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Agencies are begging quality staff to join them, and such is the demand for talent that they are literally paying a heavy price for it.
This is the key finding of PRWeek/Hanson Search’s latest Salary Survey, the PR industry’s most comprehensive study into pay and working conditions.
The turnaround has been dramatic. If last year’s results were characterised by job insecurity and long working weeks (PRWeek, 27 January 2006), this year’s survey shows PR professionals to be more confident of their worth. Where their concerns about redundancy, recruitment freezes and pay cuts have significantly receded, PR people are demanding greater pay for their services. (To see who we polled and their fields of practice, see the foot of this article.)
But this year’s survey (covering 1 January-31 December 2006) reveals that not everyone has had their wages inflated. Indeed, in-house and public sector PROs have witnessed virtually static pay, with rises only nudging above inflation.
PRWeek also reveals that wages are not the only concern of PR practitioners. This year, more PROs are feeling under-rewarded, demotivated and stressed. In fact, despite the desire of consultancies to pay their staff well, the Salary Survey lifts the lid on an industry very concerned about working conditions. This is particularly the case among consultancies, where many people have seen their working days get longer and longer .
One of the most evident trends of the poll has been the relatively large (12 per cent on average) pay increases for consultancy staff (see box, p28). In last year’s survey, pay rises were expected across the board, and these expectations have largely been met. But while all sectors have witnessed some increases over the year, none has matched the pay rises enjoyed by senior consultancy staff.
Consultancy chairmen, managing directors and CEOs received significant wage increases last year, with more than half (55 per cent) earning at least £60,000 in 2006. The average consultancy pay rise was 12 per cent, compared with three per cent for public sector PROs, and five to seven per cent for private sector in-house practitioners. The latter two groups may want to look away now: some 15 per cent of consultancy respondents enjoyed a 30 per cent pay increase, while a quarter of them celebrated a rise of 20 per cent. Consultancy board directors saw the biggest growth in pay during 2006, with average salary increases of 14 per cent. Here, 63 per cent took home earnings of more than £60,000.
The situation for in-house staff is so different. Public sector pay increases at comms director level were, on average, three per cent (with 51 per cent seeing a rise of between two and four per cent). Average pay rises were the same at PR director level.
Senior private sector in-house PROs saw similar increases to their public sector counterparts, with comms directors taking home, on average, £65,785 following a 5.5 per cent pay rise. PR directors in this sector saw their pay increase by seven per cent.
The strength of salary growth among consultancy staff continues right down to the most junior roles, where account exec pay increased by 8.8 per cent, bringing average salaries for these workers above £20,000. For their public sector and in-house counterparts, only a minority of junior staff had their salaries significantly topped up. Ten per cent of press officers in the public sector, with an average wage of £25,300, had no pay increase at all. Four per cent in this group even had to endure a pay cut.
Private sector in-house juniors did not fare much better. With an average salary of £25,475, press officers here had an average pay increase of three per cent, with 13 per cent of wages static and a quarter rising by less than two per cent.
Too much of a good thing?
The strength of consultancy pay may be good news for those PROs on the receiving end, but some industry watchers believe the situation could prove problematic for management.
Esther Carder, partner at chartered accountant Willott Kingston Smith (WKS), warns: ‘Pay is being used to attract or retain experienced people who are in short supply, but owners need to be careful about spending more than they can afford on staff.’
Consultancy pay obviously varies depending on the structure of ownership. For example, a WKS survey of marketing services companies found that independent consultancies tend to pay their staff more than their group-owned counterparts.
The average salary per head at independent PR consultancies, according to WKS, is £57,000 a year, compared with £53,000 at group-owned agencies. WKS also found that group-owned consultancy managers were losing in productivity what they saved in wage bills – its poll showed that staff at independents generate a gross revenue per head of £98,000, compared with £90,000 at group-owned firms.
Commenting on PRWeek’s findings, Carder argues that agencies’ growth potential could be harmed by the increasing burden of staff costs. ‘We would recommend that consultancies invest no more than 55 per cent of growth income in staff costs. If managers and owners need to offer such huge pay rises, we may see that measure start to go up again, and that would be disappointing,’ she says.
Libby Trace is MD of PR recruitment specialist Price Trace Hawes. She says high consultancy salary is the fault of management who failed to recruit sufficiently when the market began to recover two years ago. ‘During the downturn, consultancies were letting people go. As things got better, rather than recruiting staff when they got the work, consultancies made existing staff work harder,’ says Trace, reflecting a major trend in last year’s survey.
She adds: ‘Now this policy is backfiring. Consultancies are recruiting but they are having to offer generous pay increases to experienced, qualified talent.’
Trace (L) and Carder: concerned about where pay rises could lead
And this trend affects small, specialist consultancies the most, says Sarah Leembruggen, managing partner at recruitment specialist The Works. She says that by sector, consultancy salaries have been growing at the highest rate in the healthcare, corporate and finance arenas, due to talent shortages. ‘There are, however, some very high salaries being offered in the technology consultancy sector, too, as a result of a recovery in sector spending,’ she adds.
