Salary Survey 2011: Recovery takes hold

A better business environment has created optimism in the job market and the search for talent is on.

A better business environment has created optimism in the job market and the search for talent is on, finds the 2011 PRWeek/Bloom, Gross & Associates Salary Survey. 

Given encouraging US economic data, it is not surprising to learn that after years of downsizing and salary freezes the once difficult job market for PR pros has improved. What is somewhat unexpected, however, is the strength of the recovery in terms of job creation.

 That trend is reflected in the 2011 PRWeek/Bloom, Gross & Associates Salary Survey, which reveals many PR practitioners have changed jobs in the past 12 months - but this time, it has largely been by their own accord.

 Among the 23% of respondents who say they had changed employers (versus 13% last year), just 12% of them say it was because they had been laid off from their previous position - a far cry from the 35% of PR pros who said they had been laid off in 2010.

 In fact, PR pros who left their position did so for reasons more typically seen when the economy is doing well, the survey indicates.

 Respondents who changed employers did so because they sought new challenges/opportunities (27%, up from 21%), were bored or dissatisfied with their previous job (17%, up from 10%), or received more money or a better package (11%, up from 6%).

 Downsizing is still happening, particularly in some parts of the US, but it accounted for only 7% of job changes in this year's survey, compared to 27% in 2010.

 Top recruiters, agency executives, and hiring managers say with corporate profits and new investments rising, they're now seeing staffing needs across the board - not just in social media and internal communications, the two relative bright spots throughout the downturn. 

Widespread optimism

“We are not just guardedly optimistic anymore, but pretty optimistic,” says Karen Bloom, principal at Bloom, Gross & Associates. “There is definitely steady hiring now. We're getting inquiries from agencies small, medium, and large, as well as from corporations, all with the anticipation they'll do quite a bit of hiring this year.”

 Bill Masterson, MD of internal communications at United Continental, sees an uptick in hiring across the board, not just in PR.

 “Hiring appears to be picking up,” he says. “With colleagues in the PR community and others, there is a sense that more jobs are opening up, really beginning in the fourth quarter last year and continuing so far this year.”

 At first glance, it could be easy to dismiss the renewed demand for talent as nothing more than a short-lived correction, a realization by the industry that it cut too deep.

While that kind of hiring is taking place - or already has - agency executives say what they find most encouraging is that some of the job creation is being driven by new revenue streams.

“We've been hiring steadily at all levels,” says Todd Hansen, principal at O'Malley Hansen Communications, a 16-person PR firm with offices in Chicago and St. Louis. “We're seeing increased activity in terms of incremental opportunity, but also new opportunity that we probably haven't seen in two or three years.”

 In mid-January, Fleishman-Hillard had 180 positions open - 60 more than it had available in late summer - across all offices and disciplines, with a slight focus at the mid-professional level, as well as for those with expertise in digital and social media.

  “We are seeing an increased demand for strategic hires; positions that didn't even exist before,” says Agnes Gioconda, chief talent officer for Fleishman. “In terms of needing to be on the edge of integrated communications, we have positions that have new names to them and new job descriptions, such as account planner and creative director.”

 The search for new talent - and not just for the type of candidate they might have been looking for even two years ago - has sparked many firms to re-enter full hiring mode.

 Ketchum has brought on more in-house recruiters to help meet its demand for people, particularly those with expertise in social media and measurement and research.

 Rob Lorfink, COO and CFO of Ketchum, says the agency now has five full-time recruiters in North America and three in Europe. “They are recruiting in addition to our HR network, which is now spending about 20% of its time on recruitment,” he explains.

 With all four of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide's West Coast offices (Denver, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Francisco) hiring, senior HR manager for the region Kaye Monty recently spent time in each office to get a sense of staffing requirements.

 “The growth is coming organically and from new business,” she says.

 The need to hire more PR talent extends to the corporate side, as well.

 “In general, it seems like the market for PR pros is starting to thaw - no doubt a reflection of the overall economic recovery,” says Jeff Mochal, director of communication and external relations at ConAgra Foods.

 In addition, PR recruitment firms report being busier than they've been in the past two years.

