Thursday, January 22, 2009

Recession proof your PR job

Well, talk about a productive first day on the job! If President Barack Obama was working in a PR agency, he’d have a banner first day of great billable hours. No long lunches for this guy on his first day in the White House. He put pen to paper from the get go.

And speaking of productivity, agencies talk a lot about billable hours, simply because staff are the primary revenue streams for the agency. At my agency, I review billable hours and capacity levels weekly against client budgets. Not my favourite part of the biz but if there is a part of the engine not functioning properly, we flag it early. As a general rule, most agencies don’t carry around extra baggage in the staff department.

But what happens in an economic climate like a recession when clients start to cut back budgets or worse, halt work altogether and it starts to cut into your personal billability levels?

If you’re worried about your billability, don’t be too worried sick over it. There are other ways to recession proof your job at your agency.

Here are five things your boss is looking at besides your billability level:

5. Special skill set. Ok, this one is key if you have a special skill you bring to the agency that is needed time again. Perhaps it’s a strong second language skill, or you’re the best editor in the place or better yet, you’re the social media guru. Your boss may find it hard to replace these special skills and keep you on staff.

4. Your a new biz “whiz kid.” If your hours are lower than normal but you’re a cracker jack at developing presentations, RFPs, research etc. Stay calm, your boss will recognize that new business development is expertise that is much needed in a recession. You’ll be safe for now.

3. Volunteer for special projects: Don’t be out of sight in tough times, don’t close the door to your office too much. Be visible. Be heard. Volunteer for internal events, develop new content for the web site, write new cases studies, work on pro bono clients etc. Show a meaningful contribution to the agency in other ways.

2. Seniority and track record: This one is a no-brainer. If you have more than five years in the agency (some consider that a “lifer’) and your track record has been impeccable for most of it, I can safely say your job is not in peril. You’re a seasoned practitioner to the agency and once things pick up, you’ll be the first to be billing up a storm and contributing to the bottom-line once again.

1. The boss likes you! Now some of you might be rolling your eyes at this one, but if you and the boss have a unique or special relationship – you both love to sail, have a lot in common, kids have play dates together .... it will be tougher for your manager to axe you because your billables are a little lower. But don’t suck up to your boss at this time either, he’ll see through that little game. Just stay in his face and keep it business as usual and don’t show any fear.

Hopefully some of you will sleep better tonight.


If anyone has other points, please share them, I know this is an important discussion for some of you out there.


2 comments:

Natasha Dunkley said...

Hi Julie,

I think that during these economic times it is very easy for people to become a little down and discouraged. So I would have to add keeping a positive attitude to your list. I think a positive attitude is contagious and will boost the office morale. No one likes a bad attitude or a whiner, and keeping a positive attitude will gain you the respect of your peers and the recognition of your boss.

Stan said...

Great topic Julie, as agency staffers sometimes get queasy when their billables are low. Your points are all solid, and I'll add a few more.

First is that slow periods are a great time to generate ideas (even if it's an investment for the agency) that the client will value down the road. Think and think some more.

The second is for people to step forward when billables are low and work with agency team members who may still be billable-swamped and share some of the workload. This can be done at grass-roots level, even before agency management get involved to re-shuffle assignments. A whole new meaning to volunteerism.