The changing communications industry brings new challenges when it comes to recruiting top talent
We hosted a roundtable event recently with the PRCA and leading in-house communications experts to find out how the changing communications industry and what the future holds. It was a great opportunity to explore the direction the industry is heading in from the people who are right at the coalface. We discussed everything from what businesses need to do to find and attract the best talent, to what communications professionals need to do to get a seat on the board. This is what we learned...
Technology is changing how we work, but at what expense?
Expectations around how we work are changing, and technology is the primary enabler. However, technology can be a double-edged sword. The new intake of ‘digital native’ workers needs to work harder at developing basic skills. According to one senior comms expert: “It’s a given that young people know how to use tech, but they sometimes hide behind it. The biggest area that we spend money on is media training, presentation training and getting our employees to develop those skills they need to be able to talk to people.” Technology, in that case, is an opportunity but it must be coupled with fundamental skills. Tech skills are redundant if employees are not also capable of performing well at meetings while advocating on behalf of their organisation. Of course, technology makes life easier for communications professionals in many ways, but there is no substitute for getting out there and ‘pressing the flesh’. One guest explained that while 20 years ago, a call to the investment editor of the Financial Times would have garnered a less-than-friendly response, after 20 years of relationship building, the journalist will now amiably ask him what story he has. As ever in the communications industry, it’s not just about getting out a press release or collateral, it’s about forming real relationships with people too.
Good salaries are not the only way to attract talent
Attracting and retaining talent is an ongoing challenge and one that came up repeatedly throughout our discussion. What’s the right way to find the best communications professionals and keep them with you? Contrary to popular belief, it’s about so much more than salary and perks. One of the key things that will keep and attract people isn’t their pension or salary, it’s about training and career progression. If your business is at the forefront of your industry, putting people on paths to success, you’re much more likely to find and hold on to the best talent. So often, when we’re talking to people who are looking to change jobs, their main complaint is that they’ve hit a plateau. If businesses can crack these issues, they’re more likely to keep people in organisations long term.
PR needs a re-brand
PR suffers from a reputation crisis itself. Absolutely Fabulous still haunts the industry. Much more needs to be done to present PR as a ‘consultancy’-led profession and a management profession – a place where strategic thinkers can thrive. The name ‘PR’ doesn’t quite cover the breadth of what specialists in this field are doing, so much so, that Steve Miller, Memberships and Partnerships Director of the PRCA explained that it was likely that his organisation may soon change its name to include the more encompassing phrase ‘communications’. ‘Reputation management’ is another potentially problematic descriptor. Mario Ambrosi, Head of Communications and Public Affairs at care home operator Anchor Trust explained: “We can have a significant impact on reputations, but actually it’s the people who do the day-to-day jobs in a service organisation who really affect how the public sees them, especially in a care home environment. We just mop up. As a sector, I think we need to be really careful that we don’t over-promise.”
Communications representation at the top
It was widely agreed amongst our group that communications specialists are under-represented at board level, and that the best way to ensure that they are are capable of taking a place at the top level was to gain a good understanding of a variety of specialisms. The under-representation does, however, seem to be improving. Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of the Airport Operators Association, said that he felt there was much more buy-in on communications from senior management than in the past, saying “chief execs value communications far more than 20 years ago. They realise that gaining customers isn’t just about taking off and landing, you need to communicate with passengers too. “As long as communications professionals are able to sell themselves into senior management, they should value your support.”
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