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CWC 16: Patrick Rogan on strategies to hire and retain talent in the PR industry

Patrick Rogan, founder of IgnitionHR, discusses talent acquisition and retention in the PR industry.

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This week’s episode of Chats with Chip featured a conversation with Patrick Rogan, founder of IgnitionHR, about talent acquisition and retention in the PR industry.

Check out the full recording and written transcript to learn about strategies to find and keep talent, the changing workplace and hiring trends, and challenges facing PR agencies.

The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin: You’re listening to Chats with Chip on the FIR Podcast Network.

Hi, this is Chip Griffin, and my guest today is Patrick Rogan of IgnitionHR. Welcome to the show, Patrick. Thanks, Chip. Happy to be here. Patrick is a longtime expert in human resources and talent management when it comes to professional services firms in particular in public relations. And that’s how I got to know him a number of years ago.

And he’s been a great resource to me over the years. And so I thought it would be informative to talk a little bit about some of the talent issues that face PR agencies and organizations today. So that’s where we’ll go. And I guess the first question that I have is how do you find good talent for PR? I mean, it’s, you know, there are lots of people out there who I think, you know, take a look at, at PR and say, sure, I can do that.

you know, it’s, it, it sounds like a, a fun job, but you know, how do you make sure that you’ve got the right match?

Patrick Rogan: Well, that’s a, it’s a frequent question that we get, in HR Chip. usually the question though, specifically is, please find me this talent sometime. And, you know, we always like to work from a little bit more of a pipeline perspective when we’re looking at talent.

So typically what we like to do is we’d like to involve the whole org organization in identifying talent on kind of a continual basis. So we could certainly. Post openings, we could call resumes, you know, we could, you know, do phone screens, you know, the typical things that you do when looking for talent and those, those are all fine.

We usually do those, but usually finding the best talent is done by finding relationships that exist with individuals in the firm already. And by having individuals within the firm kind of use their individual networks and reaching out, we tend to start the process by talking with individuals that we already know something about, maybe someone who has a relationship either with someone in the firm or the firm in general.

And that seems to be a much better place to start and tends to yield a much better result.

Chip Griffin: So what you’re what you’re really saying I think is that You know acquiring talent is is an ongoing process and so even if you’re not necessarily on the prowl for something specific it’s worthwhile to be Constantly having those conversations, whether you’re, you know, a partner in a PR agency, whether you’re actually working in the human resources shop or, you know, wherever, it’s just, it’s important to always have your eye out for talent.

Patrick Rogan: Yeah, absolutely. It’s, it’s best done as a team activity. and the other thing that kind of comes to mind with finding talent and then the whole talent selection cycle. is that there’s a tremendous amount of inertia. So, you know, inertia objects that are in motion tend to stay in motion objects that are still tend to stay still.

If you, if you tend to recruit just when you have an opening or when someone has submitted a resignation, if that’s the point when you start, then you’ve, You’ve got the wrong side of inertia working for you because you have basically about a blank slate in front of you And you need to you need to kind of start up and get it going and obviously that takes a bit of time whereas You know what?

You just mentioned if if it’s something that’s continuing and ongoing and you never really stop then it’s just a question of at the moment where we decide that We need to bring some talent on. We need a particular role to be filled. The question then is, well, let’s take a look at our pipeline. Who have we been talking to recently?

who comes to mind that we should reach out to first? That’s a much better scenario. And, and that’s one that I strive in all organizations. I’m a big advocate of. Never stopping recruiting. Right. it’s just so painful when you have to start back up again.

Chip Griffin: Well, if you think about it I mean, it’s it’s sort of like sales, you know One of the things that I always tell folks particularly if they’re just you know Starting out in a consulting business of some sort Is that the the time that they need to be looking for new business is when they’re actually the busiest in other words, you always have to be you know trying to sell and and so if you if you think about talent acquisition is essentially a sales process which You know, maybe that’s something we talk about too, because I think that it’s often overlooked.

