Why you’re losing the best PR talent to competitors

Why you're losing the best PR talent to competitors

How frustrating is it when you have had a key role in your agency or company vacant for a long stretch of time, and you just can’t find the perfect person to fill it? Meanwhile, people seem to be lining up to work for your competitor… and in many cases, you may even have noticed that while you and Ms. Competitor are showing up to the same pitches, she’s going home with the trophy more times than yourself.

A lot of my clients think that the solution is to get people from that company or agency to come over and join yours. Maybe your agency has just as cool brands as your “arch rival”… maybe you have a better work-life balance and even pay more… the offer is enticing, so why does it seem impossible to get talent to come from your competitor to work for you?

Well, I have a theory based on the fact that I get to see into both sides. I know your competitor, because they’re my client, too. And I know that the solution to getting great talent into your agency isn’t just to poach it from others who are winning all the new biz.

The secret is to look at where they are getting all of their talent. Think about it: they are consistently getting awesome people to deliver exceptional work that wins awards and makes global companies spin around and sign the dotted line, but they aren’t headhunting out of your agency, and you’re their number one competitor, right? So why should you?

Creative people are successful because they think outside the box, and yet when it comes to recruitment, PR professionals can be as old-school as ever. “Find me someone from ‘x’ company with all local experience in ‘(insert extremely rare specialised talent tight industry here)’ who is on the cutting edge of digital, can bring in $.5M in new business in year one, and is funny. Our last Account Director was funny.”

These are the types of briefs I get from clients who cannot fill a role to save their lives. They have advertised directly, and put the brief out to me and two of my competitors, and they don’t want to meet anyone we put forward. What many Australian companies seem to be so afraid to do is EXPAND THE BRIEF.

THIS, is what your competitor is doing. For example, I have many clients who will not look at overseas candidates, and then they point to some very successful agencies/companies saying that they want talent from those agencies/companies, and guess where those agencies/companies got their talent?

From overseas

Talent are coming from the UK, for example, where many agencies are more advanced in digital and have very conscientious candidates that are used to a large workload. Hiring managers say they worry the person will want to move back if they are from overseas, so it’s important to delve into this during the interview process to gauge commitment. Even local candidates can leave due to a variety of reasons… in fact sometimes overseas candidates are so grateful to have a job and sponsorship, they will stay put at your company.


They choose the person’s aptitude, NOT by their sector experience.

The APAC Director of Communications from one of the largest banks in the world sat down with me and told me, when I asked what sort of background they look for, “we don’t want someone with big bank/financial experience. We find that people from other industries that are similar bring a new fresh perspective to the table, rather than the stale thinking that’s been out in the marketplace. We want to do something new. And they do.


They choose candidates based on attitude and culture fit. So maybe one candidate fits the bill on paper, but isn’t particularly driven, or has a bit of chip on his shoulder. Then there’s another candidate who is super keen for the role, has exceptional skills, is personable and driven but is lacking local media contacts, or is a little bit lighter in social media experience. My experience has been that these candidates pick things up FAST, and you’re more likely to hold onto them because you can contribute something to THEIR career development, and you don’t risk them becoming bored.

Have a look on LinkedIn. Look at the background of your competitor’s main staff… where did they come from? It’s important to make your brand attractive to prospective employees, but if you’re too exclusive in the hiring process and don’t open your mind to what REALLY makes a great employee, you may find that vacancy on your books costing a lot more than a visa sponsorship would.

More reading:

PR Agencies: Why your staff are leaving
What does a PR professional do anyway?
7 deadly sins PR agencies commit
Cultural fit: How to match your skills and personality to a job
Why do companies struggle to define their employer brand?
PR Professionals: Adapt or die! 
PR professionals: What works best for you – agency or in-house?


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