You can't pass by a PR agency's General Manager or CEO without them claiming "digital is the future!" It's well documented by everybody and perpetuated by the flackosphere daily.

Now comes the release of a study by Los Angeles-based Eric Schwartzman of Schwartzman & Associates and iPressroom in conjunction with Korn/Ferry and PRSA.  Titled the "2009 Digital Readiness Report," the research shows how important digital communications skills are to to the people doing the hiring for PR pros.

There's some interesting stuff in here.  If you're interested in the social media side of PR, you've probably heard this stuff before.

Looking at this report brings to mind the big question that's on every PR agency's mind:  Where are these people?

Hiring people for digital specific jobs is exceedingly difficult for PR firms.  The blend of PR skills, digital experience and the strategic wherewithal to knit the two areas together is short supply.

I can tell you that the hiring pool in Toronto for digital-savvy PR people is pretty small and very fierce. The churn among those who are immersed in the space has been pretty intense over the last few years. I'm just one example, but look at folks like Ed Lee, Dave Fleet, Leona Hobbs, Eden Spodek, Collin Douma, Zoe Ziskos, Jay Moonah and many others who have been snapped up and resnapped up by another agency or ogranization in the last couple of years.

In the last few days, I've heard of two fairly senior digital jobs at major PR agencies in Toronto and they'll be hiring from the same tiny pool of people.  

But what if you don't have a digital team or practice? Hiring junior staff at many agencies has even more challenges.  I can't speak for every agency person out there, but a lot of hiring on the agency side is done to fill an immediate need.  You've got a new client, new project, or someone's left the team and you need to replace that person in two weeks.  In this situation, digital skills become a nice to have and not a priority. It's just human nature to fill your immediate needs now and not look three years down the road.

I don't profess to have the answer to the age old question of future-proofing your firm's talent.  Agency heads and HR managers have been wrestling with it for decades.  (My first boss was thrilled that I knew WordPerfect! That's right. Word. Perfect.) But here's three challenges I would throw out to the agency community:

1.  Get senior savvy:  the folks running the show need to know digital, so they can hire the right staff.

2.  Grow your own:  every person in the agency should have a digital skills development objective set as part of their performance plan that gets reviewed annually.

3.  Hire for the future:  don't just pay lip service to digital.  If you want to embrace the future, make digital skills part of every new hire's core skill set.