Friday, September 26, 2008

The Bonus Round for PR Employees

In public relations, we don't make cogs or widgets.

We can't measure productivity by how many ball-bearings our employees make. In public relations, things are a little, shall we say, less tangible.

Yet, we want to give our management and staff incentives and bonuses that are meaningful and reflect what our clients and ourselves value the most.

When I hired my first employees in the 90's, I had to be creative with these perks because tech firms were changing the game, offering flex time, free pizza every Friday, massage breaks, and ping pong. I had to re-think the traditional bonus system so that the rewards were not arbitrary and the subjectivity was minimal. There's no point to giving out bonuses for bonuses' sake. It had to be clear what you had to do to get a bonus.

I firmly believed that bonuses were for work "beyond the call of duty." Not impossible. Not science fiction. Employees were paid salaries and had all their benefits paid for and were expected to do their jobs. But there should be rewards for going one step further, aiming high and then delivering.

So with some trial and error along the way, I devised a bonus system that I felt fit the public relations profession in my eyes, and I'm going to share it with you.

My underlying theme was ambition. Bonuses were twice a year, June and December. Why have employees rack up the goods once a year when they should be doing it all year long?

These were my two ways of getting a bonus:
  1. An unsolicited original creative idea that is executed for a client.
  2. Getting substantial press placements about a client, from a very specific list of "harder hits" ranging from NPR's "Fresh Air" and "Oprah" to a profile in the New York Times or Fortune.
I even gave a bonus on top of a bonus if an employee got a regular gig for a client on TV, similar to the one I got for Jean Chatzky on the Today show years ago.

I still feel that for many agencies, this is a very viable and fair bonus system for everybody. First of all, it takes most subjectivity out of the equation, dramatically reducing arguments and grey areas. Everybody knows exactly what they have to do to get a bonus and the more they did it, the higher the bonus. Secondly, it tied in two highly valued criteria -- ambitious hits and creativity -- with the extra paycheck money.

They say money is the number one reason people get divorced. I'm sure it's the number one reason why people switch jobs. If publicists knew exactly what they had to do to get it and more of it, there may be less arguments over it. We make not make ball-bearings, but we do have other yardsticks we can use for measuring success.

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