Client staff churn

A sure sign that tech PR is picking up is the increased competition for staff over the last six months. Last year the crunch was for more junior staff with one to three years’ experience. During the downturn, agencies stopped hiring at entry level. Three years later, there was a shortage of Account Executives, since those were the first jobs to be created when the market eased.

Now we’re seeing increased competition at a more senior level – Account Manager, Account Director/Supervisor. LinkedIn recently launched its new Job searching section, offering free ads to employers. Already the savvy agencies are leaping in there to extend their reach – and most of the positions are senior.

Talking to recruitment firms, the story is the same – they’re forwarding resumes quickly to prevent candidates taking other offers. It’s already not uncommon for candidates to have several offers on the table and still be interviewing for better ones. I’ve already reported about the more desperate firms mass mailing offers to candidates – unsolicited.

But there’s another trend that I’ve noticed – client churn. Taking a look through our client base,  virtually every client has had one of the main points of contact at director and VP level move on in the last year. It’s a broader trend as we’ve seen with churn at Oracle, Sun etc. Andrew Gordon at PRWEEK recently commented on the high number of tech firms changing their teams.

What does this mean to an agency? Well, concerns over churn always used to be the client’s prerogative. Now it’s one of the questions I ask as well when meeting companies. Of course, there will always be an ambient level of churn, but client churn disrupts a campaign. It means the agency has to re-build the relationship. All that good will, those late nights, are put back to nil as the new contact comes on board.

Obviously, we need to constantly deliver and not coast on past successes, but the changeovers require a special level of input. Working practices have to be developed, trust rebuilt.

And there’s always the risk that the new client contact has his or her own preferred agency. It’s a risky time for the firm. Granted, the client who moves on may take you with them. That’s a nice way to do business, and I guess all agencies win some and lose some in this manner.

But it still creates friction in the system. I calculated in 2003 that the average tenure of a client was about two years in a corp comms position. If it takes six months for the PR manager to get up to speed, that only leaves 18 months to affect the reputation of the company.

To me that says both agency principals and senior client staff must work hard to reduce churn – your reputation and growth could depend on it.