Faizaan Sackett

Sowing the Seeds of Love

'We sow the seed. Nature grows the seed, and then, we eat the seed...'. Neil, The Young Ones Episode 11 - Sick (1984),

This Zen-like statement can be applied to all aspects of life and business, so it's one I'm going to apply to a problem now becoming long in the tooth; a lack of Senior Account Executives and Account Managers, especially within B2B tech PR agencies/divisions, wanting to hear or receive information on new job opportunities.

“'We sow the seed. Nature grows the seed, and then, we eat the seed...'. Neil, The Young Ones Episode 11 - Sick (1984), This Zen-like statement can be applied to all aspects of life and business, so it's one I'm going to apply to a problem now becoming long in the tooth; a lack of Senior Account Executives and Account Managers, especially within B2B tech PR agencies/divisions, wanting to hear or receive information on new job opportunities. “

This subjected has been bemoaned in writing, verbally and probably in the prayers of hiring managers for nigh on 5 years now with no signs of changing. Why are ears deaf to it? Why are eyes blind? Why don't the gods of Public Relations answer?

There are, of course, a combination of reasons why many Tech PR agencies are crying out for more Account Manager level talent yet cannot attract them but one thing we can all agree on is the starting point - The start of the recession in the latter half of 2008.

The immediate response for employees, fearing cutbacks, was to prove their loyalty and value to their employers. Security became paramount and when the majority of companies understandably puckered up their hiring, training and marketing purses we all doubled our efforts to work harder and smarter. The subsequent effect of riding that storm, combined with minimal cash investment, led to less training for Account Executives to become effective managers. Graduate recruitment schemes also ceased, stemming the tide of future superstars.

Thankfully technology is ever evolving, companies and the public never stop needing/wanting the latest thing. Confidence in the market eventually returned and business started to role again, even with a few knocks of double/triple dips along the way. All of a sudden we have agencies (and their clients) looking to hire again in a slimmed down market place. We have employees once more wanting a pay rise in line with the increased cost of living. In-house positions start to pay more and offer less stressful demands and deadlines than agencies (they still do), so career aspirations tip in favour of the Tech PR agencies' client base. Fear of security within the unknown is prevalent and leaps of faith are few. Minimal trainee level superstars came in and there was little investment in developing the existing stars. Technology agencies, especially in the B2B space where B2C tech is seen as the more sexy and exciting of products (you'd be surprised how many candidates I speak to who are only looking to remain or move into B2C), felt it and continue to do so.

Being a creative and forward thinking industry, many agencies sat down to plan new processes and programmes in order to retain and attract staff. Agencies' existing and new business increases, therefore so does the need to increase in size exponentially. This becomes more and more urgent as team members cope with a higher workload and are found unconscious under their desks from exhaustion, heard gently weeping in the stationary cupboard or are found drooling in a corner with pencils up their noses and underpants on their heads. Marketing budgets allowed for placing job adverts, in-house recruiters were brought in, agreements with multiple recruitment agencies were forged to fight, scramble and vie for the attention of candidates. The introduction of referral bonuses, retention bonuses and other wonderful ideas to find staff were introduced…and yet we remain in the status quo. Why?

I'll be bold here and lay my tender parts upon the block to offer what I have observed and heard over this period. You may disagree. You may identify. You may dismiss me which, I'm sure, some will do. However, please bear in mind that I speak and meet with Tech Public Relations agencies of all sizes. I speak to Account Executives, Account Managers and Account Directors looking to leave those Tech PR agencies and listen to why they are exploring other opportunities. I also get plenty of calls for general advice. Zenopa invite participation in salary surveys, keep abreast of market news, relevant events and conferences, as well as who is moving and shaking within the industry. All of this is collated into a week E-Lert and delivered into your inbox. I network solely within the Tech PR market and have noticed some glaring consistencies.

Smaller agencies that retained staff by increasing their salaries and giving promotional job titles, without the relevant training, may have been saluted at the time but when it comes to them looking at career advancement within a larger agency it can be detrimental. It's rare that their experience and management skills meet the expectations of the larger agency in comparison to their existing Account Managers or Account Directors. A step back is needed (most of the time in job title only if an equal salary is offered) to move two steps forward. That's tough on anyone's ego and basic need for progression. However, it sometimes needs to be done in order for advancement and too few make that move - especially when counter-offered by their employer with a couple of grand chucked on the table. This won't stop them trying again a few months down the line though.

Larger agencies that invested in improved benefits, training, the vibrancy of their culture or introduced a free bar on a Friday to reward hard work did so with the right intentions. Some gave iPhones to everyone, offered massages at desks (I want that one) and promised new opportunities due to growth of brand and attraction of new and exciting clients. All of these were positive steps forward but here's the rub: You all did it. You did such a good job that there are few reasons for an AM to move. By the time an AM gets to be an AM they have a clear, defined career path in front of them and everything they need in an environment which is familiar, as well as fresh. It may be a kick in the corporate testicles but being a 'wherever/whatever' ranked agency doesn't carry a lot of weight anymore. A lot of good agencies are delivering a similar message and it's been diluted.

Mid-Sized agencies are, funnily enough, stuck in the middle. They are able to offer amazing career opportunities too but are less able to take risks or longer-term investments in people that come from a smaller sized agencies and, more often than not, offer a side-step rather than advancement to those from larger agencies.

No one is wrong here. All have taken necessary and exciting steps to move forward and evolve. The only problem is the majority have done it and although the situation is a far cry from being a 'Stepford' market, there aren't enough differentiations in an agency's message or 'out of the box' thinking to solve the problem. All who I speak with admit there is a problem finding good people but, when it comes to the crunch, only someone with X amount of experience with X amount of media contacts with a Tech PR agency background can be considered. Groundhog day.

Neil's analogy was cut off by the swift delivery of a gardening implement to the back of his head by Rik. Does the industry require a similar excessive shock to the system? Metaphorical of course. I don't want to incite a riot of shovel related attacks. Will an encircling halo of birdies and stars induce a shift to thinking outside of the box?

I have no magic wand solutions and it's you that have invested years in graft and experience to progress your careers or business. I have invested my time in tech PR as I truly believe this is a rare market that is exciting, profitable and can offer a rewarding career for us all, but we need to take bold steps to ensure that we don't continually scramble for talent by identifying worthwhile risks and investments when presented to us.

What's your message? How are you different? Will you train a journalist if they can demonstrate they have the chops for agency life? Will you invest in grad schemes? Will you take a great people manager from out of industry and invest time in them building a relevant network? Can you offer a step-up to attract talent without compromising the hard work of your existing teams? What's the answer? All I can offer is my knowledge in the wider market place and welcome invitations to discuss the next step in Tech PR agency workplace evolution. You have my number. Call it if you want to discuss changes, challenges, fears, disagree with me, swear at me or whatever tickles your fancy. I don't have a quick fix but maybe with a new method of sowing and nurturing seeds, we can all enjoy consuming the profitable results.


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