PR staff shortage: Where did all the good guys go?

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Although we’re told the economy is on the way up, the fallout from the recession is still being felt heavily by the creative sector, even here in Greater Manchester, where the industry is very much in bloom.
For years, London was seen as something of a drain the region’s talent. But, whilst the bright lights and huge agencies of the capital still lure plenty away, times have changed. Yet difficulties in attracting great staff- particularly for mid and senior level positions- remain.
Creative business is well past the regional stage up here. The BBC’s move to Salford Quays, the development of MediaCity as a whole, and the establishment of other hubs such as The Sharp Project are really only part of the story. Across the city there are more and more companies- from public relations to television, marketing to advertising- setting up shop. It’s good news for the area’s image as a job destination, but also means increasing competition when it comes to hiring new staff.
That’s never good when we’re looking at a PR staff shortage.
In spring last year, Greater Manchester became Europe’s second most prolific producer of creative and digital content, after London, and related sectors were growing faster than anywhere else in the UK- including the capital. Analysis by Manchester Monitor shows there’s still room for further development, too, with 13% growth possible by 2025, potentially boosting vacancies by some 23,000.
Nevertheless, the problem looms large for many firms. And not just those in similar industries to Smoking Gun. Professional sectors such as law are also finding recruitment difficult thanks to a lack of skilled workers. The result is a war between businesses as they try to attract the finest in an age where demand outstrips supply. Better financial bonuses, more impressive lifestyle and cultural-related incentives are all part of this battle to enlist the best, and even then it’s a struggle.
Last week the CIPR responded to a new report on the UK’s future as a digital leader, and highlighted several major shortcomings. Three recommendations were made, including the introduction of compulsory digital literacy skills at school, making the internet accessible to all, and creating a Digital Agenda that sits at the heart of Government. The point being, policy and investment in these areas are currently far short of where they need to be.

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This idea is mirrored in the wider industry. During the recession-era there was a widespread slow down in the rate of internal investment for both in-house teams and agencies. This means less entry-level recruitment took place, and fewer training programmes were rolled out. Both are needed to nurture Account Executives into Account Managers and beyond, and seven years after the crash we’re suffering because profits were not universally spent on future talent.
Of course the situation is not the same everywhere. Here at Smoking Gun we’re big supporters of initiatives like Tangerine PR’s Juice Academy- a practical social media course aimed at arming young people with the skills needed to succeed in this game. And Westminster has been pushing apprentice schemes, too.
Skeptics might say that’s a numbers game, designed to underplay U.K. unemployment figures. Either way, it’s an improvement in terms of foresight, but one that will only really help further down the line. As our current jobs page shows, with its Account Manager vacancies, even award winning firms like Smoking Gun have to fight tooth and nail to attract the best, and only the best will do.
So where from here then? Some firms are changing their business models, for example by taking on senior team members with experience gained from working outside the traditional industry career model, which is logical given what we know about the need for interdisciplinary skills in modern creative work.
Regardless of the solution, clearly something must be done. Don’t take my word for it, though. Mike Carter, of creative recruitment specialist Orchard, shares my perspective. With this sudden boom in our sector, a skills vacuum has emerged that must be plugged in order for theses industries to flourish:
“Staff development is the key here and like the housing market it’s all about bringing people in at the bottom. Unless companies invest in a regular intake of low level team members you just don’t have enough people to progress through the business.
“But these people cost time and when time is a commodity squeezed by financial pressure, development is shelved in favour of essential client business. However, often your very best people, are those who come to you with nothing and they really deliver on the time invested in them. There is no other way out of this issue of supply and demand, unlike developers, importing perfect engaging written English  from abroad is not easily done.???