COMMENT: EDITORIAL; Skills rise to match salaries

New business is flooding in, salaries are up, and there are jobs aplenty. At face value it looks like the good times are back. But there are warning signs that the PR industry may be storing up trouble for the future.

New business is flooding in, salaries are up, and there are jobs

aplenty. At face value it looks like the good times are back. But there

are warning signs that the PR industry may be storing up trouble for the

future.



The most striking finding in this year’s salary survey is the leap in

income for consultancy staff at account executive and account manager

level. This is not surprising. People with four or five years’

experience are as rare as Tory voters, simply because the recession

meant that few entry level recruits were taken on at that time.



In the scramble to take on new business, consultancies are being tempted

into a bidding war for the few talented people that are available.

Recruitment consultants are comparing it to the heady days of 1987, when

the only way appeared to be up.



This is already leading to salary inflation at a time when the tight

margins and increased client expectations of the recession are still

with us. It also leads to job title inflation, with frankly

inexperienced staff accelerating into positions for which they are not

yet ready.



Waxing nostalgic about the recession is a bit like praising Mussolini

for making the trains run on time. But it did weed out a lot of the

dross and bad practice that led to the industry’s poor reputation.

Standards improved drastically, largely because of the expectations of

budget-starved clients who want better advice from more senior

consultants with properly evaluated results - and all at a lower cost.



The possibility of returning to the days of slapdash service supplied by

inexperienced consultants seems unthinkable. Nevertheless, consultancies

need to be on their toes.



The threat from management consultants has often been used to frighten

PR youngsters in their beds. But the latest survey from the Management

Consultancies Association shows a significant boost in their income from

marketing and corporate communication advice. One may quibble over the

definition of the service they supply, but a 50 per cent rise to pounds

28 million is not to be sniffed at.



Management consultants probably aren’t the barbarians at the gate. But

PR practitioners cannot afford to let standards drop for an instant. In

this respect, the recruitment decisions made now are far more important

than the amount of new business stacked up.



In the long run the only answer to the skills shortage is a greater

investment in training. The fact that training budgets are increasing -

by 16 per cent last year according to the PRCA - indicates that

consultancies are getting this message.



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