Meritocracy. It’s one of my favourite words, I love the way it sounds, its origins and what it represents. Meritocracy (definition): A system in which advancement is based on individual ability or achievement.
As a search specialist in PR & communications recruitment I have probably interviewed over three thousand PR professionals from different industry sectors. I’ve recruited for literally hundreds of PR agencies and in-house teams and the word I love to use to describe a new company to a candidate the most is ‘meritocratic’.
From my numbers, you can sense that I have been working alongside the industry for a long while now, I’ve seen a lot of things….I’ve watched the sector adapt, expand and demand even more from those who choose PR & Comms as their career path. Most interestingly, I’ve seen the talent in the industry impressively respond to these changes and demands encountering some truly inspiring examples of creativity and fantastically engaging campaigns. PR candidates are working across platforms, pushing their ideas globally on (post-recession) smaller budgets and integrating more than ever with other media channels. It’s exciting and constantly changing.
For us as recruiters, there are so many nuances to matching the right candidate to a new company. Beyond relevant work experience, culture fit has become even more important, as has sector specialism, integration with digital, social media, experiential and more. It is more challenging than ever to find strong talent that meets all the requirements of a client vacancy. Previously, ‘level’ was one of the easiest ways to define a candidate, through a tick box of skills they should have attained in their previous roles to warrant the ‘level’ progression, an almost generic transition of experience based on ‘dues paid’ in the industry. With the industry becoming leaner and more fluid and clients expecting even more engagement, brand awareness and even sales, from their comms strategies, gone are the days where a PR executive was only good for drafting press releases and collating reports. Now we are seeing junior team members developing content, managing social media voices for client brands and contributing ideas to the creative process alongside their senior peers. The experience that more juniors are bringing to the table means it is getting harder to see where one level, for example, ‘Senior Account Executive’, ends and another, ‘Account Manager’ begins.
Well, here is where my favourite word comes to play. Meritocracy. As a concept in the workplace, it would seem to most logical and fair practice to incorporate. Rewarding or promoting individuals based on their work and contributions to a business, irrespective of their gender, class or age. But from my many interactions with the many PRs I’ve met, the constraints of years of experience is still somehow a factor. Clients will question the credibility of an Account Manager with 3 years’ experience or the ambition of a Senior Account Manager with 8 years’ experience. I in turn offer that it is not the length of time that you are doing something that matters, but in fact how well you do it at all and are your efforts and results truly evaluated. I mean, in a small agency environment where for 2 years a PR has been given the opportunity to work alongside an MD, frontline and centre on client accounts and with media, developing strategies and pitching ideas? How does that not translate to a bigger agency environment’s definition of an Account Manager? Team management experience does not an Account Manager make. The reality is, as roles in PR demand more, the best talent work to that expectation. Meeting a junior candidate with a salary in the high twenties is completely viable if their demonstrable experience lives up to the hype! Being rewarded fairly for your skillset is just the meritocratic way.
Thankfully, we are lucky enough to work with clients who understand that ‘skills maketh the candidate, not years’. A growing number of our PR agency clients have created new levels or job titles and even divisions to ensure that PR talent is being treated as just that, unique talent! Focussing on skillset – be it media relations, events, creativity, content or new business is proving the way forward. Ensuring that each employee is treated and rewarded based on their unique abilities and defining what they are able to bring to the client account, team and business as a whole is ensuring retention and raising candidate confidences in the PR market for new opportunities.
A career should be a journey, and time shouldn’t be wasted checking how far you’ve got. The best work environments offer a meritocratic career path, where PRs are constantly learning new skills and also able to work to natural best based on abilities. Focussing less on job title and more on responsibility and involvement is often how the best in any industry is truly seen. At top companies, meritocracy is often evident when senior people with different skills drive the most successful brands. I mean, what is Sir Richard Branson’s job title anyway?
Davina Williamson is a Co-Founder/Director of 6 Degrees Talent & 6 Degrees Talent Digital. She has been recruiting in the Creative Communications sector for over twelve years.