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David Cohen, COO at Powerscourt on the benefits of recruiting in the current climate

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Posted: Dec 2020

Despite the current challenging environment, it’s encouraging to know that there are PR and Comms agencies that are thriving and continuing to hire. We talked to David Cohen, Chief Operating Officer at Powerscourt, who have recently made two senior level hires to support growth plans. David explains what the company will gain from making such hires at this time, the challenges they faced, as well as some pleasant surprises to virtual interviews.


Key reasons for hiring

“2020 has been a demanding year for us, like every business in the current environment, and advising clients during these times of change and transformation has proved to be challenging”, says David. “However, we’ve made the appointments in the current environment due to a confidence in the future, which is underpinned by the resilience of the business over the last six months, and we are excited that these new joiners will be part of our growth plans.”


Benefits to the company

The recent Powerscourt hires have been in three key areas:

Firstly, a talented group of graduate analysts, which are hires the company makes every year. “Our graduates are very much the engine room of our business and bring fantastic energy, ability, and enthusiasm from a range of diverse backgrounds, which is important to us”, explains David. “These hires are normal course, and we take a long-term view on them, so, even at a time like this, we want to make sure that is maintained. They provide a real dynamism into the firm which is really important for the life blood of the business.”

The company has also made two other significant senior hires to support its growth ambitions - Gilly Lock has joined from FTI as a Director in the Financials and Real Estate team, and Ngozi Emeagi who, as a Senior Consultant, has twin responsibilities for banking clients as well as in diversity and inclusion. “Gilly will help us develop our asset and wealth management practice further, to build on clients we already have in that area”, explains David. “She will bring lots of energy, experience, and ideas into the business.”

David continues, “Ngozi will support the development of our banking practice further, as well as helping companies to develop and communicate diversity and inclusion policies. This is a very important topic and a key part of where we want our business to grow.”

For Powerscourt, these are very much growth hires in areas where they already have presence and interests, so should help turbo charge growth and help them lead in some areas where it’s key to have specialists. “Both hires give us additional capacity to service existing clients and allow the teams to grow, at the same time as looking for new business”, says David. “They’ve brought to us very specific and clear experience which benefits not only clients but also colleagues in terms of knowledge sharing. We are increasingly operating in a world where clients need more specialist advice, particularly in financial services, investment management and banking, which are the areas Gilly and Ngozi have a lot of experience in, and having that technical knowledge aligned to their PR skills is really important.”


Challenges

David explains that, in general, the candidate pool has been challenging, but super high quality has been out there once they’ve been able to access it. “People are, quite understandably, being more cautious”, he says. “But at the same time, the pandemic has given many people a chance to reflect more, and therefore could have been a catalyst for people deciding to move. The challenge for hiring is finding those candidates who want to move, particularly in candidate driven markets like agency comms, where there is generally more demand for high quality people than there are people looking to move. In any environment the best candidates at every level are always going to be in demand, and the process is always going to be competitive.”

At the graduate level, with the slow-down of available jobs as the economy has retracted, the market is particularly competitive, and they have seen that in the extremely high quality of applicants they’ve had from a range of backgrounds. “For the right entrepreneurial minded, ambitious person, now is a great time to be joining a business like ours, as we try to give our teams lots of latitude to work on fantastic clients but also to perfect careers in an environment that is supportive, collegiate and rewards personal initiatives”, comments David.

“Once you start having conversations with the right candidates, they are excited by the prospect of moving to a business that is managing to navigate the current business environment. There are many businesses that are finding things super challenging, so it does energise people if you can paint a different picture of progress.”


How did it all work?

The interview process was a hybrid of personal and virtual meetings depending on where they were hiring and the local restrictions. A lot of the meetings were conducted via Teams and Zoom which David says worked really well, and, where regulations allowed, candidates felt comfortable, and it made sense (such as final round interviews ) some interviews were face to face.

“We’ve been amazed by everyone’s ability to adapt quickly to the environment”, says David. “You have to get used to the process a little bit, but it has worked very well. Of course, to interview face to face if you can is always a preference, and where there has been the opportunity we have done so, but we still managed to gain a very true perspective of people doing interviews remotely.”

David continues, “We used a similarly hybrid induction process of personal and virtual meetings which has worked well so far, in part thanks to our fantastic HR and admin team and their planning. But the adoption of Teams and Zoom has been transformative for the business and has helped normalise things.”


Any surprises?

David found that the recruitment and induction process felt much more normal than he thought it would. “Our business adapted rapidly to being more virtual and we very quickly got comfortable with the new way of working”, he explains. “Carrying out virtual interviews actually made the recruitment process more efficient. You can still form a full view of and connection with someone, despite not being able to shake hands. That has been a pleasant surprise, and I suspect we will retain elements of this hybrid approach in the future.”


Key advice for those recruiting

“We are fortunate that we’ve weathered the storm”, says David. “Resource planning is difficult in the current uncertain market, but my advice to other companies contemplating recruitment would be to try and take a long-term view on resourcing where you can, but be pragmatically cautious on the numbers you are hiring and timescales. If you’re not sure you need to make a hire, take a prudent approach, but at the same time, be confident and optimistic in both your own business plan and the ability of the wider economy to be resilient in the medium term. Have confidence in the business you have created, even if there are some short-term shocks.”

David also feels it is important to try and make sure every conversation is a two-way process, to understand the person behind the CV, and be patient and transparent with feedback, internally as well as to candidates. “For us, our people are the business”, he explains, “so investing properly in a fair and thorough recruitment process was critical to our future. We tried to humanise the process as much as possible. It’s a really difficult time for lots of people, and making a move is challenging and stressful at the best of times, but particularly so now, so it’s even more important to do things in the right way once you have made a decision to hire.”


In a nutshell

“For us, these hires have been very much long-term strategic growth hires which reflect our confidence in the underlying resilience of the business and are in areas we want to grow and develop”, says David. “It’s about hiring great people and great talent, and allowing that knowledge sharing which helps build on our talent pool, of which the business and clients reap the benefit.”


Thank you, David.

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 sarah@the-works.co.uk

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