SALARY SURVEY: Small change - Money takes second place to professionalism for agency account executives

Prudence was the byword for last year’s pay awards, which saw leaner percentage salary increases across the board than in 1996. Almost a year into the new Government, employers are keeping a tight rein on spending, respecting the Government’s own desire to keep inflation under control.

Prudence was the byword for last year’s pay awards, which saw

leaner percentage salary increases across the board than in 1996. Almost

a year into the new Government, employers are keeping a tight rein on

spending, respecting the Government’s own desire to keep inflation under


After the bumper pay awards recorded in the 1997 salary survey, the

current increases averaged 8.4 per cent in agencies and 5.5 per cent

in-house - still way ahead of inflation, but lower than one might

expect, given the shortage of experienced staff in the market.

Agency account executives were the big losers in the salary stakes. In

hard cash terms, they have seen their average salary fall from pounds

17,043 to pounds 16,566, while the salary of an agency account manager

has remained almost static at pounds 23,458.

The 1998 PR Week/Media Appointments Salary Survey - based on the

responses of 1,097 PR professionals - also reveals that benefits have

been stripped from the overall employment package awarded to agency

account executives, reflecting the increasingly held view that benefits

have to be earned.

In contrast, the percentage of agency account directors and board

directors enjoying health plan and performance-related bonuses has

risen, although the percentage of those awarded a company car has

dropped once again.

The average age of an agency account executive has fallen from 26 to 25,

which may, in part, justify a reduced average percentage pay award in

this category. Practitioners in the junior ranks seem prepared to tough

it out, however, their sights fixed on quickly moving up the career


Media Appointments senior consultant Emma Dale says: ’PR is still one of

the most seductive industries and executive candidates certainly have to

prove their worth in this fiercely competitive market before receiving

substantial salary increases.

’However, in my experience, the average account executive views the

nature of the role and the company’s commitment to training as prime

importance, with salary as a close second,’ says Dale. ’Benefits such as

performance-related benefits, pension and health plans tend to kick in

at management level.’

The skills shortage, especially in IT and healthcare, means that

agencies are keen to retain talented senior PR practitioners. While they

also received year-on-year lower average salary increases, senior agency

practitioners received generous benefits as sweeteners. Dale says:

’Companies are prepared to pay more when recruiting at director level

due to a smaller percentage of talent at this level. These roles tend to

offer extensive benefits packages as well as very reasonable basic

salaries to attract the best in the market.

In-house the story is rather different. Although percentage pay

increases were down - six per cent for PR directors, five per cent for

PR managers and five per cent for PR officers - all three ranks enjoyed

increased benefits. Ironically, PR officers won the largest share of the

spoils, 30 per cent of them now have a health plan, compared with 21 per

cent in last year’s survey, while 25 per cent receive a

performance-related bonus, an increase of nine per cent. The percentage

of in-house PR officers receiving company cars remained static at 12 per

cent, while at PR director and PR manager levels, the percentage of

those receiving this benefit increased by 5.3 per cent and three per

cent respectively.

The freelance consultant/solo practitioner is now firmly established on

the PR landscape and earning an average of pounds 41,340. However, the

conservative percentage salary increases have hit this type of

practitioner directly.

The top 10 per cent of lone practitioners brought home an average of

pounds 68,812, compared with pounds 77,583 in last year’s survey.

Percentage salary increases may have decreased from last year’s heady

heights, but the number of hours the average practitioner works shows no

signs of tailing off. Fifty-four per cent of respondents say they are

overworked, while just eight per cent of practitioners work eight hours

a day, 35 per cent work nine to 10 hours, 16 per cent work ten to 11

hours and four per cent work 11 or more hours. There was no change this

year on the average number of weeks’ holiday awarded to PR

practitioners. Agency staff received four weeks, bar board directors and

managing directors/chairmen, while in-house practitioners received five


Cash is not the major motivating factor driving PR practitioners - 40.3

per cent admit they are fairly rewarded, with a further 28.3 per cent

saying they are either very well or well rewarded financially. Indeed,

the importance of financial rewards has actually slipped down the list

for both in-house and agency practitioners.

