This has been a turbulent time in PR. Some clients drew in their horns as the pandemic hit and as a result, agencies let people go and then had to plug gaps rapidly as the work returned. This has resulted in some strange staffing arrangements in PR, but there was a precedent for this pre-COVID.
Admittedly finding and keeping great people in PR is notoriously difficult. Staffing an agency with the right people with the right skills at the right time, while protecting and nurturing the culture, is a delicate balancing act at the best of times. Obviously, this challenge was exacerbated by the pandemic. But (and you knew there was a ‘but’..), should we be taking greater care with when and why we promote people?
Tempting as it is to promote that Account Executive to an Account Manager, should you do it? You know in your heart they’re not quite ready, but you’re worried that if you don’t, they’ll leave. Are you actually being unfair to them and their future employer? Promoting them may make you seem to be rewarding them but is this really the case? Would they not feel more comfortable and more authentic if they have a couple more years of experience under their belt? Setting someone up for a bout of imposter syndrome in the guise of an upward move is a cruel and unusual punishment indeed.
Recently we’ve seen a smaller agency promote a member of staff from Account Executive to an Associate Director in less than three years, which really stretches the credibility of the PR agency model in the eyes of clients. Presumably the agency hopes that the client will not be aware of their dearth of experience but a quick glance at LinkedIn or a passing comment, or even the fact of their youth, will give the game away.
We need to be brave, and realistic. People who have made up their mind to move on invariably do so sooner rather than later anyway, so there’s a decent chance you’re setting them up to fail in their next role with that panicky promotion. Better to keep your powder dry by only promoting people when they’re ready. Your employees and your peers will respect you for it in the longer term.