I think so many people who are hiring, not just in the PR space, but elsewhere, you know, view it solely as a process of evaluating the candidates to figure out who’s the best fit for them. But, you know, I think it’s important to remember that on the other end, the, the talent is trying to figure out if you’re a good fit for them.

and so it, it is a sales process, and, and I think if we think of it that way, I think that may be, you know, a better way to structure talent acquisition.

Patrick Rogan: I totally agree. occasionally I’ll slip because you know, in, in some PR firms, they don’t like to use the, the word sales with recruiting. Like sometime, I’m not sure why, but sometimes it just seems to strike a bad note.

So, but sometimes I’ll slip and I’ll say, So, so tell me what your pipeline is of available talent. And I get this quiz look, you mean like sales? I’m like, exactly. It is sales. I’m sorry. So let’s look at it like that. And just like you have, you know, X number of clients that you’re trying to do business with, we need X number of candidates that are in play if we expect to hire the best one.

So that kind of like the, the, you know, the visual sales funnel, if you call that a visual candidate funnel, it kind of has the same effect. And. And it’s, and it’s really important. And then to go beyond that to your, to your second point is having a very clear and concise value proposition. and, you know, again, you know, sometimes in the, in the heat of all the deliverables that have to be done for all the clients, you know, and all the projects that are being done, you just, you know, sometimes it’s so hard because you just, you just want someone in the spot, you know, we’ve got work that needs to be done.

We’re not getting it done. Why can’t we find somebody? and sometimes the answer to that is we can’t find somebody because we’re not taking the time. to present our value proposition, which is really selling candidates on why our firm is the best choice for them. So sometimes at the beginning of the process, you know, in HR, we’ll ask that question.

So why should this, why should someone come to work here? Why should someone work for your team specifically sell me? And they’re like, why? Because if you can’t sell me, you’re not going to sell a candidate.

Chip Griffin: Right. Exactly. And if we all think back to our own career decisions, you know, we, I think probably everyone would tell you that, that they were evaluating the employer just as much, but somehow we often seem to forget that when we’re on the hiring side.

Patrick Rogan: Yeah. And the other thing too, is, you know, you know, when it is a broader pipeline, the chances are. That the individual that you’re going to hire more often than not is going to be a second touch higher. And when I say a second touch higher, usually the way the process works is when you have a pretty good pipeline.

And let’s say you post a position and you ask employees to recommend people and that kind of thing. Normally, if the, if the sales funnel is working as it should, normally by the time those individuals come to the table, you already have someone in play and you might be close to extending an offer. You still want to talk to them.

But by establishing that relationship on that first touch, And letting them know a little bit about the organization and a little bit about the value proposition and some of the cool things that are done in this particular agency. When that second position comes on and you know, Hey, remember we spoke with these three people that we thought were really good fit for the last role, but we, they just got into the process a little bit late.

Let’s call them first, their second touch. And by having more second touch hires, I find that The candidate now knows much more about the organization. So there’s a little bit less selling that has to be done and you get more into, is this a fit for the organization? Is this a fit for the candidate? Does that make sense?

Chip Griffin: It does. And yeah, I mean, you know, one of the things that I’ve done over the years, you know, frankly, is, if I know that I need to add resources to a particular team, I’m often a little bit unsure of exactly what it is that I need. So sometimes I’ll advertise two positions, even though I know I’m only going to hire one simply.

So I have some different ideas. And so that then sets up that second touch opportunity because oftentimes, you know, I still need that second position. It just may be, you know, three or four months down the road.

Patrick Rogan: That’s a great strategy. And one of the things that we’ve done on the HR teams that I work for, as we find these candidates that we really like, but just don’t have a position for right now, Lots of times we’ll reach out to a manager and say, Hey, listen, you know, I want to have another touch point for this individual.

Remember this candidate that didn’t quite work out for the last position, but we think there might be something down the road. Do you have time to meet this person for coffee in a week or two? I’d like to set that up for you. And Andrew was like, yeah, sure. That sounds great. And it’s just one of those little tiny touch points that kind of makes it more of a relationship.

