Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Lesson from Our Last Recession – A Word to the Wise

There’s a new storm forming way out in the distance, and it will shake up firms that don’t prepare for it now. It will wreak havoc on client relationships, upset management structure, break up account teams, increase bottom-line pressure, and give CEOs, owners, and partners a royal pain.

Job switching, the inevitable curse of good times in the agency business, is developing ever so slowly. But don’t be fooled. It is inexorably moving closer, fueled by increasingly tiny (yet positive) signs that our economy is starting to move forward again. PR firms, while by no means out of the doldrums, are beginning to see more new business opportunities with decent, and in many cases, healthy budgets. Granted, these opportunities are more competitive than ever before (if that’s possible), but they are also more frequent.

And, as it continues to improve, those key managers, account directors, practice leaders, specialists, and other valued employees lucky enough to have kept their jobs through the recession will begin to develop a new sense of confidence that maybe now it is time to look for that next, better job.

Retaining employees, always a key need in good times, may be even more important now when times are bad.

In today’s agencies, employees are asked to work longer hours, handle more business per staffer than ever before, develop new business (a task many never dealt with before), supervise juniors without proper training, take on new responsibilities for which they are unprepared, and handle less than “glamorous” clients that 18 months ago the agency would never have even considered.

Tempers flare faster today, job frustration is higher than ever, and the malaise that has affected agencies over the past year — as revenues plummeted and profits remained flat or slid downward — continues unabated in many firms, large and small.

Now is the time for agency management to take a new look at their organizations and figure out how to repair the fragile employee contracts that are certainly cracked in many cases, if not broken altogether. With a little thought, sensitivity, and some solid planning, agency management can begin to identify and start work on changing attitudes and cementing their relationships with their own staffs. But they had better start working fast.

Farsighted managers and owners are communicating more with employees to really understand their feelings and needs. Some are beginning to put into place measures that they hope will, in part, compensate for the dissatisfaction.

Those were excerpts from an article I wrote for PRWeek in July 2002. Are things any different today?

A tough economy only heightens the need to retain your best employees.

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