Public Relations Agency Salary Expectations

Julie Rusciolelli, of Maverick PR, posed an excellent question on her blog – why won’t PR bloggers blog about PR? Why can’t we have a discussion about the foundations of the industry and not a never ending bore-fest on social media?

Then my friends Terry and Dave had a very illuminating discussion on InsidePR on compensation packages. The guys did a great job in clarifying that compensation is more than salary, and that it’s the job of the employee to make the best use of the benefits his/her employer is paying for.

But I’d like to talk salary and, as a senior consultant who’s seen the thin end of the wedge and is, hopefully, about to see the thicker, juicier end, here’s my point of view.

The starting salary for an entry-level PR consultant is shocking. Truly woeful.

The PR’s worm’s eye view

However, as much as junior PRs would like to have us believe it does, paying more does not increase their value or productivity:

  • More money does not increase the value a person brings to their accounts; time and experience does.
  • More money does not mean better quality work; time invested in professional development does.
  • More money does not mean people will try harder at their jobs; job satisfaction (from the right project/assignment etc) does.
  • More money does not mean employees will win more new business or deliver better results. A combination of all of the above does.

I believe if you ask any well paid sports star, the worst insult you can give them is the old “you’re earning XXX, you should be winning more/playing better.” And it’s the same for agency folk – minus the failed drug tests, sex scandals and mini tantrums. Or is it the other way round…

So if you are thinking about moving agencies, do it for the right reasons. Do it for a new career focus. Do it to be in a new country with someone you love. Do it to work with someone you’ve always wanted to work with. Do it for a new challenge, to stretch yourself. Do it for increased responsibility or influence. Do it for an exciting new client.

I’ve done all but two of these but it’s still easy to be tempted.

Just don’t do it for the money. You’ll find yourself back on the merry-go-round sooner than you thought.

The Owner’s 10,000 feet view

There are a lot of very smart, very successful people running agencies out there – yet the vicious circle I’m about to outline continues to be perpetuated. The merry-go-round continues to be pushed, to gain momentum. To gather speed.

For some reason, employers think that consultants at other agencies are more valuable than the one’s they already have.

I’m not sure whether it’s a need to get some warm bodies in the building and on the phones or just a “grass is greener” philosophy. Although in this case, I suppose it would be more like “the cows are milkier/fatter/more productive” philosophy.

This leads them to pay more to new hires than to existing members of staff. So a consultant moving agencies can expect a greater pay raise, in percentage terms, than a consultant who stays with an agency and who only renegotiates his or her salary.

But what happen for the person who moves agencies when the next salary review comes around? They don’t get the same sort of percentage increase they did the last year because, for the employer, it’s important to keep existing salary growing at a manageable level – note that this says nothing for “new” salaries.

But – they can find another employer who is willing to pay them more. And so on and so on, ad infinitum. Forever.

[EDIT – Manager Tools has a great podcast about annual reviews and compensation from, obviously, a manager’s perspective]

The BMBY take

The system is completely screwed and no-one is prepared to end the merry-go-round of PR consultants in agency life.

Consultants are moving agencies for the wrong reasons – for money – rather than the right reasons – job satisfaction. But agency bosses aren’t helping with their covetous eyes and “cow is milkier” way of thinking.

Agencies should be looking at staff like accounts – it’s easier to grow an existing one than to sign a new one. It’s cheaper to groom someone to be a great employee than it is to hire a great employee.

It’ll take a better man than me to figure out whether the system is irrevocably broken or if it can be fixed.

For now, my job satisfaction is high and I’m happy to be taking one eye off the merry-go-round and putting it back to where it should be. Creating value for my employer and for our clients.

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12 Responses to Public Relations Agency Salary Expectations

  1. Wait – what I have been writing for the past 4 1/2 years isn’t about PR? Crap.

  2. Keith McArthur says:

    You make some great points here, Ed. Back when I was writing about marketing at the Globe, I was astounded by the employee churn in the ad industry. At ad agencies, the consequences are more drastic, because talented young copy writers and art directors agency-hop their way up to $250,000 salaries only to price themselves beyond their worth. It’s one of the reasons why there are so few people past 40 at ad agencies. The system is broken to a point. But I would argue that there is some value in the churn. A consultant who has worked at a few agencies must have a wider breadth of experience than someone who has only worked at one.

