‘Hot Sellers Market’ for Public Relations Talent

My random check in last week with 12 agencies – big and small – confirm the urgency of “Help Wanted” pleas on job boards and social media pages: The PR job market is hot.

While one major agency confirmed more than 200 job searches underway, the owner of a small 20-person firm said she is actively hunting for three new staffers after picking up several new client assignments.

These are boom times for job hunters as confirmed by a 2021 graduate who called me last week about the happy dilemma she’s facing – second interviews with three agencies and a major corporation. She’s delaying giving a response to the one that made a quick offer until she hears from the others. In the real estate world, this would be described as a “sellers market.”

When the year began, the National Association of Colleges and Employers projected a 7.2% increase in new jobs for college graduates. Unless the pandemic worsens or we hit an unforeseen economic hiccup, new PR hiring should well exceed that number by the end of the year and into 2022.

New Clients, Assignments and Turnover Drive Hiring Surge

All agencies surveyed said they have picked up new clients and additional assignments from existing clients that require new hiring. And a couple admitted to “over downsizing” during the first wave of COVID-19. Their recruiting efforts are made more urgent by increasing turnover of existing employees, many of whom are being actively recruited by other firms. Many existing employees have joined HR in attempting to recruit talent in order to alleviate their own increasing workloads.

“Seems like we lose two employees for each one we hire these days,” said one frustrated HR manager.  “To curb that trend, we’re showing our love by making schedules flexible and adjusting salaries. . . .We’re directly and transparently tying agency success, to employee success.”

Some agencies have moved back to offices, but others continue to postpone full return until pandemic concerns are better addressed. “Assuming we ever return to ‘normal,’ we’ll never be back to a 5-day office routine,” said one agency executive, who also noted that some key employees moved out of the area during the pandemic and don’t want to move back. “So, we’re letting them know they can work from wherever in the world they might be.”

Intern Hiring Up, But Experience Rules

While internship openings have jumped significantly this year, most agency desperation for talent currently is focused on talent with three to five years of experience. Experienced entry-level pros currently are in higher demand than interns as agencies race to keep up with added client assignments. “We’ve switched from creating a pool of interns to needing an ocean of experienced talent,” said one large agency recruiter, who said agencies today need “experienced talent ready to hit the ground running. Once we fill those positions, we’ll hopefully have time to hire and train interns and entry-level talent so we might avoid this problem in the future.”

Although internships at the top agencies remain quite competitive, other smaller agencies aren’t afraid to compete where it counts – raising salaries. While the going rate of internships for the past several years has inched up from $12 to $15 an hour, many firms today are reporting internship starting salaries between $19 and $22 an hour. One suburban Chicago corporation without access to public transportation recently hired interns at $30 an hour since employees need a car or a significant Uber account. .

Recruiting, training and maintaining talent will become the siren call of agencies and corporations for the unforeseeable future. Focusing on making current jobs more appealing will be the only way firms can counter recent surveys indicating that 55% of workers would like to quit their jobs.

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