Dorothy Crenshaw June 30, 2010 | 09:13:42
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Is There A Cure For PR’s Entry-Level Turnover?

Bob Pickard’s recent post about junior-level turnover got me thinking. Bob, who is President & CEO of Burson Marsteller’s Asia Pacific region, challenges the agency mindset that we should accept churn at the entry level. His view is that we’re losing out if we don’t try harder to accommodate new talent.

The recession has helped keep some in their cubicles, but expectations of longevity among junior hires are minimal. There was an account support position at my old firm that was like a jinxed storefront location…you know, that street corner where nothing seems to stick. Despite best efforts to manage expectations and train well, no one seemed to stay past a year. We got smart and promoted anyone who showed real promise out of the position before they could bolt, which helped with staff retention. Yet the position was always in flux.

Some blame it on Millennial-generation entitlement. I’ve chalked it up lots of things…poor hiring choices, excessive administrative work, and the idealism of youth. But, should we really accept entry-level churn? A certain degree of shaking out is normal, even desirable. No one wants to invest in a staffer who’s not suited for agency work, or PR in general. But, don’t we have a responsibility to try to keep promising young people in the industry, if not the firm?

After all, today’s generation of college grads are far more focused and knowledgeable about PR than in my day, and there are many more excellent communications programs to prepare them. If you buy the negative Millennial stereotype, then you have to also consider its flipside – that of a connected, hypersocial digital native. In other words, qualities that figure prominently in PR’s future.

Many firms have set up trainings, apprenticeships, and mentoring programs to help transition new hires. Those help. They also need frequent check-ins, and open dialogue – something that we in…yes, communications – are sometimes sadly lacking. (One researcher even recommends a videogame-inspired structure of frequent feedback and incremental rewards.)

But if the results of my straw poll is to be believed, the most important lesson may be what we learned with our cursed support spot. Entry-level professionals need to see the daylight, and be able to move into it quickly. Among other things, they need a roadmap.

Working in PR can be difficult, with long hours and many masters to serve. For new PR practitioners or trainees, those aspects are exaggerated, and the contrast between what’s learned in school and the reality of the daily agency grind is sharp. As a recent IPR study points out, those who thrive on the agency side do so because they enjoy the challenge and opportunity for advancement. If we can balance those aspects, perhaps we won’t have to rely on a bad economy to fight the entry-level revolving door.

13 thoughts on “Is There A Cure For PR’s Entry-Level Turnover?

  1. Great post! I think your point about advancement is correct. There’s a feeling that you need to move around in order to advance your career. And there’s a “peer effect” – everyone shares salary info, and if you’re not jumping, you feel left out!

  2. I think entry-level staff may be suffering from cognitive dissonance as well as suffering in a position where they’re not being challenged.
    The cognitive dissonance from learning how to be ethical creative and idealistic and then finding out that real world PR requires that you do a lot of the stuff you criticised in class.
    Fair enough not everyone with a PR egree is going to stay in the profession, and some of the industry’s best came from elsewhere. I think companies need to revisit their internship programmes, the administrative work needs to be balanced with some real, albiet low-level PR functions. Give the juniors an opportunity to add some value to your agency by listening to their ideas, and take stock of insecure superiors. Some promising young hopefulls have been stifled by higher-up intimidated by their light.

    1. You make some valid points, Soyini. I’ve thought that in some ways, interns have a better situation than entry-level hires at many PR firms, because we’re so concerned about offering a quality experience within a very short time. New hires are expected to have more patience, and better skills, although the preparation difference may be minimal.

  3. I hate the millenial stereotype of entitlement. Being a millenial myslef, I don’t feel like I fit into that mold. I am still in my first industry job and have been for the last two years. There is no opportunity for me to advance because of the structure of our company, but the pay is GREAT and the job is always challenging and interesting. In my opinion, all entry level PR people need is a fair shake. Although I am a coordinator, I get to sit in on all of our big picture meetings. I get to be involved with things that are typically “above” my position and that feeds desire to contribute on a higher level. I plan on being here as long as the pay is good and as long as I keep learning.

    1. Sounds like a great firm! Thanks for pointing out what’s truly important – material and psychological compensation, including the opportunity to keep learning.

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