  3. Chris Clarke says:

    Talent is at a super-premium. You can focus on the salaries, but they’re just reflecting a need for talent. Your company might have people who want to get better, but how much better can you really make them? Are you willing to pay them to get better, because another agency is willing to pay them more without any expectation that they’ll be better than they already are. The only solution, which you can probably guess yourselves by now, is more high-quality talent. Until that happens, and it actually might with the rising popularity of public relations as a career choice among young people, things won’t change drastically anytime soon.

  4. Point well taken.

    Great post! 😉

  5. David Jones says:

    PR consultants are free agents and agencies have salary caps. We are just like pro athletes. And we tend to hire on a just-in-time basis. Best case you groom your staff, have growth plans, succession plans and a pipeline of qualified talent should you need to go outside to fill a hole caused by a departure or organic growth.

    I’ve never run a firm, so I don’t know what the answer is. Performance bonuses, retention bonuses, etc. can all be overcome by another agency willing to cover the bonuses you may leave behind if you depart.

    I’ve been doing this for 16 years and I still haven’t figured out any answers.

  6. Julie R. says:

    Well, glad we are talking about something other than blogging! I will weigh in on this since I do run a PR firm. Compensation is a critical part of my job, I wish there was an easy answer or a blueprint we can all adopt. For PR agencies compensation should be based on years of experience, special skill set, level etc. Not, “I just bought a big house so I need a raise!” If you are a VP in a firm and you have business development goals, then there is tons of upside on bonus. Only for the “real players” out there, and there isn’t many of them in the business! I know this for a fact.

    Your billable rate pretty much dictates your salary range. At our firm we have yearly reviews and a bonus pool to augment your salary. As well as a pretty robust health plan (which none of my employees seem to factor in on the comp plan). The problem is this, let’s say you have a few great years and you get to bonus out big or increase salaries by more than 10 percent year over year. Guess what ?… it can’t continue like that every year and this is where employees don’t understand that in a “soft year”, salaries may go flat or no bonus payout (or no off-site to Bahamas). This is why some employees get anxious feet and become flight risks. They think every year is up, up, up.

    Bonuses in particular are based on how well the “overall company does” and not based on just your personal billings.

    And here’s the rub … personal billability. Yes, it matters. At all levels folks! The more you bill and make money for the company the better chance of a bonus and salary increase. Promotions? … that’s a whole other topic area.

    Jonsey is bang on with the idea of grooming and training existing talent. This keeps employees motivated and keeps them learning. The by-product is a stable workforce and very happy clients. Succession planning is key.

    At the end of the day there are only three reasons you stay with your present employer: FUN, MONEY, LEARNING. If you are missing one of these basic foundational elements …. You’ll be walking soon.

  7. This is a great entry! Money tends to blur the situation and blinds a lot of people. In the end, they make decisions for all the wrong reasons. The funny thing is, there are people who know that money is not all that and yet still allow themselves to be swayed by it. And employers are just as guilty. They should really pay more attention to the people they already have and help those employees make the most out of their abilities. That way, everybody wins.

  8. Intersting post and comments – especially as I am discussing a PhD on the topic of career strategies in public relations. I think issues such as those you highlight have not been explored sufficiently – and so I aim to put this right.

  9. Todd Defren says:

    Thanks for the link… You might like this post from a few weeks ago!

  10. […] Blogging You Blogging Me – PR Agency Salary Expectation  […]

  11. thomokazi says:

    i’m a sport science student doing 2nd year.i’m interested in sport public relations industry.just tel me more about sport public relations.i’m so interested in it, just tel me the requirements.

    desperate student from university of kwazulu natal

  12. Dancing Agency London…

    […]Public Relations Agency Salary Expectations « Ed Lee's Blogging Me Blogging You | @edlee[…]…

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