Charting the course or just keeping you afloat: is Human Resources (HR) taking your business where it needs to go?


HR has an important role to play in business strategy. However, as a cost centre whose impact cannot easily be quantified, it often plays second fiddle to disciplines such as sales and marketing or finance. The success of creative businesses, such as PR agencies, relies on outcomes created by people. So what’s at risk if the strategic value of human resources is overlooked?

You’ll learn:
•    An understanding of HR’s role in shaping the future of your business
•    Why it’s important to have a people strategy that underpins your overall business plan
•    Ways to ensure HR delivers value to your business

Bolt-on, rather than mainstay

Data from the PRCA’s 2016 census indicates that the PR industry is made up mostly of small and medium-sized agencies, with between 11 and 50 employees. With size and cost prohibiting the appointment of a dedicated resource, HR in smaller agencies tends to be a bolt-on responsibility awarded to those who demonstrate an interest in or aptitude for people management. 

Time available to focus on HR is usually limited; often HR is relegated to a box-ticking, transactional function designed to keep the ship afloat, rather than a strategic partner helping to steer it in the right direction.

If your agency takes a purely transactional approach to HR, you could be overlooking a critical component in your growth and success. Without a people strategy to underpin your agency’s business plan, how certain are you that you will have the right people in place, with the right skills and the right motivation to achieve your goals?

A broader perspective

The merger of public relations, marketing and digital disciplines raises a number of challenges for agencies. Broader service offerings involving multiple disciplines require the integration of a diverse range of skills, working practices and attitudes. Simply hiring or buying in expertise and expecting everyone to play nicely together is unlikely to give you the return you’re looking for. Success requires a more strategic approach to attracting, motivating and retaining your people. 

When developing a people strategy, begin by asking questions such as: 

•    What roles will we need, how will we structure our teams to accommodate them and what outcomes should they deliver?

•    What skills meet the needs of the business today and what will we need in the next two to five years?

•    Can our current skills base scale to meet those future needs?

•    If not, how and when are we going to develop the right skills; through our existing employee base, by recruiting externally, relying on a partnership or merger or a combination of all three?

The answers to the above should determine your approach. From there, ask:

•    Who are our star performers and what role will they play in winning, growing and retaining business? 

•    What should we be doing to keep these people and foster high performance?

•    If recruiting externally, how do we attract the right people, in the right quantity?

•    Who are these people, what’s important to them and what are their working practices, flexibility, development needs etc.?

•    How might we adapt our current performance management, development and remuneration processes to meet their needs?

•    If we bring a third party into the mix, how will we integrate our teams and working practices?

•    Are our current employment practices conducive to retaining good people? If any are counter-productive, how do we go about changing them?

•    What should our remuneration and benefits packages look like to attract the right talent and incentivise the desired behaviour?

Your approach to recruitment, reward, performance management, training and development should be shaped by the answers to these questions, otherwise your HR processes will keep you buoyant but they are unlikely to propel you in the direction in which you wish to go.

The wind in the sails

As a cost-centre with limited scope for direct revenue-generation, HR must add value to your business through a range of specific and pre-defined key performance indicators (KPIs).

When establishing KPIs, HR should not only be charged with aligning your people management practices with your business goals, it should also ensure those practices support the type of employer you wish to be. 

At the most basic level, good working practices will keep you compliant with current employment legislation and avoid disciplinary action or disputes. However, strategically developed employment policies that engender clear communication, equality (pay and opportunity), flexibility and progression will elevate you to the next level. Placing the right emphasis, not only on employees’ motivation and development, but also on their mental and physical well-being, will facilitate greater productivity and creativity and ultimately lead to higher levels of client satisfaction.

Additionally, employees have the ability to make or break your reputation. Happy, motivated and loyal people are your agency’s best advocate. They can help you to build a strong employer brand that attracts the best talent.

Adjusting to the conditions

HR should add value as a source of insight to your employee demographic, helping you to comprehend what matters to different groups of employees and how to incentivise the behaviour or results you desire. 

For any agency going through a process of change, this type of insight is crucial. A ‘one size fits all’ approach is unlikely to meet the needs of a workforce that is evolving to include multiple disciplines and demographics. While there will be common aspects, the working practices and development needs of teams across the broader PR, marketing and digital spectrum should be considered along with any adjustments to your performance management and training programmes to accommodate these needs. 

Heading in the right direction

With HR integrated into your overall business strategy, you increase the chances of future-proofing your agency. More than a custodian of employment contracts and holiday requests, HR should drive the design and implementation of employment practices and development programmes that support who you want to be, where you want to go and how you get there. PR agencies are people-centric entities where success is reliant upon human beings rather than products. Placing HR at the core of your business will ensure your people are pulling in the right direction, adapting to changing conditions and delivering business growth.

Elizabeth Baines is a Director of the Amber Group. We provide specialist training, coaching and HR services to PR and creative agencies. 

Twitter: @The4thAmberite