Who"s davidlian?

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davidlian is an ultra-geeky chinese dude that works for a technology PR agency. He loves fiddling with techno-toys, plays Warhammer 40K, and shoots pictures wherever he goes. Here, he rants about PR, Technology and anything else. Don't expect balance and un-biased, he ain't no journalist. Anything said on this blog are solely davidlian's personal views. Don't confuse them with company mantra, client's views or views of any organisation he may be part of.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

The lost generation: Malaysian PR industry short of good middle managers?

Yesterday, Malaysia's valiant resistance in the PR industry held its Annual General Meeting. The Public Relations Consultants' Association of Malaysia (PRCAM), who's long-drawn out battle with the Institute of Public Relations Malaysia (IPRM) over the issue of accreditation, for once saw a significant jump in it's membership - possibly due to the new membership rules (you don't have to be a PR consultant of 3 years to join now).

A relatively hum-drum affair with little excitement, there were two stark issues that did make me sit up and think a bit. I'll list them here:

1. PRCAM recognised that the PR industry in Malaysia lacked talent in the middle management.
2. PRCAM would put, on its website, a guide to PR fees.

I'd like to keep the issues separate, and deal with the first of these issues in this post. I'll keep the 'fee guide' saga for the next post.

Missing middle managers

So what's a middle manager?

At the AGM, one head of an international PR firm mentioned loosely that this includes consultants with circa 3 years experience (that's me!). Another colleague in the industry made a better distinction: your title would state: Account Manager, Senior Consultant or some equivalent. You'd have about 3 - 6 years of experience. Your day-to-day job would include heading client accounts and ensuring your clients are happy and work is well-delivered.

So, apparently, according to PRCAM, the PR industry lacks people who can fit into this Job Description and a plan needs to be drafted to ensure the next tier of people to reach this level needs to be well-trained. The immediate reason for this is so that the industry players stop cannibalising talent from one another.

Now, therein begs thequestion that the PR industry needs to ask itself: Why is there a lack of these people in the first place?

Education system does not produce suitable candidates
I have got to disagree. More mass communication courses are available than ever before and more and more students are taking them. Some mass comm graduates three years ago couldn't find jobs when they graduated.

Moreover, there were enough Account Executives and entry level staff to go around years ago. What's happened to them? Shouldn't they be the Account Managers now?

Education is only a problem in Tier one. If we were lacking in quality candidates to be entry level consultants (and we are), that'd be the key problem. But when you're talking about middle managers, you'd have to point the finger right back at the agencies - did you train your AEs well enough to become your AMs? Perhaps it's the education system in the agency that's been a bit out of touch?

Competitive remuneration
More than one person I know who's joined a PR agency from another industry or started fresh with high hopes of high pay has been disappointed.

For the job and stress PR consultants handle, the job usually does not reward as well as other vocations. Invariably, entry level staff who've taken one or two years under their belt feel challenged to continue their tenure as PR consultants and leave the industry. Or settle for a cushy job in-house.

With a lack of empirical information, I'd say this is the major reason why so many young consultants become disillusioned with the industry. Honestly, not everyone in the industry has passion and drive at the level where those alone will keep them at their desks, toiling away for clients. For most pragmatic people, it's a strategic combination of drive and love for PR, and monetary realities that keep them where they are.

So PR agencies really have to consider - what are they paying their young? Does it help their young keep up with their modern lifestyle? ($$ barometer check - prices at Starbucks have gone up in the past 2 years)

What most PR agencies do, from observation, is pay well on top to keep their top guys, but skimp on what junior staff take home. Perhaps there is a need for agencies who have wonderful corporate philosophy's to ensure this gets translated into pay packet. What's the point of playing for Manchester United when you take home Cardiff pay?

Let's face it, in-house marketing, communications or just a job in a whole different industry becomes more enticing to the lower-levels of PR consultants when money is more material than job satisfaction.

Work-life balance
Many bosses repeat this mantra. Yet the sad reality is that most PR practitioners in the junior levels see their lives fade away into nothingness.

Each agency has its way of dealing with this. Perhaps what is needed is to evaluate if your agency is dealing with this effectively? Do your staff really want to hang out together for a movie? Or would they just prefer to go home early?

The direct counterbalance to this is the need and lust for more business. Both agencies I've been in subscribe to the "entrepreneurial spirit". That's a great thing in itself, but in the drive for more business, we just need to be aware that our junior staff are not crying for salvation silently.

My take on the whole issue is that most young consultants jump ship before they ever reach middle management. For them, the wait wasn't worth it when a quicker solution was available. The REAL solution? Consider what I've just written. You may be worth more than you're paid.

If you're a middle manager. :)

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