SALARY SURVEY: Modern values - PR people are shopping around for jobs which offer more than just money

With all the talk of recession over the past year, putting money on salaries in the PR industry being static at best would have looked like a pretty safe bet. But as the results of the PR Week/Media Appointments Salary Survey 1999 show, PR hasn’t yet embarked on an incorrigible downturn.

With all the talk of recession over the past year, putting money on

salaries in the PR industry being static at best would have looked like

a pretty safe bet. But as the results of the PR Week/Media Appointments

Salary Survey 1999 show, PR hasn’t yet embarked on an incorrigible


In fact, the results of the survey show the industry is cautious, but

mirroring more the upbeat style of the Chancellor’s Budget this year

than his previous calls for prudence. The industry is still relatively

healthy, although the greatest issue continues to be the shortage of

agency staff at manager level and above.

Emma Dale, manager of specialist recruitment company Media Appointments,

says this is particularly the case in the areas of IT, healthcare and

finance. ’There is a distinct lack of talent at all levels in these

areas,’ she says. ’The industry is experiencing an influx of inflated

titles and salaries as companies try to lock in their staff. The fear of

losing them is enormous as replacing them is close to impossible.’

The PR Week/Media Appointments 1999 Salary Survey shows that even if the

industry is for the most part denying that it will be swamped by a

full-blown recession, traditional perks are being eaten away.

But the message does seem to be getting through that to maintain

performance under high levels of stress, PR practitioners must have the

opportunity to reduce the number of hours they spend at work, and

increased opportunities to take time off.

’Companies are realising gestures and perks are just as important as

monetary benefits,’ concludes Dale. ’Allowing staff a day off on their

birthday, having company sports teams or team-building weekends needn’t

be drastically expensive, but they are appealing to staff.’

Widened earnings gap

There is a marked difference, however, between the fortunes of those

working for agencies and in-house. According to the 1,136 respondents of

the survey, belts have been loosened far more at agencies and the gap

between average earnings across the board at consultancies and in-house

has widened from just over pounds 5,000 in 1998 to more than pounds

7,000 this year.

This puts the average salary in consultancies at pounds 40,100, although

the figures this year may be skewed by what could be a return to the fat

cat culture of chairmen raking in huge salaries. The average chairman’s

salary has risen 23 per cent to pounds 72,875 this year, and this is

also the only post to be defying the downward trend of perks such as

health plans, company cars and non-contributory pensions. Average

percentage pay increases have gone up across the board at agencies, from

8.4 per cent in 1998 to 11.9 per cent - but, significantly, chairmen

enjoyed an average 19.5 per cent pay rise last year.

Dale says tight margins led to the decline of fat cat salaries, but

adds: ’There has still been a huge increase in salaries for senior

agency staff this year. A scarcity of good senior players continues, due

to their leaving the industry altogether or moving in-house, so large

salaries and enticing benefits packages are offered to those with

business acumen and experience.’

In-house, the average percentage salary increase has gone up from 5.5

per cent to 9.4 per cent. The average salaries for PR directors,

managers, and officers, however, have stayed almost static, dipping very

slightly on last year. In 1998’s survey, for instance, in-house PR

managers were earning an average of pounds 30,716, compared to an

average of pounds 30,067 this year.

’In-house salaries have remained static as there is never a shortage of

agency staff ready to take on these positions,’ explains Dale. ’The

belief that in-house is a more attractive all-round package is still


Freelance downturn

Freelancing may have became more popular at senior level, but freelance

consultants are feeling the pinch more than anyone else, and last year

had an average salary of pounds 37,880, down around eight per cent from

1998’s average of pounds 41,340. Of all the job titles, solo

practitioners also continue to have the lowest average percentage salary

increase year-on-year - just beating inflation at around the 4.5 per

cent mark.

’Freelancing can be a very lucrative income, but I have noticed that

companies are not using them as frequently as in recent years, and so

they may have to reduce their daily rate to get work,’ says Dale.

Those at the very top of the tree, however, continue to earn handsome

salaries. From agency account directors and in-house account managers

upwards, the top ten per cent are raking in an average of pounds 72,000.

But the gap is widening between the top ten per cent and the rest - this

year, average salaries for PR people in the top 50 per cent bracket were

just as likely to stay the same or decrease as rise.

