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Why measurement and evaluation is the secret to tackling PR’s persistent skills gap

A fresh perspective on recruitment, selection and training in the world of Public Relations and Communications.

29 March 2021 by

As with so many industries, PR has a skills problem. Industry leaders tell us time and again that this fast-paced sector attracts great talent at an entry level, but that staff turnover is high and there is an exodus from the industry at a senior level.

To tackle the issue, many organizations invest heavily in training and development, with the ambition of keeping PR professionals engaged and learning. Others focus on well-being programs, keen to address burn-out and ensure staff are able to enjoy a healthy work-life balance. Some offer opportunities for a more diverse working life, whether that’s ‘job swaps’ with international colleagues or opportunities to strengthen their skills in other marketing disciplines.

But for Francis Ingham, Director General of the PRCA, and Richard Bagnall, CEO of CARMA, the answer lies elsewhere. As part of our interview with the pair last week (first instalment here), they suggested that the key to keeping staff motivated and engaged is in helping them to understand that the work they do has demonstrable value and is recognized throughout the organization.

“It’s an overlooked element of recruitment and staff retention” says Francis, “but such an important one. If agencies and in-house teams can prove the value of the work they’re doing, it stands to reason that they can charge appropriately for their work. And with more money in the business, they can better reward their employees.”

“Of course, salary only plays a small part of employee satisfaction” continues Francis. “We know that the single biggest influence on staff is their line manager – and if managers are able show their teams that they’re making valuable contributions to the business, this is a huge step forward in improving wellbeing and addressing skills shortages.”

Richard agrees. For employees to remain motivated and engaged, he says, they must be able to see the impact and the value of the work they’re doing.

“It’s here where measurement, particularly media intelligence, is critical.” Richard continues “PR campaigns which are activity-led, rather than results-led, not only fail to deliver what they’re supposed to, but aren’t satisfying to work on. Budgets are secured and staff are motivated when programmes have a demonstrable outcome, which can be mapped against strategic business objectives. Important and impactful work is rewarding work – and means our industry keeps its skilled employees.”

“Nobody wants to work in an environment where their contribution isn’t known or recognised – and this holds true right throughout an individual’s career” confirms Francis. ‘Whether it’s an account executive seeing that the products they send out are really moving the needle in terms of brand sentiment – or a senior director able to prove that PR is really worth the budget investment – knowing that you’re making an impact is vitally important.”

The positive news is that PR professionals are getting better at measurement across the board. “Year on year, we’re seeing more and more desire to understand and embrace credible, meaningful measurement” confirms Richard. ”Increasingly, both in-house and agency teams are steering away from vanity metrics: those big numbers which show activity but not impact, towards a more nuanced and insightful approach.”

“Of course, everyone’s on a journey, and even within more mature markets there are still outliers” he continues. “But we’re in an age of accountability like never before, with finance departments scrutinizing budgets carefully. So, those companies who are lagging behind, and who are still just looking at activity based performance measurement, are now in real danger of being seen as a cost center rather than a value creator – and therefore expendable.’

Importantly, say the pair, partnerships like the recent one between CARMA, ICCO and the PRCA will move measurement even further up the industry’s agenda, demonstrating that it’s the most impactful way to prove the value of the work we do (and protect against budget cuts).

We also spoke to Richard and Francis about student life, and how the industry needs to better collaborate with academia to ensure PR graduates are ready to hit the ground running. More on that next time.

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