MIAMI BEACH--Leaders from some of the world’s standout independent PR firms explained today how a focus on talent management has helped them outgrow network agencies in recent years.

Their comments came at the Independent PR Firms Forum on day one of the Holmes Report’s Global Public Relations Summit in Miami Beach.

Christine Barney, CEO of rbbPR, pointed out that many publicly-held agencies offer “meaningless” benefits. “In a lot of big companies, you’ll see benefit programs but you’ll still see dissatisfied employees.”

Instead, said Barney, agencies must focus on developing what she described as an “employee-driven workplace.”

Blue Rubicon CEO Fraser Hardie added that talent management has become a key competitive advantage for a firm that has been named Agency of the Year numerous times in the UK. “It was very clear to us that if we became a leading employer we could create a quite hard competitive advantage. It’s quite simply really.”

The panel also saw agreement on some specific themes - notably, Hering Schuppener CEO Ralf Hering’s argument that staff members only work on a small number of accounts.

“We need to have people working on fewer clients, going deeper within those clients,” said Hardie. “One of the things we are prone to as an industry is pretending we are specialists.”

One of the key benefits of independence is the ability to provide employees with a degree of ownership that publicly-held firms cannot match. “Everyone in our agency sees every number except for individual salary,” said Barney.

Last, but not least, panellists reminded delegates of the importance of ruthlessness. “This is an industry that caters too much to the assholes in the business,” said Barney.