For consultancy practitioners, the most important motivating factors

are: challenging work, followed by recognition, friendly environment,

career prospects, responsibility, financial reward, job security,

location training and fringe benefits. For in-house practitioners the

order of priority is: challenging work, recognition, responsibility,

career prospects, friendly environment, job security, financial reward,

location, training, and fringe benefits.

Dale says: ’Satisfaction derived from a salary increase lasts

approximately one week. Spending a considerable part of the day at work

results in job satisfaction being of fundamental importance. It is rare

to move just because of money - it is more often due to the desire for a

new challenge and the ’right’ job. Unlike the 1980s, when candidates

were more concerned about the right salary, these days staff move for

general happiness.’

On the whole, respondents are generally confident about the economic

climate in the country, with 49.7 per cent saying it is either healthy

or very healthy. In addition, just 15 per cent are afraid of losing

their jobs. The majority of respondents stay in the same job for two to

four years, but the scarcity of quality candidates has led to an

increase in headhunting. Thirty per cent say more approaches are being

made, while 50 per cent say they have been approached by a head


However, Dale does not believe that this automatically means the market

has become more cutthroat. ’Not a month goes by when I do not read that

someone has moved due to a headhunter,’ she says. ’However, it is not

always strictly true that they have been ’headhunted’, as I am aware

they have registered themselves in order to find a new job. Due to some

areas experiencing skill shortage, such as IT or healthcare, there are

fewer people around, particularly at senior level where a headhunting

service becomes necessary to find these people.’ Perhaps more

significantly, 19.9 per cent of respondents say they have changed their

jobs over the last 12 months, while a hefty 37.6 per cent say they are

likely to have changed their jobs in the next 12 months. Respondents are

keeping tightlipped about their reasons for wanting a change.

Dale explains: ’Candidates seem better informed about rival agencies and

have an instant view as to who they would or would not want to join.

Good consultancy candidates are thin on the ground and staff are staying

in their jobs for longer periods than in previous years and due to very

generous benefit packages, in-house people seem content to stay put for

a longer time.’

While it is no longer raging, the battle of the sexes is not over. For

many talented women, netting the top jobs is still proving elusive.

In-house, women account for 47.1 per cent of PR directorships, a 3.8 per

cent increase on last year’s figures. At agencies, women number 30.8 per

cent of chairman/managing directors - a decrease of 4.6 per cent on last

year’s figures. At agency board director level, women make up 59.6 per

cent of the ranks, while at agency account director level they account

for 60.1 per cent of the category.

Salaries are broadly on the same level, with a few notable


Male consultancy chairman/managing director earn an average of pounds

55,693, their female counterparts earn an average of pounds 51,654. Male

consultancy board directors earn an average of pounds 52,869, while

women of the same status earn an average pounds 10,825 less. In-house,

male PR managers earn on average pounds 4,480 more than their female

counterparts, while salaries are broadly equal for account executives

and account directors.

’I tend to see on a regular basis more women than men, but I am not

aware of any salary discrimination,’ says Dale. ’There seems to be

slightly more women at account director/board level than last year,

which suggests juggling a high-flying career and the home and children

appear to be becoming more feasible due to the company’s encouragement.

With skill shortages on the up, companies do not want to lose their

senior people and are encouraging women to return to their board

positions after having children.

’However’, she adds, ’the industry as a whole is not offering the

seductive maternity schemes it should in order to encourage a speedy

return to work. Companies need to realise allowances have to be made as

it can be very difficult to go back to the full demands as before.’

Regional differences

Location can affect earning power. The biggest earners are located in

central London where the average salary is pounds 34,779. Rather

surprisingly, East Anglia was close behind with an average salary of

pounds 34,145, followed by Northern Ireland, with an average salary of

pounds 31,000 and Scotland with an average salary of pounds 29,981.