And really helps that next time around when we’re like, okay, let’s go. We’re ready.

Chip Griffin: You know, one of my other theories of hiring, and I’m curious, you know, what your take on it is, is that, you know, if I know that I need a number of new resources, I try to still only hire one at a time if I can. So that, because my theory is that as soon as I add someone to my team, it changes the team dynamic.

it changes, you know, what you, what you, And so, you know, my theory has generally been if I try to hire two or three people at once, I’m probably going to guess wrong as to what I You know, really need my final team to look like, whereas if I bring one on and sort of see strengths, see how it adjusts, how other team members are working, it helps better inform my hiring decisions, but you know, what’s, what has been your experience in that regard?

I mean, obviously sometimes you can’t help it, right? Sometimes you bring on, you know, a new client that just, you know, is so big, they need a lot of, of bodies, but you know, overall, how do you, how do you perceive handling those situations where you have to do a bunch of hiring?

Patrick Rogan: So I try and stage it as best as the business.

Can handle. and you’re right. The trick with hiring multiple individuals at the same time onto a team is that it takes. In general, about six months for someone to really understand the culture of an organization. That’s been my experience. Some, maybe some individuals that can pick it up in four months, some individuals, maybe it takes six or eight months, but generally it takes about, even if you have the right skills and everything’s check, check, check, check, check, every organization’s wire a little bit different.

It takes a while to figure that out. So if you have an individual on a team, who’s new, It’s a little bit easier to come up to speed in terms of what are all the unwritten rules, what are the other things I need to do, what are our differentiators, how do I adapt to that. If I’m the one person who’s adapting on that team, it’s a lot less stressful for the team.

Bringing me up to speed than if half the team is brand new and that same knowledge transfer has to happen. It’s just, it’s just really hard. it’s really hard to, to get that done from a, from a transition perspective. Now, having said that sometimes the, the business need is that we have to have three more people on this team.

It’s a big project and, and, but you know, lots of times what I’ll try and do is say, well, is there another internal resource we can switch over temporarily? You know, to to kind of stretch it out a little bit, or are there some other things we can do, you know, to kind of buy a little bit of time because I do find that that you know that orientation that kind of getting a feel for the culture of the organization is just so critical for success down the road, that if you kind of dilute it by too many new hires, it just becomes a little tricky, not impossible, but it’s something you definitely got to keep an eye on.

Chip Griffin: I mean, you mentioned, adaptation and, and one of the, the common themes in some of my podcast conversations lately has been, the digital transformation that the, the PR space has undergone over the past couple of decades in particular, and, you know, I, I wonder how have you seen the, how you have seen the, the, the human resources, and, and talent function evolve over the last couple of decades, you know, as it comes to, you know, professional services, PR, et cetera, you know, what, I mean, obviously people, you know, find jobs differently today than they did 20 years ago.

I mean, I, I don’t think anybody’s picking up the newspaper to look at, at job ads. If they’re looking for a job in PR, for example, they’re going on, you know, LinkedIn or that sort of thing, or, you know, you know, reading things on, you Twitter where someone’s linked to job openings. You know, how, how other than that have you seen the evolution take place?

Patrick Rogan: So, so let me ask Chip, are you, because I could go two different ways with this. One is, how, how the digital changes impacted finding the right talent. The other is, how has the, the digital focus of the PR world changed? Finding talent into an organization and how roles have changed and become more specialized.

Which of those, which

Chip Griffin: well, the good news is I want to explore both of them. Okay. So, so, so, but why don’t we, why don’t we focus on the acquisition side first, since that’s sort of where we’ve been talking and then we’ll talk about sort of, you know, how it changes, you know, once they’re on the team,

Patrick Rogan: Sure.

Yeah. So it’s, as a baby boomer, one of the things that’s been, very clear to me, with the, the digital aspect of recruiting right now is there is a lot of communication that’s normal and expected, that’s, that’s not verbal like we’re doing right now. And it, and it plays a big part. in the recruiting and, and, selling of candidate, process.