Despite the discrepancies between in-house and agency employees, and

those at the top compared with the majority, there is a cautiously

optimistic mood in the industry. Factors in the survey that would

indicate PR practitioners are bracing themselves for a recession show

respondents happy to hedge their bets rather than boldly declare the

industry to be going through either slump or boom-time.

There has been no significant drop-off in confidence from last year,

with the greatest section - 44 per cent - of respondents saying their

gut feeling is to be as confident in the future as they had been in


The rest are almost exactly divided between feeling more or less


’After being told that we were approaching a recession, companies began

tightening their belts in the run-up to Christmas,’ says Dale. ’But the

initial panic now seems to be over and agencies are back to their normal

new business pushes and recruitment drives. There seems to be a healthy

amount of business out there.’

A healthy economy

The state of the economic climate prompted a similar response, with 55

per cent saying they felt the economy as it affected their business had

remained constant. A further 23 per cent said things were looking pretty

healthy, and just under 19 per cent went as far as to say that the

economic climate was very healthy. No-one said they thought the econsomy

was in a bad state. Although cautious, PR people aren’t nearly as

pessimistic about economic prospects as they were a year ago, when there

was a much wider spread of opinion: ten per cent of respondents in 1998

said the economic situation was bad or awful, and a similar amount felt

it was very healthy.

On a personal level, fading fears of recession translate to most

respondents, in-house and in agencies, saying they have no fear of

losing their jobs, although 14 per cent think they could be out of a job

this year. Likewise, 73 per cent say none of their colleagues have been

made redundant in the past six months, but this still leaves nearly a

quarter of respondents who have seen co-workers recently asked to


Movement around the industry has slowed down significantly in the past

year. Only 23 per cent said they had changed jobs in the past 12 months,

compared to 34 per cent last year, emphasising Dale’s belief that

companies are trying hard to keep staff, and investing in their future

through training.

’The results suggest companies are realising employees are their most

important asset and investing in them is essential,’ she says.

’Retaining staff at all levels is still of prime importance as the

consequence of losing staff can be drastic. Benefits encouraging staff

retention such as good training programmes are becoming more


Almost half of the respondents said they had a structured training

programme in their job, although this still leaves significant room for


Dale says: ’Commitment to training is improving all the time and more

companies are moving towards the Investors in People standard, although

some are still wary of investing money in staff training when employees

are likely to move on. However, training is of fundamental importance to

employees from graduate entry to middle management, and ironically a

lack of training is a very common reason to look for a new job.’

The survey also shows that the gradual trimming away of perks, which a

decade ago were an integral part of the PR employment package,


Company cars are becoming the exception rather than the rule, especially

in-house, where ownership is down across the board. In consultancies,

only account executives, managing directors and chairmen are slightly

more likely to have a company car, and there is roughly a ten per cent

drop in ownership at other levels. And whereas a year ago almost half of

all freelancers awarded themselves a company car, now less than

one-third have one.

Company health plans are disappearing, too, especially for in-house PR

people: 41 per cent of agency employees and 36 per cent of in-house

practitioners now have this benefit, compared to 46 per cent for both

disciplines last year. There is also a downward trend for

non-contributory pensions, which has hit consultancy employees - 11 per

cent compared to 15 per cent last year - more than their in-house

counterparts, where 23 per cent still benefit.

Dale says that in-house staff are now more likely to expect a formal

benefits package, but agencies are becoming more flexible, allowing

employees to pick their own package according to individual needs. ’A

car allowance instead of a car is more popular as employees become

increasingly aware of the tax disadvantages,’ she explains.

The luxury of a guaranteed bonus appears to be a thing of the past for

most in the industry, with just 13 per cent overall being able to count

on a bonus compared with 17 per cent in 1998. Performance-related

bonuses have settled at the same level as last year, however, with

around 30 per cent of practitioners getting a handout if they do


Dale explains that bonuses are a good way of motivating staff, but they

are now being taken a step further. ’With the constant need to bring in

new business, companies are looking at giving incentives to staff by

offering them a percentage of the first year’s fee income on business

they bring in,’ she says.

