Views from the middle

Mid-level PR pros share their perspectives on a variety of topics in a PRWeek survey.

Mid-level PR pros share their perspectives on a variety of topics in a PRWeek survey.

Gone are the days of a one-agency career or even a two- or three-agency career. For mid-level PR pros, building a successful career is about leveraging what they want - salaries, agency or corporate life, perks and benefits, a specific practice area - whether or not it's for the same organization.

Nearly 70% of the 114 participants in PRWeek's survey have been at their current position for one to three years, yet 38% say they are looking for new work, while 51% say they plan to begin a job search in the next year.

Nearly half of the participants (48%) list salary as the number-one change they would make about their current workplace. Job training and career development (25%), as well as more interesting and risk-taking PR programs (26%), are the other two main reasons why mid-level staffers are searching for work. More hands-on/client interaction is cited by only 1%.

One respondent, who wished to remain anonymous, has worked at a large global agency in Washington for the past two years after spending the previous couple of years at a different firm since his graduation from college. He says that while he enjoys his work in public affairs, he is now aiming for a job in sports PR and marketing, either in Chicago or New York.

Enticements of a new job
The current economic situation is keeping agencies from making "investment hires," he says. For this 26-year-old, the number-one reason he's interested in a new job is the client work, which is a combination of how challenging it is and working with name brands.

Survey participants echo this sentiment, with 22% saying that interesting clients and programs are the most important aspect for considering a place of employment, more so than financial stability (15%) or the opportunity to succeed at an early age (6%). The top reason (29%) for choosing a job has to do with whether the company is a cultural fit for the individual. No respondents list "good use of perks."

For Carrie Trent, a St. Charles County, MO, native, working in the community in which she lived was the key factor in choosing her current position at a local telecommunications company. The close contact with local media was a draw for Trent, 30, a former reporter.

"The perk is that I get to focus on the community I live in," she says. She found her current post through old-fashioned networking, although she says she has a LinkedIn account.

The aforementioned Washington professional says that LinkedIn has been his primary source to network - a number of people he had contacted through the networking site have responded - but he does not use organizations like the PRSA in his job search. In fact, while he says he had a PRSSA membership as a student, he says no one in his practice area or of a similar age is currently a member.

Four out of five participants deem networking sites to be a key element in a job search, with 35% saying they are very important, 15% claiming they are important, and 30% saying they are somewhat important.

As for trade groups' role in career development, 18% of respondents deem them very important, while 35% say they are somewhat important.

In terms of benefits, participants say a medical plan (81%), dental plan (71%), and 401k (53%) are very important. Standard perks like bonuses, both performance-related (23%) and guaranteed (17%), personal days (46%), and flex time (31%) don't rank as high.

Common belief holds that one- or two-year stints at various companies are standard for mid-level PR pros. Still, longevity and stability can be found at this level. Some survey respondents have followed a more traditional path of staying at a job for a longer period of time or at least switching jobs at a slower pace.

Dwayna Haley is slated to start her second agency job this month when she moves from LA to Atlanta for a post with Ketchum. She previously worked for three years at Bob Gold & Associates (BGA), a boutique b-to-b firm based in Torrance, CA.

Haley says she looked for jobs for a year before seeing the Ketchum posting online. What drew her to the agency was the possibility of promotion and how much more she thought she could learn at a larger company with greater resources. She would also be able to "round out" her skills by working in a broader consumer-based brand practice.

Coming out of Middle Tennessee State University, where she studied communications, the 2005 graduate says it was ingrained in her that the first job is critical and her work record should not be shaky or inconsistent, a main reason why she didn't leave the boutique agency sooner.

"I wanted to show my progression," explains Haley, who was promoted from an account coordinator to an AE during her time at BGA.

Sticking with it
Lindsay Keller, communication director at the Metropolitan Group in Washington, says that after working at three different firms and a nonprofit in the past eight years, she plans to stay at her current agency.

The 30-year-old lists the client base, the practice - "I love the social change aspect. I'm a bleeding heart" - the pay, and good benefits as reasons why she is not looking to leave. Her communications background was in healthcare, consumer, corporate, and public affairs. She actually wasn't looking to leave when the Metropolitan Group job came around, she says.

Despite the movement and some questionable job satisfaction, most survey participants intend to be in PR for the long term, with only 3% not being committed "at all" to a career in PR/communications. Conversely, 78% have either a strong or very strong commitment to staying in the industry.

PRWeek's survey of mid-level PR pros was conducted by PRWeek through its Facebook group of nearly 2,000 members. The survey was completed online by 114 pros from June 30-July 2, 2008. All respondents have three to eight years' experience in the industry, with 68% of respondents being female, 32% male.

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