Paul Holmes 19 Feb 2003 // 12:00AM GMT
Due to the highly competitive marketplace to recruit and retain top notch PR talent in 2001, The Hoffman Agency developed an ambitious and highly creative program that was specifically tailored to meet the career goals while providing additional benefits designed to contribute to a better quality of life for Hoffman employees. The heavy participation of Hoffman employees worldwide in these new programs and subsequent low company turnover reflects the great success of the program and is hopefully worthy of a 2002 SABRE Award.
In early 2001, while the high tech boom had leveled off, recruiting and retention of PR talent was still increasingly difficult. It was an employees’ market, and in some cases, stories were still cropping up of bidding wars for junior level talent. The Hoffman Agency has a long-standing reputation as a great place to work with a multitude of employee benefits, such as flexibility of work schedules, telecommuting, and a month long sabbatical after four years of employment. However, employees were increasingly asking for more career development opportunities, such as global experience, additional education and training, and affordability of housing in one of the most expensive markets in the U.S.
Research Prior to Execution
Marketplace demands had dictated a shift in recruiting practices. During the interview process, prospective employees were closely looking at value-add items beyond salary and health benefits. In addition, executive recruiters were calling Hoffman personnel about potential work in other companies. Senior executives, taking these matter very serious, embarked on a series of discussions to pinpoint and address recruiting and retention issues. Critical to this process was the implementation of a company-wide survey asking what programs employees wanted to enrich their personal and professional experience at Hoffman.
Strategic Approach and Implementation
Feedback from the survey showed experience abroad, more formal PR training, and affordable housing were what Hoffman employees wanted most. So senior executives went back to the drawing board, to look at how each of this issue could be best addressed. After much planning, the decision was made to develop and implement three unique programs focused directly on what employees were asking for. This included the following:
Building Bridges Around the World. Any Hoffman team member could apply to work for a time period of two weeks to one year in an office overseas. The Hoffman Agency has eight offices overseas, including five in Asia-Pacific (Hong Kong, Singapore, Beijing, Seoul, and Tokyo) and two in Europe (United Kingdom and Germany). European and Asian Pacific team members could also apply to work in one of Hoffman’s four U.S. offices (San Jose, Denver, New York, Washington, D.C. The Agency compensates the employee for travel and relocation expenses as well as maintains the employee’s salary level.
Housing Assistance Program. The program was targeted at ongoing renters and those who were hoping to be first-time homebuyers. Hoffman drew up a plan that would provide a housing allowance to those employees who qualified and showed the need for the benefit. If they qualified, the Agency would grant a low-interest loan for up to $25,000 and would subsequently eliminate the interest payment after three years. For renters, financial assistance of up to $250 a month was given to those who qualified.
Professional Development Sessions. This is a comprehensive program of training sessions that tap into the multitude of internal and external resources available to the Agency. The “Lunch Bucket” program featured either a newsmaker or high-profile communication professional that would speak on a variety of topics, from venture capital, to the history of the Silicon Valley, to how to land a story in their publication or broadcast outlet. The “In the Trenches” program was designed to tap into the expertise within the agency since many employees had worked in other facets of the communications industry, such as marketing communications, journalism, and market research. The topics ranged from “How to work with difficult clients” to “Bridging the gap between product and corporate PR.”
All three programs were immediately and enormously popular among employees. In 2001, the Building Bridges program allowed 10 employees to work overseas in both Asia Pacific and the U.K. The Housing Assistance Program helped one Hoffman employee purchase a home and an additional eight employees receive rental assistance. And the Professional Development Sessions have garnered nearly 100 percent participation throughout the agency. Thanks in part to these programs, the Hoffman Agency has seen about a 10 percent turnover in account personnel in 2001, well below industry averages.