SALARY SURVEY: The cuts hit home - Alastair Ray reports on how salaries in the PR sector have been affected by the downturn

Fashion and beauty appears to be the least well remunerated in the consultancy sector, earning an average salary of £26,700. In the in-house private sector it is more valued, landing an extra £2,200 a year, and ranking ahead of entertainment/ youth and leisure/travel in the pay charts.

In this section of the industry, the former pulls in just £22,100 a year, while leisure and travel experts have to make do on £27,800. It is no coincidence that the most 'glamorous' sectors continue to offer the lowest wages as there is a ready supply, at the junior levels at least, of potential recruits. This has, of course, been aided by the slow economy.

Even higher up the scale, the attraction of working with some of the top entertainment brands or the benefits of regular travel may outweigh the downside of a lower salary for some practitioners.

While the PR industry may be heavily focused on London, there are also significant numbers of practitioners working away from the capital.

As usual, all ranks take a cut in their basic pay once they venture outside the M25. A consultancy chairman or managing director should pick up an average of £56,800, £4,700 less than the industry average. Many would argue that it's a small price to pay given London's spiralling cost of living.

Similarly, a board director with a take-home salary of £47,500 is missing out on a potential increase of £3,600 if they were prepared to work in the capital.

Lower down the command chain the differences are less marked.Account directors in non-London consultancies pick up £37,700, account managers land £24,400 and account executives earn £17,800 on average.

In the in-house private sector, salaries are very similar, if not better.

A PR director takes home an average of £66,500, an increase of £1,400 on his/her central London colleagues. A PR manager earns £32,600 while a PRO picks up £21,100.

Likewise, there is a disparity between the in-house salaries of those working in London, and those in the regions. Many of the UK's largest businesses are based outside London and they have to provide a competitive package to attract the quality staff they want.

Individuals may also need to be financially tempted to move away from the big city with its ready pool of alternative employment options. In the public sector, the loss of 'London weighting' means that salaries are smaller outside 'Zone One', although not by much.

A head of communications will typically take home £36,000 a year, a drop of £2,000 on average salary for this post. A PR director lands £43,600, down £2,800, while a PR manager earns £27,900, a difference of just £900.

At the start of the career ladder, a PR executive outside London earns an average of £21,100, only £400 less.

Perhaps the most notable difference in pay cheques comes in the freelance sector where an average annual earning of £37,900 - up from £33,100 on 2001 - is significantly higher than the £31,200 picked up by the self-employed outside the capital.

Average salaries for men and women regardless of location continue to show disparity, whether in-house or in consultancy. The average salary gap between men and women in consultancy is a massive £10,000 - with an even greater disparity between the sexes in-house in the private sector.

The only field where a woman can expect to earn a comparable salary to her female counterparts is in the public sector. But still, the male/female divide is defined succinctly along remuneration lines.

But salary isn't the only reward that attracts and retains staff, so have the accountants' cuts also hit home outside the payslip? Or have agencies and other employers looked to added benefits to make up for the slowdown in salary increases?

Benefits have been regarded as an attractive factor by employers in recent years, both as lures to potential recruits and as strong forces in retention.

So it is interesting to examine the effects on benefits beyond remuneration.

The basic salaries listed above can clearly be boosted by performance-related bonuses and this is an area that has seen some evidence of wider take-up. And with all the publicity associated with the need to start a pension from an early age, many employers have clearly decided to raise their game in this area.

In the in-house private sector, the popularity of the company car has risen as well. Sixty-six per cent of communications heads drive away from work in a company vehicle - up from 58 per cent in 2001 - and 50 per cent of PR managers also get a motor, a gain of nine percentage points.

Performance targets in this sector of the business have also remained roughly constant. Sixty per cent of heads of communication are being tempted with peformance-related bonuses, as are 74 per cent of PR directors, 56 per cent of PR managers and 31 per cent of PROs.

In the public sector, 26 per cent of in-house heads of communications have now joined performance-related bonus schemes, up from 16 per cent in 2001.