 “We had employers at the beginning of 2010 tell us they probably wouldn't need our services,” recalls Bloom. “But by the middle of the year, they were calling us saying, ‘Oh my gosh, we don't know what's happened, but we need help.' It was a real shift and people panicked a bit - they realized they needed to get back into the routines of talent acquisition.”

A bigger talent pool

The survey finds 29% of survey respondents are currently job seeking in the PR field, up from 27% the year prior.

However, as recruiters and agencies approach those who may not actively be looking - particularly at the more senior level - they say they are getting a far more receptive response than they did even six months ago.

“We are seeing candidates with greater confidence because they see business in their own agency increasing. They feel for themselves that the industry is back in growth mode,” says Ruth Clark, global chief talent director at Hill & Knowlton. “It was much more difficult to attract candidates in 2009. That was a real problem. However, we started to see that change in the second half of 2010.”

 Indeed, the survey found PR pros feel much more optimistic about the industry. Just 10% of them feel their job is under threat due to economic conditions, compared to 14% in 2010 and 22% in 2009.

 In addition, 28% of respondents say they are less willing than last year to make a geographical move for a job opportunity, up from 22% in 2010. That suggests there is less desperation in the marketplace.

 “Before people just wanted a job, but now they're really looking for career growth,” says Lorfink.

 Agencies and recruiters are also looking outside the box for potential candidates. “It helps to have PR agency experience, but we also look for people with specific industry experience,” says Monty.

 With PR angling to own a big part of the social pie, as well as increasing its role in terms of integrated brand communications, Gioconda says a new group of creative professionals have really opened up to PR.

 “About seven or eight years ago, we might have focused more on journalism majors,” she explains. “We still look for solid writing skills, but now, with a focus on integrated communications, we're tapping into a whole new talent pool.”

 Even though talent is more willing to talk about new positions, “it still has to be something really compelling to give up the security they have,” says Monty.

 The median salary overall for survey respondents is $87,000, up from $82,000 last year.

 To help ease their anxiety, PR pros are expecting a substantial increase in their annual compensation.

 “We want to bring in new people and we've found they are looking for a 10% to 20% increase to leave their current position,” says Gioconda. “Salaries cannot grow faster than your top line is growing and we've been very good at managing that aspect of our business.”

Richer offers

The survey reveals that a 20% pay raise is the minimum amount that would make 21% of respondents interested in leaving their current job. In addition, 11% would switch for a 15% increase, while 13% would make a move for a 10% pay hike. Only 9% of people would consider a move for a raise of less than 5%, down a percentage point from 2010.

 Results also show that 10% of respondents strongly believe they are very aggressive when it comes to negotiating salary with current or future employers. Only 6% said the same the year prior.

 Michael Patino, MD at Patino & Associates, says new hires can expect anywhere between a 5% to 15% increase over their previous compensation.

 His executive recruitment firm has been performing searches for internal and external communicators in equal measure, in contrast to just a year ago where most of his clients were focused on internal communications to help keep employees engaged during the downturn.

 Patino has also seen a shift in how much his clients are willing to pay for a candidate.

 “In 2009, if we showed a client a range of candidates, they were tending toward hiring the candidate they could get at a middle- to low-end salary,” says Patino. “Today they are more focused on getting the right person rather than the best cheap person.”

 Still, some candidates unreasonably expect their next employer to make up for raises and bonuses they did not receive from their former employer.

 “In some cases, we need to have tough conversations with candidates because they cannot expect the next company to make things whole again,” says Patino.

 For those who have been laid off, there is some good news. While recruiters can't quite pinpoint the reasons why, they say candidates who have been unemployed for quite some time have suddenly been re-engaged.

 “It was so gratifying to see because there were some fabulous professionals who got stuck in that first wave of senior-level layoffs,” says Bloom. “It says something about the resilience of the PR and communications world. Good people will eventually land back in the profession.”

 And she explains it isn't simply a case of employers looking to save on payroll.

 “I did see some people more desperate to get back into the job market who expressed a willingness to take lower pay,” notes Bloom. “But I advise clients against that because the minute the market turns they run the risk of losing that person. That person can then peddle his or her talent on the street and get back to the salary range they were at before.”

