Emma Dale, Managing Director of Prospect, offers expert insight on the key conclusions of each section in the recently released 2016 State of the Industry Report, published by PublicAffairsAsia and Prospect
WATCH: Emma Dale being interviewed on key trends in the industry
Section 1: Salary, Bonus and Benefits
It is positive to see that salaries and bonuses are still on the rise. However, the increase is not as significant as last year. This reflects the overall economic situation in Asia and the budget-cutting that appears to be taking place. It should also be pointed out that when communications professionals move externally into another role, they tend to receive a pay increase of 10% to 20%.
The benefits a company offers could be a great way of attracting and retaining staff, but this is still an area of the overall remuneration that is ignored by many firms. We can see from the survey that standard benefits such as bonus, healthcare, pension and annual leave tend to be the only things on offer, although expanding these to include lifestyle benefits has been shown to attract and retain talent. Offering staff flexi-time, the option to work from home, and exercise and wellbeing benefits can make a huge difference. A decent amount of training and “career pathing” needs to be addressed by many firms – again something that will assist in attracting and retaining staff.
Overall, it is positive to see that many agencies and MNC’s are addressing diversity issues in their firms and promoting initiatives to have a more balanced senior management team in the next five years.
Section 2: Shape and Size of Communications Functions
It’s clear from the survey and interviews that communications and corporate affairs teams vary in size across the region and there will be little investment in expanding these teams over the coming years. Businesses are seeing the value of communications and increasingly the function has a seat at the boardroom table. Despite business growth, streamlining is in place and many are expecting a tougher operating environment. Budgets are hard to obtain and closely monitored, in part due to the difficulty in measuring how communications positively affects a company’s bottom line. The discipline mash-up is very much in place and most agency leaders and heads of communications feel that PR can own and lead the integrated offering. The lines between PR and marketing overall are becoming very blurry, but public affairs will remain independent of communications and marketing.
Section 3: The Challenges – Internal
Education seems to be a challenge from both an agency and in-house perspective. In-house, communications practitioners are continuing to educate the business on what the function can offer as they often come up against a traditional view that communications focuses only on the media. Agencies also feel there is a continuous need to educate clients, whose natural default position is to focus on digital rather than more traditional media and stakeholder engagement. The digital era has rapidly increased the amount of content needing to be generated by the communications function, thus requiring strong writing skills. It appears that too much of senior leadership’s time is spent editing material due to the lack of solid writing skills internally. However, there needs to be a balance between global and local messaging and therefore between English and local language requirements. The drive towards localisation is continuing, with both agencies and in-house communications teams hiring locals in the various markets. However, there is still a need for people who can connect regionally and globally and it is proving a challenge to find them.
The impact of digital on communications has been extensive and many managers feel their teams are not up to speed with digital, nor have they been able to recruit the required digital skills. With digital comes analytics and also a visual presence, all of which require new skills to be brought in from outside. It also seems a constant battle to educate management on why they are investing in digital and the benefit it brings. The talent problem has increased due to the digital evolution, with both agencies and in-house teams competing for the same digital capabilities. However, it is also important to highlight to clients and management that traditional media still has a place. Integrating both “old” and “new” competencies and capabilities into a business appears to be challenging for many agencies and in-house functions. The level of scrutiny by government, NGO’s, regulators and the public has intensified and the environment within which communications professionals operate has become far more complex. Regulatory reform, risk policy and legal changes are bewildering to many communications professionals.
Section 5: Talent, Culture and Skills
The most critical internal challenge is talent – both attracting and retaining it. Despite wishing to focus on hiring quality, many firms have to hire what’s available in the market. With such a shortage of talent, firms needs to be more creative and think outside the box in an attempt to hire quality. Agencies can’t and won’t pay above the industry average to secure talent as this results in wage inflation and a discrepancy within salary bands internally. Agency-side retention is proving challenging, with many staff continuing to move in-house at some stage in their career. Talent management programmes therefore need to be addressed to give people an incentive to stay and keep them interested in the business. Culture is becoming more important to firms but also more complex. Creating a culture of curiosity is imperative to encourage people to learn new skills, adopt different approaches and go the extra mile. With teams based across the region, a “one team spirit” culture needs to take hold, regardless of the different locations and cultures. Flexibility, creativity, consulting and integrity are key, as is a culture of trust. Overall, a broader range of skills is in demand but hard to come by. Basic communications skills such as writing and language ability are becoming harder to find, along with counselling, planning, digital and data abilities.
Section 6: Working with Agencies: The View From Both Perspectives
With a healthy volume of agencies – large, medium-size, boutiques – in the region, clients have a plethora to choose from when seeking an extension to their in-house resources.
There is mixed opinion on how agencies are used – some are viewed as long-term partners and trusted advisers while others are seen as a short-term fix dealing with tactics and implementation. Many agencies feel they are brought in to help with a situation too late, which puts huge pressure on them to meet client expectations. Reporting lines have changed for their agencies, with many now reporting directly to CMO’s, CEO’s and in some cases Chief Procurement Officers. There still seems to be the opinion that agencies are bringing large teams including senior figures to a pitch, rather than the people that will actually do the work. Clients appear to be interested in boutiques coming to the market employing only senior staff who can give them high-level, strategic counsel.
Emma Dale is the Managing Director of Prospect, the talent resource specialist and partner for The 2016 State of the Industry report.