Public Relations Tactics

The rewards of retention: Retaining your best and your brightest

August 6, 2007

Copyright © 2007 PRSA. All rights reserved.

By Ken Jacobs

Editor’s note: The following article, which appears in the August issue of PR Tactics, is based on a presentation the author gave to PRSA’s New Jersey Chapter earlier this year.

One issue causing PR leaders to lose sleep these days is how to retain their best and brightest staff members. If you’re not committing resources, time and attention to staff retention, remember that investing in keeping staff is far less expensive than replacing them, which is estimated to cost from one-third to 1.5 years of a departing staffer’s annual salary, according to studies by both the U.S. Department of Labor and Merck.

In addition to hard costs, staff departures can have tremendous impact on company or department performance due to knowledge loss, the stress of managing the departed staffer’s responsibilities until the replacement starts and inevitable inefficiency as the new staffer learns the job. The departure of a key staffer also often encourages others to contemplate a move.  Any of these consequences can result in one of the most dreaded conclusions: dissatisfied clients.

Because of this, many companies are implementing proactive staff retention steps. The rewards include minimized recruiter fees; a more manageable salary/benefit nut; efficient, enthused and dedicated teams; and, most important, satisfied clients. Having a reputation as a great place to work can help attract new talent — another sleep-depriving issue for our profession. 

Successful retention is driven by: 1) management that listens, 2) regular communications and feedback, 3) an involved staff, 4) competitive compensation, 5) a clear vision, 6) training and 7) a fun workplace.

Management that listens
Now is the time to review your employee feedback process. How often do you request it? What method do you use? Do you assure employee confidentiality? Are you getting candid, useful feedback? Do you regularly act on staff feedback?   

Whether you gain feedback from meetings, online surveys, one-on-one meetings or a suggestion box, it’s critical to understand not only what the staff thinks you’re doing right and wrong, but also which issues are most important to them. This assures your energies are properly focused.

Feedback isn’t only negative. When you learn what your staff likes about your company, you can offer more of it.

Regular communications and feedback
If you’re unsure of the quality of your internal communications, reflect on the last few times your company received negative news. Did you share it quickly and thoroughly? Rumors fill the vacuum created when you haven’t communicated the truth. So when there’s bad news, disseminate your perspective as early and thoroughly as possible, encouraging staff to contact you for additional clarification. 

A critical question to ask yourself is how regularly do you share performance feedback? According to Tom Hoog, counselor to the chairman, Hill & Knowlton, when employees don’t get regular feedback, they conclude that they don’t matter and may seek out companies where they will. Make sure your managers understand that constructive feedback can turn performance reviews into growth opportunities. It is important to know how to critique the performance and not the individual.

Be sure to remember three simple, proven employee motivation rules: 1) there are never too many “thank yous,” 2) put thanks in writing, preferably by hand and 3) always share the glory.

An involved staff
There are a number of benefits to having an involved staff, from enhancing morale and loyalty to encouraging greater staff involvement in your company.

Your staff can provide great ideas in countless areas. They know the issues on the clients’ radar and know which activities deliver results and which can be safely jettisoned. They might have knowledge in such areas as Web 2.0, which can be shared companywide. Most employees are delighted to outline what would make a better work environment — just ask.  

A sense of involvement and ownership has always helped generate staff loyalty. This factor will only grow in importance because today’s young adults value it more than previous generations. 

By asking for staff help in solving the issues they’ve raised, you may unmask superb problem-solvers within your ranks.  Additionally, they might learn that some of these issues aren’t as easily solved as they initially thought. Both are valuable discoveries.   

Competitive compensation
Delivering well in the previously cited areas doesn’t mean one can ignore compensation. You have to offer salaries and benefits that are competitive, better than, or slightly under market but with extensive benefits that go beyond salary.  

To choose the right strategy, you must know how your salaries compare with the competition. You should use the many salary surveys available. 

Benefits are a critical part of compensation. Many of us lead teams filled with representatives from multiple generations, so it’s important to get feedback across title levels to assure that your plan offers benefits that each one values. Make sure your staff knows how to maximize the plan’s offerings. If your plan is better than the industry average, trumpet that to existing and potential staffers.  

