Career paths

As PR pros look to climb to the top of the agency ladder, the skills, responsibilities, and compensation change each step of the way

As PR pros look to climb to the top of the agency ladder, the skills, responsibilities, and compensation change each step of the way

Preliminary

0-3 yrs

Asst. account executive, Account coordinator, Account executive

A broad education of the basics defines the first stage of an agency career.

Writing: Proficiency in spelling, grammar, structure; can write news releases, articles,video scripts,speeches, proposals.

Media relations: Understands the needs of mainstream and non-traditional media outlets, how to place a story, relationship building, agency/client history.

Research: Basic knowledge of data collection and evaluation.

Client service: Project and budget management, quality management of work, conflict resolution skills.

Public speaking: Confidence in small-group presentations.

Electronic communication: Knowledge of social networks, social media, and ethics, as well as an understanding of VNRs, SMTs,podcasts, RSS, etc.

Administrative: Personal-time accounting, budgets, and activity reports.

Leadership/team building: Understand group dynamics.

Salary range: $25K - $40K

3-5 yrs

Account executive, Account manager, Senior account executive

Early skills are refined and executed with less supervision.

Writing: Proficiency in tactical plans, annual reports, position papers, proposals,brochures, backgrounders, editorial copy.

Media relations: Manage media relationships; place stories; coordinate media distribution; train and supervise team members.

Research: Understand data analysis terms and methods, analysis presentation, difference between in-person, focus group, and survey methods.

Client service: Crisis training for mid-level execs; know basic business models, how to read balance sheet/annual report; organizational communication development, implementation.

Administrative: Proficiency in account time and information management (action memos, reports, proposals, approvals), budget creation and analysis.

Leadership/team building: Exhibit basic management of projects and peers.

New business: Identify prospects; contact management, reporting, and follow-up.

Salary range: $40K - $55K

5-7 yrs

Account manager, Account director, Counselor, Senior counselor

Specialties may emerge, such as advanced skills in creativity, brand knowledge,client relations, or management.

Writing: Write, edit,and direct persuasive and effective copy.

Media relations: Manage team to develop and retain media ties, and create interest in client stories; identify distribution channels; coordinate distribution.

Research: Oversee and sell research concepts; create and manage research budgets; manage internal and external resources for implementation.

Client service: Crisis and media training for senior-level executives; program development; ability to discuss business models and counsel clients on balance sheets.

Public speaking: Effective presentations to audiences of any size on complex subjects; teach speaking techniques.

Administrative: Budget creation, analysis, management.

Leadership/team building: Oversee subordinates; show proficiency in senior management relations.

Salary range: $55K - $85K

7-10 yrs

Account supervisor, Vice president

Practitioners may start getting involved in the agency's P&L.

Writing: Train and encourage high-quality writing from team.

Media relations: Train, supervise, and direct account managers in the development and retention of great relationships with a broad range of media.

Research: Manage and direct programs for multiple clients.

Client service: Direct,manage, and supervise efforts of subordinates in all areas mentioned in previous levels.

Administrative: Direct, manage, and supervise efforts of subordinates in all areas mentioned in previous levels.

New business: Consistent generation of new business; direct, manage, and supervise efforts of subordinates in all areas mentioned in previous levels.

Salary range: $85K - $120K

10+ yrs

Vice president, senior vice president, office/practice MD

At smaller agencies, stock options and succession plans may be discussed at this level. At larger firms, practitioners
will be thinking about increased specialization in practice area, office and regional management, and/or client relationship management.

This level expects management of at least $500,000 to $1 million in account revenue, and new-business development with clients of at least $250,000 in fees.Also required are organization development strategies, personnel and human relations policy development, and marketing and promotional strategy development.

Supervise and set an example for individuals assigned with tasks such as personal and account time management;
account information management; budget creation; analysis, and management; leadership; and relationship building.

The 10-year mark is a good time for practitioners to start their own firm.While many do so earlier in their careers, 10 years'experience will be more of a draw for potential clients and financial backing.

Salary range: $120K - $175K

Specialties

Regional practice head

Those who have developed a specialization may lead that practice at a regional level, ranging from two or three offices for a large agency, to an entire region for a smaller firm.This person also may be a global client relationship leader.

Salary range: $175K+

Functional head

Some firms have practitioners leading certain functions, such as creative director, brand strategy director, or head of media relations.Titles may follow a regional progression.This person also may be a global client relationship leader.


