Matthew P. Schwartz | ‘Scope Creep’ One Way to Negatively Impact the Bottom Line
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‘Scope Creep’ One Way to Negatively Impact the Bottom Line

How do PR agency owners manage millennials, many of whom think it’s a short walk from entry-level gig to the corner office? Is the “work-life balance” in PR precincts an oxymoron? And how do agency chieftains avoid the growing problem of so-called scope creep?

These were just a few of the crucial questions bandied about at a recent roundtable discussion sponsored by Anchin, Block & Anchin LLP and Gould+Partners.

The roundtable, which took place late last month, tackled several of the issues PR agency owners now grapple with, including how to boost profitability and manage what can often be a volatile marketplace, fickle clients and a fairly stead rate of job churn.

Whether it’s millennials or middle managers, staff retention continues to be a major sticking point for PR agencies, according to Rick Gould, managing partner of Gould+Partners, adding that for some agencies churn among younger entry-level employees is between 20 percent and 40 percent.

“You expect churn among younger people,” Gould said. “But you have to figure out the best method for retaining key staff members.”

Michael Belfer, partner at Anchin, Block & Anchin, added: “Younger people are going to come and go, it’s generational. When it comes to how [churn] relates to an exit strategy, Belfer said, “You may have to offer stock plans to keep certain people.”

Indeed, when it comes to retention perhaps PR managers can kill two birds with one stone: take the time to invest in your younger employees so they will be more inclined to stay with the company for the long haul.

“The best directors are homegrown,” said Mary Ann Wilson, CFO at  IMRE, adding that the PR agency has dialed up its work incentives. “We’ve increased our 401(k) match, we’re adding more sabbaticals and we’re looking to move people quicker via mentoring.”

Putting younger PR pros on the fast track requires a delicate balance, of course. Many younger PR staffers already are working 70+ hours a week in order to maximize profitability, and that can lead to burnout.

“You need to make life as good as possible” for your staffers, regardless of the hierarchy, said Richard Tan, CFO and partner at Figliulo & Partners. He added that the work-life balance is a myth—and the sooner PR managers accept that the better. “You have to know there are times when it’s going to crazy and other times when you need to give people a break and decide that you aren’t going to squeeze people.”

Pointing to a chronic PR problem in PR, Tan added: “We spend so much time on admin that we don’t focus enough on the work.”

Marc Martin, senior VP of finance at Finn Partners, strongly advised that agency owners and managers raise their antennas regarding “scope creep,” or when the client adds deliverables without increasing the compensation or reducing other aspects of the assignment.

Don Tipple, CFO at Taylor, stressed that scope creep is a pivotal issue in the PR field. “You’re giving more than what [your clients] are paying for and you’re grinding your people,” he said. “[PR] margins can be driven two ways: You can drive your staff really hard or you can price your accounts accordingly.”

Matthew Schwartz
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