Improved quality of life

If the perks of PR are looking a bit thin, the quality of life for

practioners appears to be making up for it. There is every indication

from the salary survey that the traditionally high levels of stress in

the industry are being countered by other factors. Around 42 per cent of

in-house PRs and 27 per cent in agencies say they feel under more

pressure than 12 months ago, but the number of respondents who are

feeling overworked has dropped slightly this year to just below 50 per


The greatest single difference is in the average number of weeks’

holiday allowance offered to PR practitioners, which has shot up by at

least one week. Most agency workers say they are benefiting from six

weeks’ holiday rather than four, and in-house practitioners now have an

average of seven weeks off instead of five. Dale says she has not

noticed such a large hike in holidays, but adds: ’This could suggest

that more companies are realising they need to look after their staff by

trying to reduce their stress levels. This will increase the quality of

work output and improve staff morale and retention.’

Whether or not time can be found to take the holidays is another

question, although the number of respondents who said they never or only

rarely cancelled holidays for work reasons has remained at 65 per


Better hours

Working hours appear at last to be shrinking, with 14 per cent now

working less than eight hours every day, compared to fewer than eight

per cent a year ago. Around 68 per cent spend between eight and ten

hours a day at work - around the same as last year, but only a handful

of respondents work longer than this. The number working for more than

12 hours a day has dropped from over four per cent to 1.5 per cent.

Most respondents - 54 per cent - said they spent one evening each week

out on business, and 19.5 per cent spend two evenings every week on

business, which equates with last year’s figures. Only very small

numbers have to spend more evenings on business, although half of the

respondents feel they occasionally neglect their family due to work

pressures, and 26 per cent say they regularly neglect those at home

because of work.

For those few women who do make it through the glass ceiling to chair

level, salaries are very high, averaging pounds 100,000, which is

significantly higher than their male counterparts who responded, who

grossed an average of pounds 64,000. For the most part, salaries of male

and female employees are approximately the same.

The only area where male salaries are still around pounds 4,000 more

than female is at the level of in-house PR director, although this is

balanced by the pounds 3,300 more earned on average by women managing

directors. Female solo practitioners are also doing well for themselves,

earning an average of pounds 4,000 more than male freelancers.

Capital bias

Two elements of the PR landscape show no signs of abating - the bias

towards London, and the lack of ethnic diversity in the sector. More

than 38 per cent of respondents are based in central London, and a

further 13 per cent work in Greater London. The wider region of the

South East is the base for another 13.4 per cent, meaning that only

around one-third of respondents are scattered across the rest of the


If anything, PR is attracting even fewer people of non-white origin:

nearly 96 per cent of respondents describe themselves as white, compared

to under 95 per cent last year, and the small numbers of those

describing themselves as Asian, black, Chinese, or of other origin, have

shrunk even further.

PR people appear to be coming to grips with the impact of European

integration, and many are able to speak another language. A high number

of respondents - 47 per cent - speak French, 13 per cent speak German,

and nine per cent speak Spanish. Just under five per cent speak


As we move towards the millennium, a bulging pay packet and a flash car

are no longer the only indicators of a good career - the graduates of

the future are just as likely to assess the quality of their life

outside work. If they are to continue to make a bee-line for PR despite

the hard graft, they will want to know it’s worth their while in more

than one sense.



Average salary

pounds 64,613

Average age


Average salary increase at last review


Average holiday

6 weeks




Health plan


Performance-related bonus


Non-contributory pension



Average salary

pounds 48,980

Average age


Average salary increase

at last review


Average holiday

7 weeks




Health plan


Performance-related bonus


Non-contributory pension



Average salary

pounds 34,747

Average age


Average salary increase

at last review


Average holiday

6 weeks




Health plan


Performance-related bonus


Non-contributory pension



Average salary

pounds 24,396

Average age


Average salary increase

at last review


Average holiday

6 weeks




Health plan


Performance-related bonus


Non-contributory pension



Average salary

pounds 16,959

Average age


Average salary increase

at last review


Average holiday

6 weeks




Health Plan


Performance-related bonus


Non-contributory pension




Average salary

pounds 50,201

Average age


Average salary increase

at last review


Average holiday

7 weeks




Health plan


Performance-related bonus


Non-contributory pension



Average salary

pounds 30,067

Average age


Average salary increase

at last review


Average holiday

7 weeks




Health plan


Performance-related bonus


Non-contributory pension



Average salary

pounds 20,645

Average age


Average salary increase

at last review


Average holiday

6 weeks




Health plan


Performance-related bonus


Non-contributory pension



Average salary

pounds 37,880

Average age


Average salary increase

at last review


Average holiday

5 weeks




Health plan


Performance-related bonus


Non-contributory pension


Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in