“Offshoring” is when a company moves jobs to places where high-quality labor costs a lot less than it at home. (Think of all the customer service and phone center jobs shipped from America to India in recent years.) Technology companies have been the leaders in outsourcing jobs overseas, but media companies such as Reuters, which is U.K.-based, are now offshoring. If you don’t think offshoring can happen in the public relations industry, you’re wrong, and there are indications that the PR industry will only continue to move jobs overseas in the coming years. But there are ways you can fight offshoring and hang onto your public relations job.
Steven Vass, Business and Media Correspondent for Scotland’s Sunday Herald, has explored the subject of offshoring and possible lost public relations jobs. “Some people believe that Indian graduates could create lists with journalists details, distribute press releases and make phone calls to organise events. Writing might also extend to basic articles for the trade press,” Vass reported back in 2004. “[Simon Quarendon, secretary general of the International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO), which represents PR consultants in 24 countries including the UK], believes that this kind of work accounts for 25 percent to 30 percent of industry billings in the UK, and that much of it could have relocated over the next few years.”
Vass suggested that the idea of offshoring jobs may not appeal to public relations firms, which obviously have not just their image to maintain but the image of their clients as well. By the same token, public relations is as competitive as any industry, and contracts are often rewarded with one thing in mind: the bottom line.
It’s not just public relations firms that may end up shipping jobs overseas. When I spoke to an executive at a mid-sized U.S. technology company–over $100 million per year in revenues–he told me that at the time approximately 75 percent of the company’s trade articles, his company’s media monitoring, and even some press release generation came from an outside contractor based in India. The reasoning? Cost-cuts.
“We’ve been forced to cut a number of jobs over the past few years,” the executive told me, “including more than half of our public relations and corporate communications staff. We tried keeping some people on as outside contractors, consultants and freelancers, but it was just too expensive. We could only pay so much out of our budget for certain things, so we looked overseas and found a public relations firm in India that could handle our business. What we found out later – and we’re fine with this – is that they are outsourcing most our work to individual contractors.”
The executive, for obvious reasons, did not want his or his company’s name used. He said the decision caused considerable debate internally, and the company decided to offshore as an experiment. When the experiment went well, he said offshoring became a permanent arrangement. There has been one positive effect for the company.
“We were able to hire two people back because of the cost savings, albeit at lower salaries, but they have their jobs, stock and benefits,” the executive said.
Offshoring has become a passionate issue among Americans in the last few years. Some Americans view offshoring as un-patriotic, and they believe it is hurting the economy. Others see offshoring as a natural extension of the global economy – something that America, more than any other nation, has promoted and pushed for. Whatever your personal view may be, one thing is certain, offshoring is a rapidly growing business, one that many companies believe offers economic advantages, especially in a slow job-growth economy. The trend is sure to continue.
Many major public relation firms have an international presence, and offshoring public relations jobs would not constitute much effort. Smaller firms may eventually find that offshoring enhances or expands existing services. Companies big and small looking to lower the cost of public relations activities may find offshoring some public relations duties as a natural cost-savings extension (as the tech company featured here apparently did). With this backdrop, the question for public relations professionals becomes: how can you protect yourself from offshoring? The simple answer is you cannot. A more involved answer is that you can prepare yourself for what may be a new atmosphere in the sector.
Consider some basic questions for a moment. Can you write a press release? Can you a convince a reporter to see your side of the story? Can you quickly build a media list? Can you write a trade article? Can you schmooze at a trade show, sell a potential client on your services, or get on the phone and calm down a client in the midst of a public relations meltdown?
A good public relations person can do all of these things, just as a good reporter can write about everything from a school board meeting to the price of oil. In creative fields such as public relations and journalism, we absolutely must have the ability to break out of our “business card roles” and assume new duties when the pressure is on (or even when someone is just out sick). The Chief Executive Officer of a company doesn’t necessarily need to know exactly how the technology works, but it certainly helps. (For a good example of this, take a look at MCI’s Michael Capellas, who took over the company with absolutely no telecommunications background but has a proven track record of running successful businesses.) Public relations professionals, however, should know how their client’s or company’s technology works, and they should not have to push a reporter on deadline off on a company engineer to explain something.
Too many times in the past I’ve recounted bewildering or aggravating experiences I have had with public relations people. What I’ve learned over the years is that most of the people who caused my blood to boil were, in some way or another, ill-equipped for their jobs. A public relations person at one of my old companies churned out press releases that read like they came from the pen of a seventh-grader. Another public relations person I worked with, a wonderful writer in fact, had no people skills and often caused journalists to believe that she was uninterested in answering questions. Still others I’ve encountered are great on the phone and terrible in person, or they could talk you blue in the face but couldn’t write you a readable email with some basic information in it.
Some of the best public relations people I know are constantly learning. A friend who has been in public relations for 20 years recently enrolled in writing classes to brush up on her skills after her “best press release writer” went on maternity leave and decided not to come back. Another friend in the business told me he spent a week essentially interning on the production line so he could better understand how one of his clients manufactures its products. And still another friend, someone who has actually taught public relations classes at a college, said he’s been reading at least one PR-related book a week to keep fresh ideas flowing.
All of these people are doing this so they’ll not only be better at their jobs, but so that they’ll still have their jobs.
“After you’ve been doing something for ten years,” said one of my public relations friends, “you end up being pigeon-holed as ‘the guy who is good at this, but not so good at that.’ This doesn’t help you when it comes time for a raise, or when you’re ready to move on to another company. You have to keep improving if you want to keep the kids at bay. I don’t want some twenty-three year old taking my job because I can’t do something.”
When I told my friend that the twenty-three year old may not be his biggest competition in the near future, he sighed.
“Great,” he said, only half-jokingly. “Now I’m going to have to compete with people half-way around the world.”
My friend, however, understands that despite the whims of employers, he can do plenty of things to stay competitive in the global workforce. As an Indian proverb goes: Fate and self-help share equally in shaping our destiny.
This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.