Salary survey: Corporate comms salaries stagnate as in-house and agencies feel 'Brexit effect'

Corporate comms salaries for in-house and agency professionals have stagnated, with Brexit blamed, while agencies must stem the tide of high performers migrating to an in-house role in the future, according to a report shown exclusively to PRWeek.

Salaries increases across the board are stagnating, the report said (©Pixabay)
Salaries increases across the board are stagnating, the report said (©Pixabay)

The annual salary survey, by specialist recruitment firm The Works Search, gathered data on nearly 1,200 corporate comms professionals to produce insights on salaries and bonuses and polled 230 more for their opinions on a variety of topics, including pay, benefits and flexible working.

Data and survey material was gathered during the calendar year 2018.

Two thirds of those surveyed were women and nearly two thirds were from in-house roles, while the remainder of those polled were from agencies.

An overwhelming majority of respondents, 88 per cent, were from the London/Greater London area, with eight per cent from the rest of the UK and four per cent from practitioners who live abroad.

Brexit stymies average salary increases

The results of the study show that the average salary increase for all respondents was six per cent - which The Works said was the same figure reported in its 2017 survey – while salary ranges and average salaries show little movement since then either.

The report authors said one obvious reason for the ‘stagnation’ in salaries was Brexit and that, while the consequences of the 2016 EU referendum vote were not yet clear, "we can see how Brexit is starting to affect the UK economy".

They added that Brexit uncertainty had increased and this was making businesses unwilling to invest in new projects with impacts on productivity, morale and growth.

The report is in contrast to the PRCA's 2019 census, which found that salaries across the industry had reduiced by 7 per cent. It said decreases in pay for agency staff were nearly nine per cent, while the decline for in-house professionals was six per cent. However, the PRCA's survey polled staff in multpiple sectors, rather than corporate comms alone.

Sarah Leembruggen, managing director at The Works Search, said: "This stagnation may well be a symptom of Brexit and the uncertain times we live in now; however, we continue to see large corporates investing in building their communications teams, readily replacing vacancies, and the corporate agencies seem to be thriving, although they continue to grumble about tight margins." 

Salary ranges


In the highest pay bands, global heads of comms and comms directors received average salaries of £140,000, up eight per cent on the previous study, while the salary range for these roles was between £65,000 and £240,000.

For a senior comms manager in the middle ranks, the average salary was £65,000, up five per cent, while at the lowest levels, average pay was £33,000, up three per cent on last year.


Meanwhile, in agencies, those at managing director level received average pay of £135,000 and a were in a salary range of between £85,000 and £250,000.

In the middle, account directors received an average of £55,000, in a salary range of between £35,000 and £70,0000.

At the bottom, account executives received an average of £25,000 and a salary range of £20,000 to £30,000. 

Pay rises at agency versus in-house


Three quarters of in-house professionals received a pay rise and over half received increases of up to five per cent, while 11 per cent said their pay stayed the same and five per cent saw their salaries reduced.  

The average salary increase for in-house employees was seven per cent.

The report said companies were acting with more caution than agencies with regard to pay rises and suggested that this was due to a view in major corporates that comms represented a "cost centre" to the business and that it was less important to increase salaries.


Within agencies, 83 per cent received a pay rise and the increases were larger, while the remainder saw no change to their salaries and nobody saw their pay reduced. Agencies were also more agile when it came to staff progression, with more opportunities to rise up through the ranks.

By contrast to in-house, agencies were regarded as "profit centres", the report said, which meant they could afford to increase pay and were more willing to try and retain staff – particularly those tempted by an in-house role – by rewarding them. 

Leembruggen said: "Agencies are more agile when it comes to progressing staff, as there are more layers of progression and opportunities to move up, which could account for the healthy quantity of agency pay increases."

Job market leans towards in-house

Nearly 30 per cent of survey respondents moved jobs during 2018 and, of those who moved, 37 per cent moved in-house, while only 16 per cent moved to an agency role.

The job-market bias towards in-house was even more stark when respondents were asked what role they would pick if they moved jobs, with 70 per cent telling the survey they would choose in-house, while 14 per cent said they wanted to move to an agency. 

One in six people told the survey they wanted to go freelance, set up their own agency, or leave the industry altogether.

The report authors said: "The desire for in-house continues to build momentum as corporate communications teams build out their functions and bring more resources. It’s often seen as ‘an easier life’, although many of those working in-house will refute this."

The report predicted that the impact of these currents in the job market were being felt most keenly by agencies who were "struggling to hire at every level", from the most junior to the most senior ranks, as people sought the opportunity to work for one brand and "get involved in the strategy at the beginning".


Overall, 63 per cent of corporate comms professionals received a bonus, which was one per cent lower than in the previous year’s study.

However, agency staff were slightly better off, with 66 per cent receiving a bonus. 

The average in-house bonus was 19 per cent of salary – down one percentage point on the previous study – while the average agency bonus was 14 per cent of salary, up two percentage points on 2017.

The report said agencies were paying more bonuses than in-house, reflecting the desire to reward and retain staff, but that it also reflected that agencies were, on the whole, making a profit and were therefore able to pay bonuses.

Bonus sizes

At in-house organisations, global heads of comms and comms directors were banking average bonuses of 30 per cent – double that of most other people in their teams – while PR officers were taking home 18 per cent and comms managers 14 per cent.

In agencies, board directors and partners were rewarded with even higher bonuses: an average of 55 per cent of their salaries.

However, associate directors banked only 11 per cent on average, compared to 17 per cent for account directors, which begged the question as to whether associate directors were "the forgotten level" in the agency world.

One reason for this, the report said, was that account directors were in high demand, perhaps explaining why agencies were keen to retain them with bonuses.

Leembruggen said: "Agencies are clearly trying hard to reward and retain their employees. Bonuses are paid out when companies are making a profit, indicating that agencies continue to evolve and fare well in this market. It’s long been thought that ‘the grass is greener’ in-house when it comes to salaries and bonuses, but perhaps this is no longer the case."

Pensions and benefits

Overall, in-house staff were receiving more high-value benefits, such as contributory benefits, private healthcare, phones and death-in-service payouts than their agency counterparts.

Agencies also offered these benefits, although not to the same extent as corporates, and take-up was far less among employees. The most common company benefit at agencies was fresh fruit.

"The better benefits options on offer to in-house employees certainly add to the appeal of taking up a role in-house rather than in an agency," the report authors said, adding that these schemes could make all the difference when trying to attract and retain staff and keep teams "happy, healthy and more productive". 

The average pension contribution for in-house heads of comms and directors by their company was seven per cent, compared with four per cent for agency staff of similar seniority.


Leembruggen (above) concluded: "Despite the salary brackets not really moving, the pay increase average has remained stable compared to the previous year and agencies are giving better bonuses and giving out more bonuses to more of their staff, which is a positive shift. The desire for in-house remains strong and they continue to provide better company benefits and pensions. It does, however, look as though agencies are making more of an effort to reward and retain their staff, rather than lose them to in-house teams."  

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