However, marginally fewer have been given company cars. Only 21 per cent now have a motor compared to 25 per cent last year. The drop has been more significant at PR manager level, where only 17 per cent can now boast this benefit, compared to 23 per cent last year.

On the non-contributory pension front, however, in-house public sector PR managers have seen a boost in their retirement income. Twenty per cent now benefit from a company pension, up from 13 per cent last year.

Account managers and account executives at agencies have also seen an improvement in this category with 11 per cent and 21 per cent now qualifying for a non-contributory pension, up from six per cent and four per cent respectively a year ago.

On a less positive note, despite the extra stress being reported by consultancy staff, companies appear to be cutting their investment in staff health plans.

Only 16 per cent of account managers now qualify for a health plan, down from 38 per cent last year and only 17 per cent of account executives get looked after, a drop of ten per cent. There seems to be less reliance on the performance-related bonus this year. Across the board, fewer consultancy staff will receive a bonus if they hit targets in 2002.

Only 24 per cent of chairmen/women or managing directors now get a performance-related bonus, compared to 45 per cent last year.

At board director level the figure has dropped from 62 per cent to 42 per cent, while only 38 per cent of account directors are incentivised by this type of financial reward, a fall from 43 per cent.

The trend is also clear right through the ranks, with only 30 per cent of account managers and 21 per cent of account executives receiving performance-related bonuses, with both positions down ten percentage points.

The fact that 15 per cent of consultancy staff have the option of share ownership may provide an alternative incentive to improve performance, but the cause and effect mechanism of this financial reward can be more obscure.

Studying the age profile of the respondents revealed another interesting trend, again more prevalent in the consultancy field. The average age of practitioners in any given position appears to be getting slightly older.

This may be a reflection of the straightened economic climate. In a shrinking market, there is less room for internal promotion and those recruiting can hold out for the maximum amount of experience. This is not necessarily a bad thing given the frequent complaints in recent years that many of those holding middle management ranks didn't have the same level of experience as their predecessors.

The average age of respondents to the survey was 37.5-years-old. The average age of in-house private sector PR managers is now more than 36-years-old.

PR officers in public sector posts have also grown older. The average age is now 34.7-years-old, a significant increase on the 32-year-old average in 2001. Similar signs of maturing can also be foundat the top of the consultancy world.

The average age of chairmen and managing directors is now 46.9-years-old, marking a general increase in the average age of 44-year-olds MDs and chairmen who responded last year. Account directors, too, are now an average of two years older than the 2001 average, clocking in at more than 36-years-old.

When it comes to ethnic balance, the in-house public sector leads the way in representing the racial mix of Britain, as 15 per cent of its staff have a non-Caucasian background.

Both the other sectors of the business have some catching up to do on this score, with a nine per cent non-Caucasian workforce at agencies and an eight per cent score for the in-house private sector.

Overall, only one per cent of the total PR workforce is of Afro-Caribbean descent, one per cent is of Asian ethnicity, and one per cent has African ancestory. Five per cent of PR practitioners describe themselves as not belonging to any of these ethnic categories.

The end of the robust economy, which was led by staggering growth in the technology sector, has created a great deal of job insecurity in the PR industry. But are PR professionals really worried about their jobs?

The biggest sector of the PR business is industry/utilities, an area that 17 per cent of respondents work in. This is closely followed by local government, which provides employment to 14 per cent of the industry and government agencies or other public sector ventures at 13 per cent.

The healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors provide jobs for nine per cent of PR practitioners, while the same proportion promote clients or companies in tech field. Finance issues also occupy nine per cent of PR professionals.

Charity sits at number seven with eight per cent of respondents, followed by leisure and travel and food and drink at seven per cent. Entertainment and youth comes in at three per cent and central government is last with just two per cent of PR practitioners working on issues related to Whitehall.

Considering the smaller number of returned forms this year - which it is believed reflects a trend of circumspection or even insecurity among staff - the results are still strong enough to be compelling.

