BUY ME A PIZZA, OR THE ACCOUNT GETS IT!
12th July, 2007
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There has been much furore in the financial press recently about the need for big businesses to fire their worst performing staff on an annual basis. This may well be true and indeed it works for General Electric, the most outspoken advocate of the policy in the press of late. However, I’ve never run a big business – I’ve only run comparatively small PR agencies. The one thing I’ve learnt in doing so is that if you could keep every member of staff forever, your client turnover would be very low.
However, it seems that a lot of agencies do precisely the reverse. My experience is that a PR agency losing only ten per cent of its staff a year is doing incredibly well. Rather than keeping staff, many firms allow them to leave at a rate of knots.
“Attrition rates in PR vary, for a number of reasons,” explained Steve Mallison-Jones, managing director of executive and PR recruitment consultants Indigo Red. “The higher up the tree an individual goes the more likely it is that they are tied in with equity, offers of partnership and hefty pay outs should the agency be sold out to one of the bigger groups, which encourages loyalty. In a female dominated industry, there are often some other factors which encourage staff retention. The opportunity of flexi-time and part time working encourages mothers to return to work and stay loyal to their firm,” he continued.
“The most commonly quoted reasons we hear for why a candidate wants to leave their current jobs are; a new challenge, a better work life balance, and the opportunity to freelance. There is also a trend of a “quarter life crisis” where 25-30 year olds want to make a difference and a better world, so are tempted by opportunities which allow them the freedom to achieve more philanthropic aims,” went on Mallison-Jones.
In previous roles I have seen agency management teams heave a sigh of relief when employees perceived to be ineffective have resigned. I’ve even done it myself! However, those same people are then shocked when clients follow the individual out of the door.
On the subject of clients following staff, Mallison-Jones had this to say; “You can never guarantee someone can bring business with them. However, as a recruiter I always say to candidates that they will be surprised which accounts don’t follow them to a new job. Of course it does happen – some accounts do follow. If a candidate says they can bring business to a new job I always try to ask some probing questions regarding contractual obligations and so on. It’s only when you are effectively employing a one man band or small agency that you can guarantee they will bring accounts,” he continued.
The crux of the issue is listening to the client and finding out what they actually value in the agency staff they work with. It’s a safe bet that many of the things we all value would be near the top of the list. Attention to detail, creativity, writing skills and contacts are sure to be in there somewhere. However, the relationship they have built up with their account manager may well be top of the list, presuming they are happy with the agency.
I’ve known clients follow staff out of an agency because the old account handler used to send them a birthday card on their birthday - and always bought the card from their favourite football club’s shop. I’ve known clients follow staff out of an agency because the old account handler used to take them to the all you can eat buffet at Pizza Hut after every meeting.
These are humorous examples but there is an ounce of truth in them. In both cases they left because the staff member that understood their motivations also left. From the agency perspective, in both cases, the staff member was failing in certain key areas. But as far as the client was concerned, they were all that was required.
In both instances, and in many others, I was against losing the account manager. One left for more money elsewhere and the other was fired. The agency lost two to three times their annual salary in fees over the next couple of months and more in the long run. So, no matter what the financial press says, I’m in favour of keeping staff wherever possible – they may well surprise you.