sector for those already in our space. Talent will not create itself, and we need to seek ways to come together to develop this pipeline and gear it in a way that has a meaningful and sustainable impact on our collective industry well into the future.

Changing from the top means leading from the top – creating opportunities for Gen Y/Millennial executives is key

As a business, we have developed a strong reputation as the name synonymous with growth, a reputation earned through the efforts of our talented team. We take pride in our team members who work together to exceed professional goals, both individually and collectively. In our efforts to retain and develop millennial executives, we appreciate the need to develop their career paths and incentivise them accordingly to ensure that they are constantly engaged with the clients that they work on. A more engaged approached is needed to retain millennials. This includes offering on the job training that includes more than just the skills need for PR, such as professionalism training and emotional intelligence.

We are innovating in our own business to meet the demand from a new generation of our team. It is our responsibility to create and environment where they see a future and where their growth is real.

Looking at our contribution to the industry overall, as agencies we need to invest more in in-house training and have much more deliberate plans of finding and growing our people. Moreover, there is a big need for us to invest in employee value propositions.

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