As salary cuts are not expected by the majority of the PR industry this year - neither in-house in the private and public sector nor in consultancies - most have returned forms indicating they have had less pay increases than previous years but do not expect further slashes.

While the survey paints a picture of an industry that has faced lower pay increases, salaries appear not to have been as adversely affected as other sectors - or as perhaps the industry itself expected.

The majority of PROs are not as concerned about job security and the damage the economy is doing to salaries and perks as may have been believed, according to the PRWeek Salary Survey 2002.

Anecdotal evidence would indicate that individuals are being asked to take less of a pay rise as business attempts to slash costs.

The consensus is that the consultancies have been hit hardest by the harshest economic conditions in the marketing communications industry for many years.

In-house staff in the private and public sectors appear to be operating in a more stable environment, at least when it comes to pay and conditions.

But as rumours across the industry have circulated about retrenchments and salary cuts or freezes over the year, this has fuelled some past insecurity among individuals who see changes affecting their workplace. The survey provides the facts that underpin these rumours and highlights the impact of the global downturn on the industry.

The first impact of the economic gloom is that the number of people responding to our survey has slipped slightly. From more than 1,000 replies last year, this year's exercise, carried out at the end of January and in early February, attracted 764 responses. In many cases, although salaries have gone up this year, the rate at which they have increased has fallen compared to the previous year.

With no evidence that PROs are less interested in knowing what their peers earn, it is assumed that longer hours and more stressful working lives means there is less time to fill out forms - or that individuals are loathe to reveal their insecurities even though the form ensures complete anomymity.

The responses that did come in revealed tales of pay cuts have turned out to be true, although only for a small portion of the business. Four per cent of those working in the consultancy sector confirmed that their monthly payslip hasdiminished in the past six months, compared to three per cent being hit in the in-house private sector.

Interestingly, nine per cent of consultancy staff refused to answer the question, well up on the number of in-house private sector PROs that declined to answer, perhaps indicating that the trend is more widespread than people are prepared to admit.

The outlook for the next six months is more promising, however, with only two per cent of agency staff expecting to see a further slice taken off their financial benefits package.

However, it hasn't only been the agencies that have been hit, as 13 per cent of in-house PR directors working in the private sector also admitted to being poorer in the past six months.

While salary cuts may be a step too far for some firms and organisations, pay freezes have proved more widespread. Overall 11 per cent of the industry say they felt there was no prospect of the monthly cheque being boosted.

Across the industry, the freeze was tightest at 14 per cent for agencies, 13 per cent in the in-house private sector and just seven per cent for in-house public sector staff.

Once again, a significantly higher proportion of consultancy staff, 13 per cent, opted not to answer the question. Either agencies have managed to disguise their exact policy on pay with a fog of corporate gobbledegook or it is an issue that makes those individuals concerned uncomfortable after years of rising personal incomes.

Those who have been fortunate enough to receive pay increases at their last pay review are also reporting smaller gains than previously, particularly in the consultancy business.

However, it has to be said that some of the pay rises being recorded remain very generous by the standards of other industries.

Given that annual salary reviews by their very nature take place only once a year, some of these higher awards could have occurred in the first part of 2001, when the economic outlook was brighter and redundancies were not so high on the agenda.

Last year an agency chairman or managing director might have expected to see his or her pay packet rise by 13 per cent; this year the increase is down to 9.6 per cent. Board directors claim an improvement of around ten per cent for both years but account directors record an average pay rise of 7.5 per cent in 2002 compared to 11 per cent in 2001.

Account managers gained an average of 7.6 per cent extra this year, compared to 12 per cent in the 2001 survey. Account executives on average picked up an increase of six per cent, down five per cent.

The picture is proving more mixed in the public and private sectors.

A private sector in-house PR manager might have received a 5.5 per cent pay rise this year compared to seven per cent in 2001.

