Employees have been calling the shots in the PR job market, as demand for talent escalated last year and maintained a furious pace. The all-out war to attract and keep talent led to double-digit pay raises, enhanced benefits packages, signing bonuses and staff dictating where and how they want to work.
That was then. Now economic factors are turning the job market into one favoring employers.
With skyrocketing inflation, rising interest rates and plunging stock-market returns, the number of business leaders who have gone on-record to say a recession is looming has grown into a chorus.
Elon Musk was among the latest this week. “A recession is inevitable,” the Tesla CEO said at the Qatar Economic Forum in Doha. “As to whether there is a recession in the near term, that is more likely than not.”
According to industry recruiters, the PR job market is showing signs of, if not a downturn, at least the fear of one.
“Employment contracts are taking a little longer to get approved,” notes Larry Brantley, president of executive search firm Chaloner. “Procurement and leadership are watching spending on new hires a lot more closely than last year.”
“They are concerned a recession is around the corner, so organizations are being a lot more measured and cautious,” he says. “They don’t want to hire too fast and have to make adjustments and downsize later.”
These developments follow an incredibly busy Q1 for Chaloner, when business exceeded all of 2019. Meanwhile, Q2, which is almost over, while less robust, has been busy, too. “But the job market has changed course suddenly,” says Brantley, in terms of mood and temperament.
The candidate-friendly market, which recruiters say started early last year, saw clients complete hirings quickly, from the date of a job posting to the offer letter, out of fear of losing a great candidate.
In a recessionary environment, however, clients are second guessing a potential hire or fearing pulling the trigger. They’re dragging out the interview process. Instead of a one-and-done panel interview, which has recently been the norm, candidates are being assessed over a series of one-on-one calls.
Given that Brantley puts the chance of a recession this year at 50/50, he has briefed his team on the challenges of working in an employer-friendly market.
In addition to acting with hesitancy and far less urgency, “clients can be a lot more demanding,” he says.
Positions are coming with tighter salary ranges and less room for negotiation. As for signing bonuses? Forget about it. They’re now reserved for the most senior and critical hires.
One thing that’s here to stay, regardless of the type of market: remote work. Brantley says 25% of new PR job postings are 100% remote.
“It’s not a passing fad,” he says.
What remains to be seen is whether comms departments and PR shops will adopt location-based pay caps for remote workers en masse, given the hand-wringing about compensation.
“There are still some firms, though not all, paying market value regardless of where someone lives,” says Brantley. “A pro in Dallas, for instance, can still work for a firm in New York City and earn a New York City salary.”
Jamie McLaughlin, CEO and founder of Monday Talent, says the U.S. is already in a recession. “There has definitely been a softening in the job market,” he says. “But it is not across the board, with the tech sector getting hit most.”
He says early stage and more established companies in Web3 have slammed the brakes on hiring. A number have even had layoffs.
In addition to not taking place across the board, the slowdown also isn’t happening across all levels. “The bigger the check, the more cautious clients are being,” says McLaughlin.
He also thinks the slowdown could just last the summer, when the job market historically gets quiet amid summer vacations.
“I think some companies want to wait and see what happens, and hope to ramp back up in the fall,” says McLaughlin.
PRWeek reached out to comms leaders at major organizations. A few said hiring has slowed from last year, mainly because they have fully staffed up since pandemic lows.
“We grew our team last year and expect to stay about the same this year,” says Frank Shaw, VP of corporate comms at Microsoft. “Hiring is mostly backfall and for very selective growth.”
Jim Delulio, president and founder of PR Talent, says that many clients, particularly agencies, are still trying to increase headcount.
“Some organizations have such a big hole still, because they had an overreaction to the pandemic in terms of their cutbacks,” says Delulio. “So while a few employers might sit on the sidelines for a bit, many of them have critical positions open at the mid-level, and are desperate for the talent.”
As for recession fears? He says it’s an interesting time, with market factors at odds with some consumer spending.
“I think people are complaining about the higher prices, but they seem to be affording their housing. Restaurants are full. Flights are sold out,” Delulio points out.
Should the U.S. economy retract, there’s a universal belief that comms should fare well compared to past recessions. Executives say the function proved itself to be indispensable during and since the pandemic, both externally and internally.
“I am still seeing a lot of PR job openings,” says Roger Frizzell, VP and chief communications officer at Carnival. “Companies are realizing the need for strong, experienced PR talent at all levels, especially the executive levels, as they navigate an ever-changing business climate and social responsibility environment.”