Salary range: $175K+

Office or regional GM

Depending on the size of the agency, those who have demonstrated leadership qualities and overall business management skills may lead an office, region, or country. This person also may be a global client relationship leader.

Salary range: $175K+

Global practice head

These individuals typically have regional practice leaders reporting to them, and may manage global accounts.

Salary range: $250K+

Global/intl. regional mgr.

Size of region will depend on size of firm. Titles may vary. Head of country/continent where firm is headquartered is
often more senior than those managing other regions,and is a close approximation to the CEO/president role (right).

Salary range: $250K+

Management board

Depending on the firm,there can be a number of titles at the uppermost management level, including chairman, whose relationship with the CEO/president varies among firms.These people may have direct practice or regional responsibilities.

Salary range: $300K+

CEO/president

This may be one person's job title, or it may be split between two people.Additionally,large US-based firms may have someone in a North American role, and someone in a global role. The former is often considered to be
heir apparent to the latter.

Salary range: $300K+

Sources: PRSA/Bacons 2006 State of the PR Profession Opinion Survey; 2007 PRWeek/Bloom, Gross & Associates Salary Survey

Corporate Career Path

A thorough grasp of the business and an ability to unite teams are vital to those wishing to get to the top of the corporate PR world

Entry level

Administrative assistant, PR specialist or PR coordinator

Most individuals who join a top company's PR team will not come right out of college. PR firms and small nonprofits are most often the points of entry into the profession. This can lead to an underdeveloped knowledge of business
priorities and practices, and how communications links to them. Many employers prefer candidates with two to five years of agency or other relevant experience and/or an advanced degree, but they still find that a large amount of education is needed to facilitate the transition to corporate PR. A minimum of three relevant internships during college is also desirable.

Responsibilities

Support PR activities using writing, planning, and organizational skills.

Learn various disciplines, including employee, media, and investor relations.

Gain familiarity with communications tools, including new media platforms, VNRs, SMTs, newswires, measurement tools, and all internal platforms.

Channel requests or inquiries from journalists to the appropriate person.

View perceptions from a stakeholder point of view.

Facilitate internal requests/inquiries from other departments.

While press clipping and monitoring media for company news might factor in, it can be outsourced to a different team within the comms department.

Prepare documents, PowerPoint presentations, and spreadsheets.

Support events, shareholder meetings, media briefings, press conferences.

Compile and maintain media lists, and conduct needed research for pitches.

Collaborate with PR agency counterparts. Smart young pros are eager to learn from their more experienced agency counterparts.

Coordinate/merchandise media clips on the company. Publish daily news summary to all key stakeholders.

Insider's tip: Learning starts at the agency level, where superiors should teach and/or reinforce the fundamentals of business knowledge with young pros. Make an effort to understand how the company works as a whole, rather than just the PR arm. Ask questions and engage people across the organization, including contacts in other marketing disciplines. Interest in the business' goals and the full company environment is important. Don't pretend to know more than you do – executives respect a willingness to learn. However, you should be able to contribute something concrete, so work with your manager to scope a topic for you to handle in every meeting with an executive. You want to be seen as contributing, however small the topic. Interpersonal skills are needed. Energy and enthusiasm are vital.

Salary range: $32K - $48K

Mid level

PR associate, PR manager

Individuals will have five to ten years' experience with a greater role in writing, developing plans, and managing various communications efforts. Technical skills should be well-developed, including familiarity with PR industry
tools and techniques. An ability to assess key trends that impact your company is vital. An understanding of audience perceptions and how to influence their behavior through communications is helpful. Demonstrate
confidence in dealing with senior executives and press, as well as a willingness to take initiative and assume responsibility beyond those listed below.

Responsibilities

Specialization may occur at this level, leading to roles dedicated to employee comms, media relations, IR, events, and community relations.

Give ongoing support to senior management, including setting up interviews, providing message points, writing speeches, and organizing events.

Write press releases, Op-Eds, annual report sections, speeches, and internal communications for traditional and new-media channels.

Engage with other marketing disciplines to coordinate efforts.

Develop communications plans to support corporate/product strategy. Some budget responsibility often is part of this role, particularly on a project basis.

Respond to media inquires, serving as spokesperson on certain issues.

Provide direction to vendors for services such as newswires, printers, VNRs, SMTs, and measurement tools.

Primary contact for the PR firm in its respective area of the company.

Supervise work of administrative/coordinator level.