However, a PR executive should have received an average rise of 6.9 per cent this year, up slightly from six per cent the year before.

Pay rises in the public sector were generally lower, with an average of 5.8 per cent but only PROs did worse in 2001/02 than they did in 2000/01.

This year's rise of 3.5 per cent compares to last year's four per cent increase.

Operating in an environment of potential lay-offs, very tight cost control and the prospect of little reward for additional effort has undoubtedly put staff under pressure.

Not only do they have to take on the work of their departed colleagues but they may also have to deal with clients or bosses who may be demanding more bang for their buck. As a result, around one in four PROs reported that they are now working longer hours than they did six months ago.

This has affected attitudes towards the work/life balance and how staff spend their leisure time to cope with the increasing burdens of work.

Last year's survey found that 70 per cent of PR people found their jobs stressful, with significant numbers turning to alcohol, cigarettes or exercise to reduce tension.

This time round six out of ten said that the current environment had made their lives more stressful than it was in 2001. Those suffering most were in the fashion and beauty sector, where 92 per cent of respondents report a rise in stress.

In the wake of the Martin Sixsmith fiasco, which has put pressure on government department press and PR staff, it won't surprise anyone that central government PROs took the number two spot in the increased stress chart. The leisure and travel industry was hit hard by the 11 September tragedy, and tech shared the number three position.

The higher levels of stress suffered by the fashion and beauty sector specialists make it no surprise that average job turnover is highest in these two sectors. PROs stay in their jobs for an average of 48 months in this sector compared to an average stay of more than five years in local government - the most stable sector.

So what does the challenging business environment mean for the size of the average pay packet? With a few exceptions, for most jobs and most sectors, this year's salary is roughly the same or slightly lower than the averages from 2001.

This doesn't automatically mean that lots of people will have suffered pay cuts - it could simply be that when someone moves the employer may have been able to replace them at a lower cost.

A PR manager in an in-house role with a private company now picks up on average £34,000 compared to £32,600 last year, while a PRO in the same sector gets £21,600, down from £22,300 last year. Higher up the tree, their head of communications is paid £51,300, an improvement of just £300 on what the role commanded last year. However, it is worth noting that the top ten per cent in-house in the private sector earned an average £85,000.

In the public sector, the salary spin is generally comparable on many levels. The average head of communications role has picked up an additional £900 a year to take home £38,000 a year, with the top ten per cent picking up just over £80,000. But a PR director earns £46,400. Both in the private and public sector, the PR director role commands a higher average salary than departmental chief. This reflects the fact that many PR directors are highly paid, and in some instances, the job title actually is that of the department head. PR managers, however, have seen a drop of £500 to £28,000 and PROs have suffered from a £400 cut. This salary grade now earns an average of £21,500 a year.

The exposure of the consultancy business to the boom and bust of the economic cycle has been more strongly reflected in the more significant changes to their annual wage packets.

Lower down the command chain, the changes have been more modest. Account directors have been rewarded with a £700 increase and now take home £37,200, while account managers have seen their basic salary cut. On average they have lost £200 a year and now take home £25,600. There's good news for account executives, who now earn an extra £800, picking up around £20,000 on average.

Looking at earnings potential by specialisation, the financial and investor relation specialists unsurprisingly take home the largest pay, earning on average £52,100 a year. This skillset also tops the salary chart for in-house PR staff in the private sector, at £66,900.

However, at £40,200 it only ranks third in the consultancy sector, falling behind the public affairs/ lobbying specialists, who earn £54,900 a year and the corporate experts who are also more comfortably off at £51,600.

Taking the industry as a whole, the sector with the lowest remuneration is new media/web development, where the average salary is £29,500, with in-house consumer PR staff faring worse and taking home a lower £27,200.

Ranked by business sector, the earnings appeal of public affairs practitioners working in consultancies is clear - they pick up an average of £65,000 a year. By comparison, new media and industry/utility expertise is well rewarded by the agency sector and these skills are ranked equal second at an average of £63,500.

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