What the downturn could mean for the PR Industry

Labour shortages, incoming higher taxes and an economy in recession. It might be another year where we have to dig deep to find some much-needed Christmas cheer. For businesses, no doubt we’re in tricky times (again). The Liz Truss lurch into economic meltdown may have just hastened the inevitable, but it’s certainly altered the hiring market.

And it has become just that. After months of it being a candidate-led market, it’s now firmly a hiring market. Those who in previous months left hiring managers high and dry, or were perhaps a little overconfident in their dealings with agencies, may find that those same hiring managers have long memories as we enter tough economic times.

The reach and scale of the damage isn’t limited to any one sector. The corporates that have rightly or wrongly been demonised as too big to fail are struggling. Big tech companies like Facebook are shedding 11,000 staff. Twitter is in (self-created) crisis. Made.com has gone under. Even the luxury market has been affected, with Joules warning they may not survive the coming months. And that’s just at corporate level. For employees, the cost of living crisis has also had a profound impact.

For the PR industry, as ever, there will be ups and downs to the impact of all this. Certain sectors will show their resilience, and some - like budget brands - will even show growth in this period. Consumer behaviour, whatever it proves to be in response, will shape brands’ success. For one, the hospitality, travel and luxury sectors will do well where they’re supporting consumers’ switch to more few and far between ‘mini’ luxuries.

And new markets will appear, which will need agency support.

So the ramifications are twofold. Firstly for people looking to move. It’s an important time to consider the sector an in-house role or agency operates in. Is it one that’s likely to prove robust given the current state of things. For example, with US brands taking advantage of the weak pound, agencies with strong international credentials should do well in coming months.

In-house is a risky bet at the moment, as PR is one of the first things to be cut from the CFO’s budget, in favour of more ROI-driven marketing activity. Hotels can fill rooms with or without PR… Agencies, with diversified revenue streams, are a surer bet. Those okay in their current roles need to be mindful that if there are redundancies to come, and fewer people doing roughly the same work, the job that’s currently something to be tolerated, may become intolerable very quickly. My advice would be that now isn’t a time to close yourself off to opportunities, despite the temptation to nest.

For agencies, despite it becoming a hiring market, it’s still vital to support employees, and attract prospective candidates, in any way you can. There’s ways to create revenue-neutral benefits too. For example, with energy costs soaring, switching from three days in the office to two days in the office, and planning around it so the office can be closed one day a week will be a positive to staff, but also help an agency save money.

The ‘nice-to-have’ benefits that might be the first to be cut, are also often the ones that to employees become the really nice-to-haves. So covering the cost of phone bills and taking another look at employees’ home office equipment is a great way to add actual value to their day-to-day work. The little things go a long way right now.

Training will also be a crucial lever for future growth. We may see a sizeable amount of talent become available to the market, who may not have the perfect fit experience for an agency. But hiring managers should be looking at whether to hire them would be a square peg in a round hole, or if with a little support and training they might prove an amazing asset once things rebound.

My advice from what I’m seeing in the market can best be summed up by:

Candidates, take extra care right now with your next step, and make sure you’re talking to the right people about what that might be.

Hiring managers - find the little things you can do to stand out from rival agencies, because to steal a slogan, right now every little helps…