For PR to survive, industry must tackle talent shortage

There is a huge shortage of skills in the industry and this is largely due to training being neglected historically. Agencies and corporates need to invest in training to grow the talent pool writes, Joanna Oosthuizen — Ogilvy Public Relations National Managing Director

The communications landscape is changing and there is a need for new and varying skills to keep up with the pace of challenges that we face every day.

It is essential that PR companies adapt to these shifts in the industry to survive — but recognising talent and skills can be tricky and managing and developing talent needs to take on a new approach.

There are critical issues impacting engagement within the communications industry and this makes finding talent more difficult. Social media has changed the landscape for us and we need to be innovative. Now, we need to hire people who are more interchangeable than in previous years.

Sometimes it’s difficult to find the right people for a job because we look for the wrong people in the wrong places and agencies need to look at hiring people who don’t necessarily come from a PR background.

For example, we have engineering clients. We find ourselves asking if we should hire an engineer and upskill their communication, because it would be beneficial to have one person on a team who understands every aspect of engineering.

I believe that to succeed in PR, one needs to be articulate, intelligent, well-read and interested in the news cycle to tell stories that make a difference for clients.

So, if our job is to tell stories through the media, shouldn’t we look for storytellers, journalists and content creators who know what a good story looks like in an age of visual and digital storytelling?

Agencies are always crazy busy so the training part has been neglected, but as an industry we need to be better at doing it. PRISA runs various programs and we need corporates and agencies to work closely together to grow our talent pool.

Managers also need to be trained on how to manage millennials because, millennials are different from generations before and want success faster.

But we have to get the basics right and paying close attention to detail is of utmost importance in the PR industry.

Sometimes, we lose clients because we make a huge mistake. But, often, the small things we do costs us our clients. It’s called Death by a Thousand Cuts — basically an accumulation of small, completely preventable mistakes.

If we as consultants do not understand our clients’ business and what the real business problems are and what challenges they face in their day-to-day business, we simply cannot add value to our clients.

Now we are looking for a very specialised type of person. They need to have business acumen and an understanding of marketing. One can’t expect a person to have all the skills needed, but one needs to have the potential to be upskilled through a grooming and training process.

Yes, we are looking for specialists, but the role of PR generalists is still relevant. On the one hand, we have specialists, but we also want generalists who can work across multiple disciplines. However, as PR consultants, we consult at a C-Suite level, meeting with CEOs, CFOs and Chief Directors, so we cannot afford to lose the specialist aspect.The message is clear, train, develop and upskill or be left behind.

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