So, you know, if you have an organization where, where your team, for instance, they’re heavily into LinkedIn, you know, they’ve got a very good LinkedIn profile. They’ve got a good solid network, that works really well. if you got an outlier or two that just aren’t, you know, really into the social media thing.

that’s important, because candidates now are going to, if they know who they’re going to be interviewing with, and they can get some information, most PR firms will list a lot of their employees, candidates are checking into these individuals, and from an organizational perspective, your employees need to be aware of it’s not just you anymore, it’s you representing your organization, and there’s the, you know, the, the individual role.

This is my digital persona versus my firm persona. It kind of like blends together and, and it’s important that organizations and individuals and organizations take that seriously because believe it or not, as much as we check out candidates, they’re checking us out too. So I think it’s important, you know, certainly for everyone to be aware, and, and not afraid, you know, to have a little bit of a digital brand out there themselves, because candidates are going to check that out.

And then the other thing too, is, and this is something I’ve had to adapt to over the years is that, you know, there’s just more, a lot more electronic communication going on and, you know, now. It’s not at all unusual to be sending text messages to candidates. I would have never heard of that even five years ago.

And that’s just, that’s just the way it’s done. It doesn’t mean that verbal conversations don’t happen. They certainly do. But a lot of the logistical things, the scheduling things, that’s all electronic now. You know, the thank you notes afterwards are almost all electronic. And that took me a while to get used to.

I used to really like that handwritten note, but that’s just not the way it’s done anymore. So it has changed. If anything, I would say, Chip, it’s just speed it up a little bit. You know, it’s a lot quicker. and I think that’s good. I think that’s good for PR firms. I think it’s good for candidates who are ready to make a change as well.

Chip Griffin: When this, this digital transformation is also changing, you know, how people work and so therefore, how agencies, for example, may organize themselves. You know, I, there are a lot of agencies now that, that may, you know, have either a very limited or no, physical office. you know, there’s a lot more work.

Even if you do have a large agency office, you may still have people who are, you know, on a more regular basis working remotely because the technology has made it so much easier to do that over the last 10 or 20 years. You know, how does that impact, You know, the, the process of trying to both identify and, and, you know, I think this is a good point to start pivoting a little bit and looking at, at the retention of talent, right?

Because it’s, it’s, it’s always great to, to have the hiring process. Everybody gets, you know, excited and focused on that, but, you know, a little less of the focus goes on retention. But, you know, in this day and age, I think some of that goes to the, the work environment and how digital tools have changed how you function.

Patrick Rogan: Yeah. And then, you know, I got to tell you, while there are some really positives to the enablers that we have, so working remotely is much more feasible. You know, you can now look at hiring talent out of state and certainly from an HR perspective, that creates some complexities, but we can get through that.

The fact is you can have access to talent now that you really, it wasn’t feasible before. You really needed people to be in the same. Physical space. So that’s a good side. The bad side of that is you lose a lot of the relationship building that you get through face to face contact. In some cases you have teams that you know where you have remote members of the team who have never met.

The individuals that they’re working with on their team, and they may have been working together for years. That’s probably not a good thing. That’s where that where it gets. You know, it gets a little bit harder to maintain those relationships and, the connectivity to the organization and the organizational culture.

So that’s one of the things I think you have to. We have to watch out for. You know, it’s great to have the benefits of having a more flexible Distributed workforce. But at the same time that that can create some potential obstacles and if we’re aware of it and focused on it, I think we can get through it.

I just think we need to be careful, though, that, you know, there’s still people, with feelings and needs and personalities. And unless we’re addressing them and managers in particular, I’m getting to right here, then retaining talent is going to be more challenging because you don’t know what’s That your employees are getting what they need to grow and develop in their roles.

And then it gets a little scary. Does that make sense?