Gaps in compensation

As the economy recovers, the industry has been addressing the potential compensation imbalance between existing staff and those coming fresh through the door.

 Gioconda says Fleishman gave many of its employees raises during its April 2010 annual review cycle. That followed a year in which salaries remained relatively flat.

 “We rewarded people with salary increases and some with bonuses based on the overall performance of the region/office and individuals involved,” she explains.

 “We are aware that, as the market changes for incoming people, we may need to make adjustments for those who are already on staff and have the same experience level as someone coming in the door,” adds Gioconda.

 “You always must keep on top of those gaps,” says H&K's Clark. “We have to. That's how you keep people.”

 Employers seem to be doing this, as the survey indicates many PR pros likely got raises in the past 12 months.

 In looking at the difference between their current salaries versus the previous year, 67% of respondents report a bump in pay. By comparison, only 47% of respondents saw an increase in their compensation the year prior.

  Ketchum's Lorfink says employee compensation was the last place his firm made cuts to ensure it met financial targets. “We delayed some salary increases in 2009,” he reports. “Although the most senior people aren't quite all the way back, 90% of the company is now back to pre-recession raise percentages and raise schedules.”

 Among this year's survey respondents, a higher percentage expect an increase at their next review, with only 21% not expecting a raise versus 27% last year.

 “You are always going to have that group of people who will have their eyes and ears open, wanting to make a change,” explains Bloom, who recognizes the challenge to manage and keep existing top talent. “Coming out of a recession, the reality is there is a better likelihood they can and will make that change.”

Pay for performance

When it comes to annual pay, there was a time when cash was king and other factors related to compensation were not considered a key part of the equation.

 “It is natural for people to think about that first - their base salary first and foremost,” says Patino. “Most people struggle to think about the different levers that can fall into compensation.”

 But companies are looking increasingly at performance-based bonuses as a way to help talent potentially reach new income heights while protecting the business.

 “We're making a salary offer today to a candidate that is 5% to 7% above what they're at today,” says Patino. “But the total compensation will be roughly 20% to 25% more than their current job because this company has more compensation at risk as their philosophy.”

 Maryanne Rainone, SVP and MD at PR search firm Heyman Associates, has witnessed a similar trend.

 “We're still seeing more of a flat base compensation rate,” she explains. “However, we're also seeing more aggressiveness when it comes to performance-based compensation. Clients now understand they need to compete with those industries that pay generously on incentive compensation.”

 In terms of rating the importance of employee benefits, 71% of respondents characterized performance-related bonuses as important, as opposed to 66% who said the same a year ago.

 Fleishman's Gioconda says at the junior level, performance-based compensation is less critical because employees tend to live paycheck to paycheck and don't want to put any of their compensation at risk.

 However, on the more senior levels, she notes, “People are willing to put themselves on the line to have the opportunity to achieve and earn a significant bonus. So we tend to hire people who are willing to take that kind of risk on the upside.”

 In addition to performance-based bonuses, offers are being sweetened with signing bonuses and more flexibility in terms of working hours along with the usual benefits plan.

 Vacation time has also become more of a sticking point in the past year or two, says Lorfink. In part, he explains, that's because a lot of people are tired of having had “to be on” at all times during the recession.

 “I don't think it has as much to do with work-life balance as it does people adjusting to this new world of being online and accessible all the time,” he adds. “People just want to have the opportunity to unplug a certain amount of time during the year. So we've been really thoughtful about that and it's something we continue to evaluate.”

 On average, survey respondents receive 17.5 vacation days per year, about the same as the year prior.

 However, one former perk that has been increasingly left off the table for employees is relocation costs.

 “Companies once generous in relocation can't be anymore,” explains Bloom. “Some who used to buy homes at certain levels have eliminated that in certain cases.”

Some challenges remain

As demand for talent ratchets up, the downturn effect will likely bring further challenges to personnel acquisition.

 Few companies made entry-level hires due to the downturn. As a result, says Rainone, as that associate level makes its way through the PR pipelines, those relatively small numbers will be felt.

 “We'll see a real impact in another couple of years when employers will say, ‘We really need someone with five to seven years of experience,'” she adds. “The same thing happened after the dot-com crash, when there was minimal hiring on the agency side.”

