New business is flooding in, salaries are up, and there are jobs
aplenty. At face value it looks like the good times are back. But there
are warning signs that the PR industry may be storing up trouble for the
The most striking finding in this year’s salary survey is the leap in
income for consultancy staff at account executive and account manager
level. This is not surprising. People with four or five years’
experience are as rare as Tory voters, simply because the recession
meant that few entry level recruits were taken on at that time.
In the scramble to take on new business, consultancies are being tempted
into a bidding war for the few talented people that are available.
Recruitment consultants are comparing it to the heady days of 1987, when
the only way appeared to be up.
This is already leading to salary inflation at a time when the tight
margins and increased client expectations of the recession are still
with us. It also leads to job title inflation, with frankly
inexperienced staff accelerating into positions for which they are not
Waxing nostalgic about the recession is a bit like praising Mussolini
for making the trains run on time. But it did weed out a lot of the
dross and bad practice that led to the industry’s poor reputation.
Standards improved drastically, largely because of the expectations of
budget-starved clients who want better advice from more senior
consultants with properly evaluated results - and all at a lower cost.
The possibility of returning to the days of slapdash service supplied by
inexperienced consultants seems unthinkable. Nevertheless, consultancies
need to be on their toes.
The threat from management consultants has often been used to frighten
PR youngsters in their beds. But the latest survey from the Management
Consultancies Association shows a significant boost in their income from
marketing and corporate communication advice. One may quibble over the
definition of the service they supply, but a 50 per cent rise to pounds
28 million is not to be sniffed at.
Management consultants probably aren’t the barbarians at the gate. But
PR practitioners cannot afford to let standards drop for an instant. In
this respect, the recruitment decisions made now are far more important
than the amount of new business stacked up.
In the long run the only answer to the skills shortage is a greater
investment in training. The fact that training budgets are increasing -
by 16 per cent last year according to the PRCA - indicates that
consultancies are getting this message.