Is the gig economy encouraging PR firms to work harder at talent engagement?

Talent is naturally the foundation of the PR business. And PR firm founders admit that their workforce consists of professionals that are increasingly embracing the gig economy and are, therefore, harder to inspire and hold on to. 

PR firms in India are currently undergoing something of an HR revolution - at least externally. They are doing their best to not only attract great talent but also to hold on to it.

Perhaps, in the end, this comes down to increasing salaries, improving benefits and enhancing working conditions.  But there is no mandatory requirement for firms with under 20 employees to contribute towards the employees' pension fund and offer long term benefits of staying on.

Many firms are therefore currently looking at a range of incentives from training, to Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOPs) to softer but vital support systems such as in-house counselling.

Firms such as MSL even have a chief mentoring officer.

Human of Pitchfork Partners 

Recently an interesting post on Facebook popped up on my timeline with the #HumansofPitchfork. I am admittedly a sucker for the Humans of Bombay page, inspired as it is, by the Humans of New York page. 

The Pitchfork version had the inspiring story of Vikas, an office boy (a very Indian work position!)  and included his love story and aspirations. Pitchfork Partners, a consulting firm set up by Jaideep Shergill and Sunil Gautam ( ex MSL and Hanmer) launched the #HumansofPitchfork with Vikas, who shared his story through on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter:

Vikas Both's story #HumansofPitchfork

This hashtag was developed and implemented by 3 of the firm's team members: Divya Tejwani, Nupur Kale and Sneha Shahu.

The aim, in their words, was to, "Recognise the tender persona of every individual at the organization and build a community of individuals who cherish the smallest of pleasures in life, have overcome the greatest of hardships, are entering the world of corporate culture, or are veterans in the industry; all those who have a story to tell."

Vikas's story really struck a chord, reminding this reporter of the first Network 18 two-room office at Delhi's Safdarjung Enclave office and the office boy Lakshman. Lakshman gave the BBC producer stationed at the office to launch 'India Business Report' the infamous Delhi Belly by serving him tap water in Bisleri bottles! Apart from this misstep, Lakshman soon became the heart of the organised chaos of a TV news office dispatching crews, delivering the all-important master videotape, arranging food.

Parent's Day: Adfactors PR

Perhaps no PR firm does as much as Adfactors PR to support and reward their employees. It recently sponsored the digital education of 300 of its employees.

And earlier this month on their 23rd 'Founder's Day' Adfactors honoured the parents of employees in an emotional get together across their offices. Videos and pictures flooded the Adfactor timelines, helping to perhaps answer the timeless question from parents: 'What do you do in PR'?

Welcoming parents to the Adfactors office

Adfactors has decided to mark their founding day as 'Parents' Day' every year from now on.

Providing a professional friendly ear

That the PR business is very stressful is well known. but firms such as SPRD are supporting their employees work through stress.

Asif Upadhye, director SPRD, says, "we believe that our personal and professional lives are connected. In fact, we remain the same wonderful person irrespective of whether we are at work or at home. Sometimes, however, work pressure and the general rigmarole of life gets to us. It happens to the best of us. A part of our personal life comes to work and vice-a-versa. All we need is someone to hear our voice and share a different perspective. We also understand that team members may want to simply blow off some steam or understand themselves better."

Upadhye shares, "While our managers are ever willing to lend an ear, we understand that there might be personal or professional discussions that you may want to have with someone neutral outside work. Keeping this in mind, all team members have access to a professional counsellor. One can simply take a break from work and leave early, meet the counsellor at a private place and have a heart to heart chat over some coffee. No strings attached. No reports or tracking. Period."

Upadhye says that "PR firms across the world are adapting to demanding clients, industry changes and more so, to a millennial workforce who see life differently from the ones who've 'been there in PR'. That said, the HR function in many PR agencies is yet to evolve. One could attribute the spurt in programs as ways to engage with and retain a workforce that is driven by 'gigs' and not necessarily, job security."

Edelman India is taking advantage of technology to address this challenge. Pankaj Suri, director of HR at Edelman India says, "Technology has transformed the relationship between companies and their employees, and Edelman has taken the lead in this digital transformation journey to improve the overall employee experience."

Suri elaborates that "From institutionalising platforms such as Peakon to get regular feedback from the teams, Workplace for better global connect amongst employees, to providing access to Whil and ComPsych for mental wellbeing and mindfulness, a lot is being done to embrace the opportunities presented by digital technologies that underpin how employees of today spend a large part of their lives. All these form a core part of our employee engagement approach."

"Our firm launched the Potentialife training programme for India in February 2019. The program has helped to foster individual happiness and build a sense of optimism.  This programme has helped me realise my true potential and find purpose", shared Smita Joshi, energy and infrastructure sector lead with Edelman.

Offering ESOPS

ESOPS are often considered an important wealth making tool for employees, especially at startups.

CS Rama Naidu, managing partner at Intellect PR says this is what he plans to offer ESOPS to his employees saying, "There should be equity in the company for an employee – possibly none of the PR Agencies in the country had issued ESOPS or shares in the company for their employees, whereas we have formulated policy for our employees to issue equity shares for them once they complete 5 years with the company."

As Intellect PR is an unlisted firm partnership firm, Naidu says the firm will be, "Converted to Pvt. Ltd. and issue  ESOPS based on the designation of the employee on the valuation at the end of five years from 2017, preferably 2 times the sales of the firm."

Naidu adds that "We will issue these at 50% to 75% discount, they can subscribe these in the next five years and at the end of ten years either the management will buy back at the 2 times sales valuation or may go for IPO wherein employees can encash their ESOPS."

It must be pointed out here though that no PR firm in India has ever launched an IPO, so it would be interesting to see how this plays out. Another important question is whether dividends are allocated for ESOPS. There are also challenges if the firm doesn't grow towards an outside investment or sale.

Exchange programmes and Instagram pages

Apart from the campaigns by PR firms mentioned before, Edelman India also has a strong exchange programme for their employees giving Indian PR professional experience in international markets.

Firms such as Genesis BCW have had a long-standing training programme called ALPS and PR Pundit has one of the most fun Instagram pages for their staff, smartly weaving in personal stories with stories of their work using the #bee in all their 'grams'

#PRPunditBees campaigning for menstrual health

If PR firms have to keep their talent happy, enagaged and upskilledhopefullyly these initiatives will show the way towards solving the serious issue of attrition in the PR business.