 Bloom concurs. “That has created a mess because agencies are saying to us, ‘I know you don't do much recruiting at the junior level, but if you find some really sharp AAEs, we could really use your help,” she says. “Not enough junior staff were hired and trained.

 Still, while the industry as a whole seems understandably cautious, there is a definite sense of optimism.

 “It's great hearing clients talk about their projects just in terms of their level of enthusiasm,” says Bloom. “There is a new passion out there. People are excited again.”

 Survey respondents are reflecting that optimism. A solid 35% find their job more rewarding than they did 12 months ago, compared to 30% who said so last year.

 “It takes time coming out of a recession and clients are now feeling brave enough to start spending money on new opportunities and hiring new people,” she notes. “By summer 2011, we'll see the full impact of that energy being put in the hiring process.”


The PRWeek/Bloom, Gross & Associates Salary Survey was conducted by CA Walker. E-mail notification was sent to approximately 17,671 PR professionals and a survey link was posted to PRWeek's website and Facebook page and sent out through the PRWeek Twitter feed.

A total of 534 PR pros completed the survey online between November 30 and December 31, 2010. Results aren't weighted and are statistically tested at a confidence level of 90%. Visit prweekus.com to purchase a Salary Survey Premium Edition.


How PR firms are retaining their top talent

The top two reasons respondents in the PRWeek/Bloom, Gross & Associates Salary Survey recently changed jobs were because they sought new challenges or responsibilities (27% of them, up from 21% the prior year) and because they were bored or dissatisfied with their jobs (17%, up from 10% last year).

 These are key indicators that PR agencies should be prepared for many of their best-performing staffers, who weathered the economic storm and may have survived multiple layoffs, to consider a move, says Karen Bloom, principal at Bloom, Gross & Associates.

 “That's when it becomes really essential in terms of retention to look at what kind of succession planning you are doing, how you are moving people around, and how you're awarding and challenging them,” she adds.

 In addition to giving employees raises to ensure there aren't salary inconsistencies between new and existing staff, PR firms have focused on retaining top talent through new work opportunities.

 Rob Lorfink, COO and CFO at Ketchum, says his agency has continued to approve work transfers, allowing staffers to spend months in other parts of the world, particularly in growing offices such as those in China and Russia.

 In addition, he explains, the firm has also created employee “externships” - one VP in Chicago, for instance, spent a year working at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

 Lorfink believes it has been vital for the agency to maintain its staff training budget during the recession.

 “That's really helped with our retention post-recession because people see the correlation between our commitment to clients in relation to our commitment to our colleagues,” he explains.

 Agnes Gioconda, chief talent officer at Fleishman-Hillard, says her firm gives staff the opportunity to work on different accounts, as well as in different offices.

 She says Fleishman has also maintained employee training programs throughout the recession.

 “Through a program called Switch On,” adds Gioconda, “we basically transformed staff who didn't have that digital know-how as part of their background so they have the complete package.”

 As principal of O'Malley Hansen Communications, Todd Hansen has to offer the same type of compensation package as larger agencies to keep up employee retention.

 His firm offers a bonus program based on both office and individual performance. Hansen also hopes candidates will appreciate a corporate culture where staffers have greater input into their career trajectory. “We're able to provide our employees a career path that the big agencies can't,” he says.


The respondents

Gender

37% male; 63% female

Work setting

45% work for a PR agency; 27% in a corporate PR department; 7% for a nonprofit; 5% self-employed/freelance; 4% in education; 3% government; 2% trade association

Age

The median age of respondents was 38, with the largest percentage of respondents in the 26-30 and 31-35 brackets

Ethnicity

85% white/Caucasian; 5% black; 4% Hispanic; 3% Asian; 2% other

Education

In undergraduate degrees, PR (31%); journalism (19%); and liberal arts (18%) were the most popular majors. Of the respondents, 34% have master's degrees, 13% of which are in PR or communications, 6% in business, and 4% in journalism

Experience

Respondents have an average of 12.7 years of experience

Work-life balance

Respondents work an average of 49.9 hours per week with the largest percentage of respondents working between 40 and 50 hours. On average, they get 17.5 vacation days per year

Number of people who took the survey

534

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