Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

Stemming Turnover in Public Relations Firms

Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

Stemming Turnover in Public Relations Firms

Article excerpt


STAFF turnover is a fact of life. People change; so do companies. Some degree of turnover will be with us always--and can even be a positive force in a company.

But few sectors in any industry in our vast economy have as many "revolving door" companies as does the firm or agency side of the public relations field.

When you consider that the main asset a public relations firm has to offer to clients is its people and their talent and experience, you would think it unusual for firms to experience annual turnover of 30 to 40 percent. Yet, among the 25 largest firms in the country, such figures are not uncommon. In fact, I've worked with large firms whose turnover rates were as high as 50 percent.

The costs of such turnover to these firms is staggering. Some incur annual costs of uto $300,000 for recruitment alone--and this is just the tip of the treacherous turnover iceberg. Even more debilitating, over the long term, are the enormous "hidden" costs, including training, loss of productivity, and the inevitable damage to a firm's overall morale and client stability.

Muchas been said about why firm practitioners change jobs with such alarming frequency. Most managers have heard job candidates voice all of the standard reasons over the years: "we lost an account"; "no upward mobility"; "personality conflict"; "I'm a generalist, but they wanted a specialist"; "I'm a specialist, but they wanted a generalist," and so on. Any and all of these reasons are probably true, on a case-by-case basis. But as a group, they are merely symptomatic of the real cause of the continual flux of practitioners at all levels within the firm segment.

Based on years of experience as a practitioner, a firm human relations manager, and a consultant and recruiter for the public relations field, I'm convinced that a failure on the part of both firm management and the individual practitioner to address career planning is what really drives the turnover treadmill.

This lack of proper, systematized attention to career paths manifests itself not only in high turnover, but in a great deal of reactive hiring on the part of firms. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that most firm hiring is reactive. An account supervisor resigns, a major account is in jeopardy, and the scramble is on to find a replacement with appropriate experience in that type of account to fill the bill and satisfy the client.

So, in addition to the questions of why employees switch from firm to firm, there is the very much related, but less frequently posed, question of why firms are so often unprepared to have existing staff members take over these jobs.

From the firm side, I believe that the turnover/reactive hiring quagmire results from a combination of inadequately defined and communicated organizational structures and short-sighted recruitment, interviewing, and employee evaluation techniques.

While a thorough treatment of all of these areas could easily fill a book or two, an overview of the dynamics at work begins to reveal the kinds of ongoing planning and systems that could help alleviate these serious personnel problems.

What's the game plan?

While senior management at larger firms likes to talk about strategic planning, long-term staffing and succession concerns and ways for prospective and current employees to map out their own career paths within the firm are seldom addressed in formulating business plans and organizational structures. If these issues are addressed, it is only in regard to the most senior people; the process rarely filters down to all account levels.

While firms may have a clear strategy for the number and types of clients they plan to have a few years down the road, the strategic personnel questions that ought to be an integral part of any business plan are most often by-passed: . Where will overall agency staffing needs be in the next two to five years? …

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