A clear vision 
Employees give their loyalty to companies with a vision they can embrace. It’s important to articulate your company’s or department’s vision and live by its core values.

Create opportunities — through meetings, memos, e-mails — to reinforce the vision. Illustrate the steps senior management is taking to achieve it. Discuss how you’re building on the good and recruit employee participation. Equally important, share the bad, how you plan to fix it and request their assistance. 

Regularly share decisions reached with staff, especially the tougher ones. They may not always agree with your solution, but will respect your decisiveness and openness.

One of the most important values you can emulate is treating everyone with respect.  Articulate your standards and demand adherence in this regard from staff, leadership and, most of all, you. Reinforce that all of the company’s customers, from clients to cleaning staff, should be treated with the same level of respect.

More than ever, training plays a critical role in employee retention. Today’s PR professionals expect employers to provide a career path and the training to guide them along. Offering that guidance increases their skills and allows them greater responsibility and input, which increases satisfaction and loyalty, particularly among newer generations.  As performance improves, so does client satisfaction, which, in turn, drives employee satisfaction, so everyone wins.

Some firms still don’t have formal training programs. This is unfortunate because having a well-designed program can help separate you from the competition, an advantage in retaining and attracting talent.

A top-notch training program assures that your staff has finely-honed skills in must-have areas such as writing, editing, financial management and client relations. It can also keep your team up-to-date in areas that are rapidly transforming our business (such as Web 2.0 and mobile marketing) and address specific areas that are critical to career success, like how to enhance communications, management and leadership proficiency.

Beyond improving areas cited in performance reviews, formal training is a great way to communicate companywide your organization’s vision, values, quality standards and intelligence.

Fight the urge to wait until you’re “just a little larger” to implement training. Instead, invest in it as a retention and recruitment tool that helps you achieve your growth and profit goals more quickly.

A fun workplace
We’re still trying to figure out how to strike a work/life balance, and now employees want something new at the workplace: fun.

You may ask whether part of your job is to make your office fun, and the answer is a resounding yes. Study companies from various industries that are growing, have intense loyalty levels and are getting tons of resumes a day and you’ll find they’ve made workplace fun a crucial and strategic part of their retention strategy.

If you started your career when office fun wasn’t even contemplated, you may be on unsure footing here. No problem: Let your employees own the fun function.
When companies provide on-the-job fun, they generate a unique form of loyalty. This helps maintain the allegiance of an employee who gets a job offer.  Workplace fun can also create positive buzz about your company among potential employees.

One example is New York-based Bratskeir & Company’s Hamptons House (referred to by staff as “The B Double H”), where nonmanagement employees enjoy free summer weekends and use of the house for summer vacation time at a company-leased home from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Another is Parsippany, N.J.-based Coyne Public Relations, which holds frequent staff golf outings, spa visits, bowling nights, days at the races and a Thanksgiving parade viewing party for employees and families.  

Fund your company’s “fun function” as generously as possible — if it helps you retain even a handful of good employees it will more than pay for itself. Also, you might actually enjoy coming into work a bit more.

The years ahead will be challenging as we attempt to cope with an increased workload and a diminishing work force. Putting your energy and resources into retaining your best and your brightest, however, will pay enormous dividends.

Ken Jacobs is the principal of Jacobs Communications Consulting, LLC, which helps PR agencies grow business, and enhance staff performance and retention via training.  He can be reached at


Ginny Pulos says:

Ken, What a great article and great advice! I will share it with my clients. Cordially, Ginny Pulos Speech & Media Consultants to the World!

Aug. 8, 2007

Nancy Fierle says:

Great article. It seems so simple and yet so many companies miss the boat.

Aug. 8, 2007

Russell Cheek says:

What a terrific article Ken! Your wealth of experience and insight into key issues such as employee satisifaction and the resulting rentention by employers should be appreciated by all. Keep up the good work! Russell Cheek President RCM Broadcast Communications Inc.

Aug. 9, 2007

Judy Rosemarin, Sense-Able Strategies, Inc. says:

I could not have said it better myself! Nicely done, clear, useful and much needed in every industry.

Aug. 13, 2007

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