Chip Griffin: It does. And I mean, look, I mean, you know, we’re, we’re, we’re talking about two things here, public relations and human resources, there’s the human part of human resources and the relationship part of public relations. And I think if we lose sight of that, you know, it, it means we’re not going to be producing as well for, for our clients, we’re not going to be, you know, building the kinds of agencies that we, we might otherwise be able to do.

So, you know, as you think about the tools that are out there to facilitate collaboration, or to, to make people’s, you know, lives easier, you know, I, I, I, I understand that they can cause challenges, but, but certainly they help as well. Right? I mean, I, I think it’s a lot easier to share information, for example, today with each other, whether it’s in an agency or a corporate environment than it, I mean, you know, we used to have to have shared drives and things that were often cumbersome to set up and give permission to, you know, now everybody uses Dropbox.

It used to be that, you know, scheduling took a long time, but you and I were talking before this recording started about our use of Calendly, which is a great tool for facilitating the setting up of appointments that, you know, in the past would have required an executive assistant to accomplish. There are tools like Slack that allow, you know, sort of ongoing conversation amongst teams.

Teammates throughout the day, you know, whether you’re in the next office over the next town over the next country over. so, you know, How do these tools help improve the relationship that you can have with your colleagues and make you more productive? And is it a net positive or is it the loss of that human touch more significant?

Patrick Rogan: Well, I think that when we use the tools in a structured way So when we if we’re going to use Slack for for conversations and collaboration about the technical aspects of a project or what we’re working on. I think that’s I think that’s appropriate. I think the advantage to the tools that you described ship are.

They really help us to overcome a lot of the knowledge transfer, a lot of the administrative, administrative details like with Calendly, a lot of the, you know, in the cloud. Oh my gosh, the storage of documents. It’s just amazing. Can you just imagine where we were not that long ago? You know, Dropbox or Box or, you know, shared content.

You can see who made what changes. Those are all of those. All great things. and I think that there are, there are huge ads, each of them, but there’s a temptation to not focus on the relationship piece sometimes, because you’re so focused on the technical solution and particularly when individuals are remote.

You know, the longer that gap goes between, you know, the, the team dynamics that you’ve lost by having individuals who are together, you need to find a way to, to kind of, to bridge that gap, because if you, if you don’t have it for a long enough period of time, then the work becomes a little bit more of a commodity and when it’s a commodity, then.

The individual can deliver that commodity to anyone, and there’s no affinity to the organization. So I think that’s the one thing I always like to keep in the back of my mind. I’m a strong advocate of using tools. I’m a closet techie myself. You know, I love trying something new and different. But at the same time, you know, I want to make sure that from an organizational perspective, we’re doing some other things to develop affinity.

And keep the affinity growing, because that’s typically why people tend to stick around.

Chip Griffin: I mean, another trend that, and I think this is probably, you know, partially encouraged by some of the digital transformation, but you know, I think it’s partly driven by shifts in the overall economy. There seems to be a trend towards PR agencies using a higher percentage of contractors to complete projects, than in the past, whereas it, you know, in, you know, 20 years ago, it may have been mostly in house employees doing work.

Now you tend to, in, at least in my experience, have more of a mix, in part to bring in specialists, in part to control headcount, so that as your, you know, as your firm, you know, grows and shrinks, which is, you know, just one of those natural things that occurs with, you know, most professional services firms, you know, that you can control that a little bit better.

But, you know, how, how do you perceive this, this use of contractors? A, do you agree that it seems to be increasingly used in professional services versus, say, 20 years ago? And B, is that a good thing?

Patrick Rogan: Well, I, I think it can be when used appropriately. I think one of the changes that, that I’m seeing in the, in the PR industry is that particularly with a lot of the digital PR work that’s going on right now, the world is getting more specialized.

And you know, the days when you had a good PR generalist who could do just about everything, you still need those, those individuals, you know, but you also need someone who can manage a digital campaign. And those skills are, are very different. In some cases, they’re very specialized, or maybe you need a strong data analytics person.

