ANALYSIS: Are specialist financial PROs worth the salary? - With its huge salaries, as revealed by Taylor Bennett research, complex B2B financial services are looking like the dotcom PR sector of a few years ago, says Claire Murphy

With fewer firms embarking on mergers, acquisitions or IPOs, investment banks are desperate to explore every avenue of potential new revenue and are putting extra effort into marketing specialist services such as derivatives trading and bond underwriting.

There is a catch, of course. This isn't a sector that any PRO can just march into. Even PROs experienced in general financial services would have to invest significant time and effort into building knowledge and finding ways to reach the audiences that investment banks seek to reach.

'We could be handling media enquiries about a client's merger one minute, and collateralised debt obligations the next,' says Rebecca Nelson, senior press officer and derivatives PR specialist at Goldman Sachs.

Media relations is just one part of a PR job at an investment bank. Bonds and loans are the products that are most popular in a bear market, and banks must communicate with the large companies, institutions and governments that are in the market for them.

Banks aren't the only financial services sector paying top rates for specialist PROs. The boom in independent hedge funds in the past few years has resulted in a parallel rise in PR support. They have become very popular with investors looking to spread their risk in a falling stock market.

Melissa Rowling joined hedge fund start-up Yetman Asset Management in 1998 to run its marketing and IR, after seven years at general financial PR agency Square Mile (now part of Weber Shandwick). She says industry knowledge and networking are crucial: 'You almost have to make it your hobby.'

Now back at Square Mile Weber Shandwick, she describes herself as 'the geek rolled out in pitches'.

Many of the best PROs for hedge funds are ex-trade press journalists, says Simon Rostron, director of Rostron Parry, an agency specialising in foreign stock exchanges, hedge funds and brokers: 'Although you need a basic grounding in the nature of options and futures, and a grasp of how people trade, what is more important is to know the people in this sector, who's buying, who's setting up which fund, what the US is up to - the sort of knowledge specialist journalists have.'

The problem is that there is a fairly tight band of journalists who are 'very taken by one of the hottest areas of financial writing and are less enthusiastic about crossing the line into PR,' he adds.

Heather McGregor, director at PR headhunter Taylor Bennett, confirms there is a shortage of suitably skilled PR people for B2B financial services sectors. This has led to some inflation of salaries, although she believes other factors are equally as important: 'These are people who must be comfortable with a target audience of finance directors and chief executives of publicly quoted companies, institutions and banks. It's a senior job so total packages for top in-house jobs at major investment banks can reach £200,000 once you add in bonuses.'

Latest figures by Taylor Bennett show that at all levels salaries in the specialised financial world are higher. A PRO in retail financial services can expect between £25, 000 and £35,000 - in wholesale financial services this rises to between £35,000 and £45,000.

This compares to an average private sector, in-house PRO salary level of £21,600, according to PRWeek's latest salary survey (22 March).

And while average comms or media relations heads' salaries can top £90,000 in retail financial services, and £120,000 in wholesale, salaries for comms chiefs in other in-house private sector roles are also considerably lower. The average private sector in-house head of comms earns £51,300.

It may take serious effort to get into, but it's 'not rocket science', and is likely to become less rarified, says Ian Williams, joint managing director at financial services PR agency Lansons Communications.

'Both derivatives and hedge funds are in the early stages of being offered to smaller investors. Once they become more mainstream there will certainly be less of a premium on pay for the PR people that promote the products, although there will be more of a demand for people familiar with them,' he adds.

This view is echoed by Rostron: 'People who run hedge funds in particular have got a reputation for being extraordinarily clever, visionary predictors in the mould of George Soros. But anyone can learn to be a good investor, and if you can do that you can certainly learn how to promote them.'

FINANCIAL PR SPECIALISTS' SALARIES

Position                        Salary band retail Salary band wholesale
                               financial services*    financial services
                                 Basic salary only     Basic salary only
                                    in £000s        in £000s
Press officer                                25-35                 35-45
Media relations manager                      35-50                 50-75
(has at least one direct report)
Head of media relations/                     55-90                80-120
corporate communications for
UK and/or Europe (has reports
in more than one country)

Global head of corporate      N/A-retail financial                  150+
communications                services is a sector
                                    with almost no
                                    global players

Source: Taylor:Bennett.
NOTES: *Please note that these are salary bands containing most, but not
all, executives in these areas who are based in the UK. Retail financial
services has, inevitably, a more domestic-focused communications
requirement, while wholesale requires a global or at least pan-European
approach, making comparisons difficult

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