Insider's tip: Take advantage of greater senior-level access, but be aware that you need to know what you're talking about – regarding PR and business – to really earn their respect. Greater access is a two-edged sword – it can advance your career if you know how to wield it, but it can impair your advancement if you create the wrong impression about yourself. Offer opinions and perspective, and demonstrate knowledge of both the industry and
how communications relates to business goals. But be warned: know when to listen and when to talk. Also, learn how to connect and integrate all communications pieces together to maximize effectiveness. Knowledge of audience
needs and wants is powerful in developing business logic to sell programs and ideas. Network with colleagues at your level throughout the company to build relationships and gain knowledge on other departments, including other marketing disciplines. Sensitivity to the environment is key.

Salary range: $49K - $90K

Mid-senior level

PR director

The practitioner will regularly engage with senior executives, including the CEO and CMO, and will frequently be called on to develop and present plans to the senior leadership team, along with how those plans fit in with overall
corporate goals. Being able to talk about communications in business terms is critical to success. With a mastery of the job's tactical elements, the focus becomes more strategic. Even if there is a functional responsibility over an area of communications, generally skills and knowledge become more broadly drawn, extending across PR specialties and general communications representation for business units. Sometimes this post is the company's
top-ranked communications role, particularly if the marketing leader is a VP.

Responsibilities

Functional responsibility for a key area of communications, such as media relations, internal communications, IR, and community relations.

Supervise managers, including defining metrics to evaluate performance.

Serve as number two, sometimes standing in for VP. Sometimes it is the number one, as stated above.

Strategic planning with other marketing disciplines.

Significant budget responsibility and people-management ability required.

Apply business logic and knowledge of stakeholder needs to sell programs.

Spokesperson on key issues or products.

Front-line engagement on issues and crises.

Provide counsel to senior management outside of communications.

Take responsibility for areas outside of the communications function.

Insider's tip: This is when careful consideration is given to career options. The “job for life” is no longer assumed, and many will hop from this level to the top job at another company. Recruiters keep watch over individuals at the director stage for possible opportunities with other organizations. PR firms will welcome pros at this level, usually to help run a practice area related to their industry. Thorough execution of the communications function – combined with the ability to build consensus across marketing and other business disciplines – stands out. How you handle stress and challenging situations will be viewed critically and determine whether you are “high potential” or “next in line” for the top communications slot. Superior team-building, task-management, and leadership skills are vital. This is when you should become viewed by other executives as a businessperson specializing in communications. The ability to manage large budgets and discuss financial and other business matters with fluency is a must.

Salary range: $80K - $160K

Senior level

VP of communications, SVP; VP of marketing, external affairs, corporate affairs

The top post requires the individual to provide high-level counsel to the most senior levels of the organization. If you can't speak the language of business fluently, your odds of getting to this level are increasingly limited. An advanced degree, especially one in business, is increasingly desired. Cross-pollination with other marketing and business disciplines, even if not under the VP's remit, is especially critical, as is a thorough understanding of the company's business objectives, its markets, as well as the broader economic and political landscape. Application of fact-based business logic is important to gain consensus for plans and programs. More and more, the role is global in nature and includes responsibilities for marketing and image or reputation efforts. As a result, some international experience is highly desirable for people aspiring to this rank.

Responsibilities

Provide senior counsel to the CEO, CMO, CFO, CLO, and board of directors.

Develop communications strategies across divisions and regions. Manage the entire communications budget on a regional or worldwide basis.

Engage business leadership to project business ideas across divisions.

Take ownership of brand development and corporate reputation.

Insider's tip: The most effective senior communicator in an organization is a high-level counselor to the CEO and to other senior executives, and an influential player throughout the organization. There is a heavy diplomatic aspect to the role at this level. They also identify ways they can add value to the business and facilitate linkages between the communications function and other areas. Therefore, even if one reaches the top role in his or her company, there are always new responsibilities to assume. Successful leaders never stop learning about their organizations, nor do they ever lose touch with developing their external dimension and the fundamentals of the profession. Some PR leaders will also head up marketing, but it still takes a lot of work to prove that a communications professional is best suited to lead this area. Finding ways throughout a career to maximize experience across disciplines and demonstrate a very deep understanding of key business tenets while displaying an understanding of customer needs increases the likelihood this will happen.

Salary range: $190K - $1M

Advisor: Mark Stouse, director of worldwide corporate comms, BMC Software

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