You’re definitely going to need a strong data analytics person. Do you hire a data analytics person? How much? Data work. Do you really have that needs to be done? Does it make more sense to hire a contractor to do that? And I think where things are specialized, I think using contractors totally makes sense.

In particular, when you don’t know the volume of your of your needs, you can kind of scale up and scale down. But I do think it makes a little bit harder in the PR world because it’s. Everyone can’t do just about anything anymore. We do need more specialists. So I just finding the right balance, I think is the key.

Chip Griffin: And you know, as, as we sort of, you know, creep up on the, you know, my mandatory 30 minute time limit that I have for all of my podcasts, I’m, I’m curious, you know, what you, what do you think is the biggest challenge that faces PR agencies from a talent standpoint today? Is it, well, I mean, what is it?

Patrick Rogan: So I would say the biggest challenge is Getting teams to work together better.

I think so many times that we get so focused, on the client, we get so focused on the solution that we forget that we have individuals, that need to work together well, and, and I find that, you know, we sometimes fail to recognize that we each have different styles and I think when the organization is aware of that and they can adapt to that.

I think there are a lot of tools. I’m a predictive index person for behavioral assessment. I’m a strong advocate of that. I think there are lots of ways you can kind of get a handle on style, but I find that style is usually the reason why individuals leave organizations, not talent, and by being more aware of style and, adapting to it and using it in terms of how you work with people and how people work together, It just alleviates a huge amount of problem.

Chip Griffin: So you, you mentioned predictive index. I mean, explain a little bit more what that is, because my guess is probably most of my listeners are not as, as familiar with it as you are.

Patrick Rogan: So it’s a, it’s a behavioral assessment tool. There are a ton of them. It’s one of the hottest growing industries right now. I think everyone has done Myers Briggs at some point in their past.

The tools now are automated. They’re, they’re web based. they’re affordable. They take a very short, most of the tools take, you know, between six and 10 minutes. It takes your, it’s not a huge time commitment, but it provides, it allows organizations to, to do, to, to do two things. One is it can develop a profile for the positions that they’re hiring for and the teams that are hiring onto, and they can understand from a behavioral perspective, how candidates are wired.

So, you know, is a, is a candidate, you know, do they want to control, where are they from a social interaction perspective, you know, are they draw, are they are a stability person or no stability, a better thing, you know, do they tend to conform or do they want to write their own rules where they lie on each of those dimensions can have a great impact on a particular role and a particular team and an organization, maybe they may be working in and going in eyes wide open, can be very helpful, for organizations.

So that’s kind of, that’s my, that’s my 30 second overview. Obviously I could go much deeper.

Chip Griffin: Of course. Yeah, no, no. And I, I, I appreciate you keeping it compact, but, but, but hopefully enough that, that folks can understand, you know, what it is that you’re talking about. But, and I guess I would, you know, close with, I, you know, I think all of these things, you know, whether it’s predictive index or any of these other tests or, you know, really any of the other strategies that have been talked about here that they’re only useful if you’re actually taking advantage of them.

Right? Yep. Absolutely. You can have a pile of ideas, a pile of data, but, but unless you’re actually doing something with it, you’re not really improving.

Patrick Rogan: Totally agree. It’s like succession plans. How many succession plans have you seen? You put all this time into it, and then it sits on a shelf. You know, that doesn’t add any value.

If it’s tied to development and career management, then it’s very valuable, right? So it’s like anything else. Using it is all the difference in the world.

Chip Griffin: Right. And it becomes a real problem when that succession plan isn’t updated. And so you pull it out and you’re like, that person can’t take that job now.

They’re not even with us anymore. Oh yeah. Well, on that note, if you could share with listeners where they can find you online, Patrick.

Patrick Rogan: Sure. My website is ignitionhr.com so you can find me right there. or it’s patrick@ignitionhr. com if you’d like to send me an email.

Chip Griffin: Fantastic. Well, thank you for joining me Patrick.

Again, my guest today has been Patrick Rogan.

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