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Christine Barney
CEO of rbbPR
'It is necessary to listen to employees every day, not once a year'
First Global PR Summit as viewed by Mainstream

Last week Miami hosted the first ever Global PR Summit. It was well-known in PR-circles Britisher Paul Holmes (organizer of SABRE Awards in Public Relations, publisher of The Holmes Report) who managed to bring together the most outstanding leaders of the PR-industry. Mainstream could not miss such a milestone event, and safely reached the event venue through storm and hurricanes in anticipation of intensive dialogues, training, and exchange of experience with foreign colleagues.

The PR Summit lasted for 3 days. So, the day one:

The day of October 29 began with the message of organizers saying that because of the Hurricane Sandy, which paralyzed almost all east coast, nearly 100 people could not get to the Summit. Nevertheless, the list of speakers was phenomenal. Almost all continents were represented thus confirming the truly global format of the event.

We, as the only independent PR-agency from Ukraine at the Summit, were particularly interested in participation in sessions of the Independent PR Firms Forum, to which the whole first day was dedicated. Talent management was the key topic of discussions at the Forum: how to attract, prepare and retain top talents in the company; what methods of management ensure long-term result and raise loyalty of employees. It was an unexpectedly pleasing to hear the statistics from Paul Holmes that «annually PR networks grow by 5% while independent PR agencies — by 10%». Network agencies seem to have both long-standing reputation and global brands among their clients that are frequently passed on within the network, BUT it must be the matter of human resources since «Great people attract great clients and great profits».

Speaking about internal loyalty programs in network agencies, Christine Barney, CEO of rbbPR, pointed out that quite often the loyalty programs offered by the management did not correspond with the actual needs of employees. Therefore, it was important for each employee to have the voice and «the ear» of management for discussion of really vital issues. «It is necessary to listen to employees every day, not once a year,» recapped Christine. This implies another conclusion — the person feels more confident and protected at work when (s)he understands that not some faceless board of directors or association (to which it happens to be very difficult to reach out), but a real charismatic person manages his/her activities. An excellent example was Hering Schuppener PR agency from Germany, which entered the market in 1994 and feels perfectly in its independent status since. «We’ve never involved head-hunters. People work with us for 15-16 years, starting fresh from university, many of which have grown to partner positions», says Hering Schuppener CEO Ralf Hering. «For 10 years already, our agency has a special academic program for education of employees, training programs, which employees must pass twice a year, and a system for sharing experience,» he informed, «it usually take for a new employee some 6-8 months completely to get fully into the swing of the work. All employees have access to corporate cases, which they also may study.» Ralf added that one account manager in their agency usually worked on a small number of projects because they needed to have people working on fewer clients, going deeper within those clients. «In our industry it is too easy to pretend to be a specialist in all spheres,» assures Ralf.

Christine Barney’s frankness was very appealing when it came to different problems in PR agency personnel management. «PR industry is reputed to fuss too much over ‘top-liners’ or ‘star-fevering’ employees,» considers Christine. Perhaps, almost every PR agency has its ‘star’, some call them ‘prima donna’. She said, first off ‘prima donnas’ should learn and teach other employees. If anyone disagrees, Christine believes the ‘star’ should leave the company, «Grow or go!» To the question from the audience «How to identify such ‘stars’» Christine answered that their behavior usually betrayed them and the whole collective allied against them, so the company CEO understood everything without any clarifications.

Attitude of each employee to the profit (s)he earns plays an important role in financial success of the company. In other words, in order to help an employee get the entrepreneur attitude towards the agency business, it is necessary to inform him of the company financial performance. «Everyone in our agency sees every number except for individual salary,» confirmed Christine Barney.

This approach attracts new talents. Certainly, the worthy payment is important here as well. «If you pay peanuts you will be serviced by monkeys,» jokes Ralf Hering.

All participants of the Forum were unanimous in opinion that the key competitive benefit of independent agencies was the ability to provide employees with comfortable conditions for work and wise management of talents, which, in turn, afforded an additional ground for a client to give their account to an independent PR agency.