Opinion: Breaking the cycle of wage inflation

PRWeek's annual salary survey, published this week, confirms what many managers in this profession have suspected for some time. The demand for good comms people - particularly in consultancy business - currently exceeds supply.

The effect, of course, is growing wage inflation; inter-firm poaching of many of the best people; and a bonanza for headhunters.

Some of this is good news. Business and government are investing in PR as never before, recognising its value in this fragmented – and more democratic – media age. Also, good practitioners are finding they can negotiate salaries that finally match those in other professions. This, ultimately, may help to attract even better people into the PR sector.

But, as ever, there is a flipside. In the short term the talent shortage is forcing staff to spend more hours at work, and they are reporting higher levels of stress.

And, as poaching becomes rife, there is a danger that some consultancies are not keeping good staff for long enough to establish client confidence. There is nothing a client hates more than their account handler – in whom they often invest great time and knowledge – changing regularly. Only when a stable relationship exists between client and agency is real value realised.

All this highlights the hitherto cyclical nature of the industry. Our survey shows that the biggest wage inflation is happening at board-director level, which is probably due to a lack of recruitment five or six years ago when the economic outlook was less healthy.

Encouragingly, some recognise that it’s not all about money; that to attract and retain talent they must look to other areas of reward, such as better training and lifestyle benefits. These are likely to be valued more by staff as salaries reach parity with other professions.

Indeed, it is through fresh perspectives and long-term thinking that managers may be able to break the traditionally vicious cycle of wage-inflation-then-redundancy that has dogged PR for too long.

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