6 creative approaches to tackling the skills shortage in agencies

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Posted: Nov 2021

This time last year, agency employees were holding tightly onto their jobs, riding out an uncertain time. Fast forward to today and the scenario is flipped. After a year and a half of being ‘locked in’, allowing time for some serious soul searching, employees are more nonchalant about their careers. The experience of the pandemic has profoundly changed the way people think about their careers. In turn, professionals are moving jobs in higher numbers than we have seen in years, leaving agencies (particularly the small and mid-sized ones that don’t have in-house recruitment teams to proactively mine the market) scrambling for talent at a time when business is looking up – and being short-staffed really hurts. Agencies have hit the ‘perfect storm’ of winning business which requires more resource, and empowered employees moving on. This skills shortage, particularly for corporate comms consultancies, means that it’s time to think differently about hiring and retaining staff.

With the desire for in-house comms roles at its highest, agencies may want to consider some new approaches to tackle the shortage of talent – an issue that is proving to be their biggest business challenge of the year.

Here are our tips on how agencies can compete for talent in a candidate-short market:

1. Retain a specialist search firm for your Director/MD/CEO roles

It’s not as costly as you may think, and you will have a dedicated team of experts proactively sourcing the right people for you. Perhaps a search consultancy has failed to deliver in the past and you feel it’s risky? We would never take on a search if we thought we would fail, and we always deliver.

2. Be an attractive employer

This is a perfect opportunity to position your company as an exciting, attractive place to work. Small and medium-sized agencies are now in competition for talent not just with bigger agencies but with large businesses too. One of the reasons in-house corporate comms roles are so attractive is that big companies offer great company benefits. We suggest you dig deep and review your company benefits now to stay competitive. For Directors, start with pension contributions, healthcare and paid parental leave.

3. Tighten up your recruitment process

Great candidates are getting multiple offers right now, and getting job offers in a matter of just a few weeks. We know many agencies who like to interview several times and it’s slow. They are losing out on candidates plus it doesn’t make for the best candidate experience. Time to tighten up your process. Get it down to 3 stages; be agile.

4. Look after your own talent

It’s far cheaper and easier to look after your current team. Check in and, if you haven’t already done so, get social again. Have you taken them out for lunch or drinks recently? Make sure you’re asking how they are getting on and address any concerns. Remember, it’s not just your working practices that have been affected by the pandemic, but your people have too. They may need greater emotional support as you move forward. Being treated fairly and feeling supported, secure and included regardless of role or background are of primary importance. So is having a positive work environment and ‘meaningful fun.’

5. Open your hiring requirement to diverse backgrounds

We’re not just talking about different sector expertise, but also people outside of comms. Journalists can make brilliant comms professionals; people moving from in-house to agency with no agency experience can make it work. The pool of talent is tiny and being open to a wider pool of talent will help.

6. Be open to investing more in training

When you take on people from different backgrounds, they may have some gaps in their expertise. Additionally, learning will have been less straightforward whilst working from home. Perhaps fill these gaps with some intense in-house training – there will be people in your network who can be parachuted in to help here. Designate certain days when everyone is in the office so shadowing can be done and conversations can be overheard.

This hiring challenge isn’t going away and the agencies which adapt to the market are the ones who will sweep up best talent on offer. We are seeing counter-offers from multiple agencies over single candidates but it’s not all about base salary – those benefits count. With an open mind about backgrounds, and some investment in training, agencies can start to compete with in-house comms teams sitting in larger corporations – the real competition.

To read our full Salary Guide, click here.

The Works Search: a search consultancy specialising in PR and corporate communications. We have unrivalled matching abilities and known for finding the top 5% performers in the industry - the ones who deliver and make your reputation great. For more advice or market insights, do get in touch with us on 0207 903 9291 or email

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