A buoyant salary market may be one reason why this year’s survey recorded an increase in the number of those planning to leave their job in the next 12 months. Last year, 21 per cent were committed to their role; this year, the figure is 19 per cent.
Yet recruitment consultants report that a large proportion of candidates in the last six months of 2006 were considering leaving consultancy life for in-house positions. The perception that an in-house role offers a break from the frenetic pace of agency life could be another reason why agencies are bumping up wages; as some form of compensation.
Ros Kindersley, managing director of recruitment specialist JFL Search and Selection, has noted this trend, but warns candidates: ‘There is a migration from agency to in-house roles but it is most certainly not the soft option.’ She urges those considering a move from agency to in-house to consider several factors. ‘It is challenging and rewarding working in-house because you are working as part of the business, but some people miss being a fee earner and are shocked to realise that once in-house they are often viewed as being a cost-centre, especially in the professional services sector,’ she says.
The good news for managers is that while PROs may want to move on in the next year, there are signs of increased loyalty in the longer term – 17 per cent of respondents said they expect to be in their current role in two to three years’ time (up from 13 per cent last year). Meanwhile, nine per cent expect to remain in their post for the next three to five years.
Alongside this apparent surge in long-term loyalty, one of the most positive results of the survey was the apparent return of confidence and job security across the board.
In last year’s poll, an alarming 39 per cent of public sector PROs feared for their jobs. This year, only four per cent expect to be made redundant, while no consultancy staff reported such concerns.
This renewed confidence was buoyed by a return to growth – across the industry, only two per cent of PR practitioners expect to be made redundant in the next 12 months.
However, no PR employer can ignore the fact that – across the board, and despite increased wages – pay is less and less a motivator at work. When asked what drives them, 44 per cent said financial reward was ‘very important’, compared with 53 per cent last year. Instead, 60 per cent said fulfilling their potential was ‘very important’, and more practitioners described fringe benefits as ‘important’ (34 per cent this year compared with 30 per cent previously).
JFL’s Kindersley says this is a positive sign for an industry that depends on the creative satisfaction of its people. ‘This is probably a sign that salaries are fairer and people are more focused on the “softer issues”,’ she explains. ‘Employers have to remember that two things motivate staff: interesting and absorbing work perceived to be of value; and their colleagues. People appreciate having a mentor, someone to learn from who inspires them.’
This theme is echoed by Cohn & Wolfe human resources director Paula Grant, who notes the increasing importance of lifestyle issues in recruitment. ‘We’ve had to discipline ourselves so as not to get carried away with salaries,’ he says. ‘Instead, we’ve offered lifestyle and additional benefits. But agencies are also becoming a lot more transparent with their employees about what they aim to achieve, and that is increasingly reflected in the benefits offered.’
The longer working week
The Salary Survey also reveals a continuation of several trends detected in recent polls. For the third consecutive year, a significant proportion of respondents claimed to be working longer weeks. This year, half of all respondents said they worked more hours in 2006 than they did in the previous 12 months. This compares with 35 per cent of those polled last year.
The most acutely affected were, predictably, consultancy staff, of whom 55 per cent said they worked more hours. Nonetheless, in-house roles have not escaped the effects of the long working day culture. Fifty-one per cent in the private sector claimed to be working longer, with 47 per cent in the public sector saying the same.
In last year’s report, a shocking seven per cent of PR professionals said they had worked every weekend of the previous 12 months. This year, the figure slipped to four per cent. However, this masks an increasing tendency for staff to spend ‘forced’ weekends at the office, with those claiming to work the ‘occasional’ weekend rising from 64 per cent last year to 67 per cent. Likewise, fewer people this year said they ‘never’ worked at weekends – 16 per cent compared with 19 per cent.
Unsurprisingly, high stress levels have also become more apparent in the survey – and despite some PROs’ higher salaries, greater numbers of them are feeling under-rewarded for their troubles.
An alarming 62 per cent said their jobs had become more stressful in the past six months. When asked about this last year, 44 per cent said their jobs had become more stressful over the same period (see chart below). Emma Dale, director of recruitment firm Prospect Resourcing, says consultancy reactions to increased stress levels have been particularly mixed. ‘Many agencies are aware that the role can be stressful and try very hard to combat this whenever possible, and reward their staff for working longer days to keep clients happy,’ she notes.
However, Dale adds: ‘There are agencies that don’t help combat stress and believe it is part of the job, particularly due to greater client demands and an increasingly competitive market.’
The negative impact of this was felt when respondents were asked how well they felt rewarded by their overall package. Here, there was broad similarity between consultancy and in-house responses. Despite their higher pay, 23 per cent of consultancy staff felt ‘under-rewarded’ (up from 14 per cent in 2005), while 22 per cent of in-house workers, in both the private and public sectors, felt the same (up from 19 and 17 per cent respectively).
Surprisingly, given the increase in hours and a general growth in the industry over three years of steady recovery, there was a fall in the number of practitioners receiving a performance-related bonus. From 41 per cent in last year’s poll, the number of respondents receiving such a bonus fell to 34 per cent.
