“You did a terrific job this year. The agency thrived, and you played an important role in our success. It’s a pleasure to work with you. Next year will bring exciting opportunities but will also probably present more challenges and volatility.”
Whether you’re running a public relations agency or just starting out in the PR industry, you may be initiating or listening to some variation of this conversation.
Despite two years of pandemic, many PR agencies have grown in terms of revenue, client work and agency stature. For those of us who work in financial services and fintech, the opportunity set has been unprecedented. A virtual world has made it easier than ever to close business in these verticals and meet more people—all for the cost of good Wi-Fi and a Zoom account.
As agency heads we don’t take any of this for granted. We remember the Internet boom-and-bust of the early 2000s and the ensuing multi-year recession, and the financial crisis of 2008-2009—not to mention the precipitous slowdown in economic activity when Covid first hit the U.S. in early 2020. These events are embedded in our minds, and we know firsthand what it means to worry about keeping an agency together when times are tough and volatile.
So how does one balance a message of optimism and realism at the same time? How do managers and leaders inspire and excite our teams while also forecasting what may be some real obstacles ahead—whether its economic volatility, labor shortages, the seemingly never-ending pandemic, the highest inflation in 20 years, or a lack of trust in our elected officials and institutions?
We believe the answer is a combination of balance, cautious optimism, careful planning—and, of course, leadership. With all of this in mind, here are a few thoughts as agencies continue to work to attract and keep top talent in 2022:
- As the old catch-phrase says, “Be Real.” Anticipate and plan for best and worst case scenarios. If you grew revenue 20 percent in 2021, envision what 2022 could look like if you continue on a similar growth trajectory. But also consider the possibility of contracting and needing to work harder just to keep the business you had two years ago. Discuss this openly as an agency. Just because a championship team goes to the Super Bowl one year doesn’t mean the same will happen the next (even if Tom Brady is your quarterback). Don’t let ego lead to laziness or hubris.
- “You’re only as good as your next gig.” Client partnerships are built on performance and trust. Clients will partner with you for a long time, but that partnership requires continuous hard work and solid results. That might seem simple and obvious, but agency teams can take a long-term client for granted and not devote the attention that’s needed. The same sense of drive that made an account a success right after kickoff needs to be infused in the account years later.
- The war for talent is real. Motivate, elevate and focus on culture. In a remote or hybrid environment, agency personnel have many choices—and those choices are not just determined by compensation. The pandemic has reinforced the desire to find a sense of purpose, professional growth, freedom and work-life balance. If you or your teams don’t feel these important areas are being addressed regularly, agency culture will suffer. Professional development, freedom and connectivity must be at the forefront of 2022 planning.
- We’re struggling with this too. Those same Zoom meetings that enable you to close new business or have a face-to-face with an important client without jumping on a plane are also exhausting. Long hours in front of a screen are tiring. People need downtime and space. We don’t have all the answers here—no one does yet—but it’s important to have regular check-ins with your team and make sure you’re taking care of each other. People need that careful balance of excitement and downtime. When you can’t chitchat by the water cooler or go out for lunch or coffee together, you need to find other avenues. Maybe it’s as simple as calling a colleague (without video!) to talk about non-work topics, or, for those who live in the same metropolitan area, scheduling a time to meet for coffee, a drink or even a walk.
The topics we’ve covered in broad brush strokes here could be discussed for hours, but hopefully we’ve made our point: it’s a time to reflect, celebrate, pause and plan. We can’t predict the future, but we can be cautiously optimistic and know that ultimately, we will make the best of our new “normal.” Warm holiday and 2022 wishes to all!
Richard Dukas is the founder and CEO of Dukas Linden Public Relations (DLPR) and Seth Linden is president of DLPR.