However, the average salary in Wales fell from just over pounds 25,000

in last year’s survey, to pounds 22,708 this year.

High on the list of expectations for many in the junior ranks is quality

training. Both agencies and in-house operations have still some way to

go to provide a comprehensive training programme. While 47.7 per cent

have received computer skills training and 43 per cent have received

presentational skills training, training in other areas is patchy.

Thirty-two per cent have received press-handling skills training, 24.2

per cent have received telephone skills training and 36.6 per cent have

received writing skills training.

However, Dale believes progress is being made. ’A structured training

programme tends to take place at entry level within the larger


The small to medium agencies offer a ’hands on’ approach, which although

sometimes unstructured, can be very beneficial and rewarding. Commitment

to training is becoming more and more apparent within the middle sized

and progressive agencies. However, some companies are still slightly

wary of investing vast amounts in training when staff tend to move every

two to three years.’

A degree is still the most frequent route into public relations, with 67

per cent of practitioners possessing a general or post-graduate


Just 8.1 per cent have a PR degree, 7.6 per cent have a NCTJ Proficiency

Test, 11 per cent have a CAM certificate and 5.3 per cent have a CAM


’A PR degree is not necessarily a requirement to get into the industry

and the few graduates with these degrees still tend to veer towards the

consumer route as a preferred career path, which results in skill

shortage in areas such as information technology, healthcare and

finance,’ says Dale.

’Not all employers are impressed by PR degrees and actually prefer

graduates who haven’t actually specialised in PR, so that they can bring

something else to the party’. However, PR graduates do have a distinct

advantage with a year’s experience in the industry already under their

belt due to the sandwich courses on offer.

The maxim ’work hard, play hard’, does not find much favour with PR

practitioners, who would rather spend an evening dining with friends

than shaking their stuff in a nightclub until the wee hours. In fact,

the PR practitioners is a rather prudent breed of professional, with a

high percentage of homeowners among its number. Even their favoured

choice of car is sensible - a family saloon. The popularity of family

cars comes as no surprise since 25 per cent of respondents are married

with children, while 16 per cent are married with no children, 32 per

cent, are single, 21 per cent co-habit and four per cent are


Dale says: ’Long hours and stress factors still play a part. Working

people are generally tired by the end of the day and a nightclub is not

an immediate attraction in order to unwind and de-stress, With high

client expectations and pressures to bring in results, performance is

the key and being on the ball the following day is essential.’



Average salary

pounds 54,668

Average age


Average salary increase

at last review


Average holiday

4 weeks




Health plan


Performance-related bonus


Non-contributory pension



Average salary

pounds 46,412

Average age


Average salary increase

at last review


Average holiday

5 weeks




Health plan


Performance-related bonus


Non-contributory pension



Average salary

pounds 32,005

Average age


Average salary increase

at last review


Average holiday

4 weeks




Health plan


Performance-related bonus


Non-contributory pension



Average salary

pounds 23,458

Average age


Average salary increase

at last review


Average holiday

4 weeks




Health plan


Performance-related bonus


Non-contributory pension



Average salary

pounds 16,566

Average age


Average salary increase

at last review


Average holiday

4 weeks




Health Plan


Performance-related bonus


Non-contributory pension




Average salary

pounds 50,678

Average age


Average salary increase

at last review


Average holiday

5 weeks




Health plan


Performance-related bonus


Non-contributory pension



Average salary

pounds 30,716

Average age


Average salary increase

at last review


Average holiday

5 weeks




Health plan


Performance-related bonus


Non-contributory pension



Average salary

pounds 20,841

Average age


Average salary increase

at last review


Average holiday

5 weeks




Health plan


Performance-related bonus


Non-contributory pension



Average salary

pounds 41,340

Average age


Average salary increase

at last review


Average holiday

4 weeks




Health plan


Performance-related bonus


Non-contributory pension


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