The Works’ Leembruggen says this contradicts her own experience as a recruitment adviser, particularly among consultancies. Although the survey showed that the proportion of specifically consultancy staff on performance bonuses had fallen from 45 per cent to 35 per cent, Leembruggen insists: ‘Lots more consultancies have been giving performance-related bonuses as everyone has been working so hard. Anecdotally, they are running at about ten to 15 per cent of salary.’
The Salary Survey showed a similar trend in the in-house private sector, where the number that received a bonus related to their performance fell from 60 per cent in last year’s poll to 51 per cent this time around. Likewise, the proportion of in-house public sector PROs on performance-related bonuses also fell – albeit only from 20 per cent to 19 per cent.
Still, not everyone was unhappy with their lot. The quantity of PR practitioners who felt ‘very well rewarded’ rose from six per cent to eight per cent this year. And the number of ‘very well rewarded’ consultancy staff doubled this year, from six per cent to 12 per cent.
Overall, this year’s Salary Survey paints a picture of a strong industry generously rewarding its most experienced practitioners.
However, PR consultancies in particular face the challenge of attracting talent with packages that go beyond remuneration, to offer rewards through recognition and personal fulfilment.
IS YOUR JOB...
Source: PRWeek Salary Survey/Objective Research
THE CONSULTANCY VIEW
Sarah ROBINSON, Managing director, Consolidated Communications
‘There is still a battle for talent across the board, with demand outstripping supply. This has led to aggressive headhunting by employers and premium salaries being used to entice high-calibre candidates.
‘Also, we have bright graduates entering PR who have friends in other industries where the salaries are much higher. There is growing sensitivity about this, especially at the junior levels. While we’re not the sweatshop that some law firms are, it is important to recognise the value of other benefits. I think holiday should be regarded as a hugely important part of the package.
‘At Consolidated, we give everyone generous holiday time: 34 days in 2006. We also have sabbatical and flexible working programmes.
‘The increasing number of communications channels makes it more difficult to stay on top of the day-to- day job than a few years ago, perhaps a big factor in increasing work stress.
‘Ten years ago you’d read the national dailies and a couple of trade titles to keep in touch. Now we are deluged with RSS feeds, as well as juggling blogs and many more news channels, such as the social media outlets.’
THE IN-HOUSE PUBLIC SECTOR VIEW
Richard EVANS, Media relations manager, London Borough of Lambeth
‘Perhaps the most revealing finding of this year’s PRWeek Salary Survey is that the public sector comes out with the highest stress levels in the industry. When you think about the popular perceptions of public sector PROs compared with in-house private sector and consultancy staff, this is surprising.
‘But this is not necessarily a reflection of under-resourcing and a lack of job satisfaction; more a reminder that those of us in the public sector face a tough job. After all, those of us working for the Government – both local and central – have two different strands of management and it can feel like we have double the number of people to please.
‘Conversely, PROs working in the public sector also have access to more flexible working, and this reflects the sector’s commitment to maintaining a work-life balance.
‘It is also clear that pay in the public sector is going up more slowly than in other sectors. But the job is still attractive to comms professionals. I recruited a press officer last year and was really impressed with the quality of candidates.’
SALARY SURVEY 2007: THE PEOPLE WHO RESPONDED
The PRWeek Salary Survey received just short of 500 responses, more than a 50 per cent increase on 2006 when, due to the unrepresentative size of samples in some job areas, year-on-year comparisons were not possible. This blip has therefore affected aspects of this year’s survey.
Reflecting the industry itself, the majority of respondents, 63 per cent, were female. Women made up 64 per cent of consultancy roles, 60 per cent of in-house roles in the private sector, and 65 per Cent of public sector in-house positions.
The sample also paints a representative picture in geographical terms, with the largest group of respondents, 38 per cent, based in central and Greater London. Eleven per cent were based in the South-East of England and the Midlands, followed by the South-West (nine per cent), the North-East (seven per cent) and Scotland and the North-East (six per cent).
The smallest sample by geographic region came from Northern Ireland, at one per cent, while Wales accounted for four per cent of the sample, and East Anglia three per cent.
The survey also reflects a young industry. Seventy per cent of respondents were under 40 years of age; the largest chunk of whom (26 per cent) were aged between 26 and 30. Only one per cent were 60 or older.
The ethnic make-up of the sample was similar to last year, with 90 per cent describing their origin as Caucasian. The largest proportion of respondents describing themselves in this way was found in the consultancy sector, where 94 per cent said they were Caucasian.
A total of 15 per cent of respondents described their origin as ‘other’, and while two per cent of public sector respondents were Afro-Caribbean, only one per cent in the in-house private sector described themselves as such.
Eighty-four per cent were employed full-time. The highest number of respondents working full-time were in-house private sector PROs. This fell to 85 per cent in the public sector and even further, to 77 per cent, among consultancy staff. Four per cent of respondents were part-time employees, while three per cent were either freelance or solo practitioners.
|Click HERE for the Podcast to listen to Sarah Leembruggen discuss the Salary Survey further. Produced in association with CTN Communications. |
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