With sizeable pay rises across the board, the majority of PR
people believe they are well rewarded. We should not be
surprised. They are an increasingly scarce, and therefore
valuable commodity. As the business picks up speed it has become
harder than ever to recruit and this spells higher pay for
We have seen something like this before. A similar scarcity
afflicted the PR industry in the 1980s, and it led to spiralling
salaries as employers battled to find staff. This put excessive
pressure on margins and when the recession hit it all became very
messy indeed. The 1980s boom also led to a more insidious trend -
job title inflation - as the dearth of talent led to the hasty
promotion of inexperienced and less able staff into positions
they were ill-equipped to handle.
History may not be allowed to repeat itself. Employers are now
demanding far more from their PR people - both in quality of
service and value for money. Those that don’t deliver will find
it hard. Among the rank and file, the majority already say they
feel overworked, and many lack confidence about their future
prospects. Eleven and 12 hour days are commonplace, and a third
now say they would not choose public relations as a career if
given a second chance.
At the top end of the scale, the picture is brighter. There are
plenty of six-figure earners in the public relations business -
many more than the average figures would suggest - but they too
are under greater pressure.
Sir Tim Bell once famously claimed that PR people undercharge for
their services. He was partly right. The very best PR people are
undervalued, often because the value of their service is not
fully recognised. In this rarified upper atmosphere PR
practitioners, like lawyers, can only really be judged on the
quality of their advice. That requires better measurement of
results - not just on the narrow scale of media evaluation, but
against business objectives.
But the real bar to higher earnings in public relations is the
quality of the people practising it. The most shocking statistic
in this year’s PR Week/Media Appointments salary survey is that
half of the in-house PR staff and nearly two-thirds of the
consultants say they receive no structured training.
We should be glad that it is becoming tougher for the mediocre
and the underperformers in this business - provided the talented
are being nurtured.
But the bad news is that the industry is letting itself down by
failing to invest in its only asset - people.