Cost of living and high rents exclude diverse young talent from entering PR

According to spareroom the average cost of renting a room is approaching around £800 a month in London. That’s just for a single room in a shared flat or house, nothing fancy. To rent somewhere without relying on sharing with others is going to be a lot more expensive but the cost of this is generally so far beyond most first-jobbers’ pockets they wouldn’t even consider it.

Salary scales for entry level jobs in public relations or corporate communications, according to UKtalent.com, weigh in at around £27,000 although, in my experience, that’s a little on the generous side.

Incomes versus outgoings

With almost 30 years in the PR business, I reckon a more realistic figure for first-time PR career entrants is more likely to be up to £25,000, and there are plenty who start for less or begin their career as interns, especially if it’s a job with a smaller PR agency, and don’t forget, smaller firms account for the majority of consultancy jobs created in this industry.

So, let’s agree the starting salary in PR and comms is about £25,000 a year. This amount means that nearly 40% of a first jobber’s salary is being gobbled up by rent. Add on the rising costs of food and travel, and you begin to see the problem. There’s just not enough money to make this an attractive proposition for too many people.

The effect of exorbitant housing costs means the PR industry, especially firms based in London and other big cities, is slowly but steadily being starved of the talents of people who have to live by their own means and not rely on being subbed by their parents as they clamber onto the lowest rungs of the career ladder. If we rely on new starters who can only afford to join the industry because of their parents’ wealth, we are consolidating the status quo where too many people in PR are from ‘comfortable’ backgrounds.

Middle class rules

This is sadly a regressive step in an industry, particularly in niches like financial PR and corporate communications, that has long struggled to move way from being - let’s face it - a bit too upper middle class, public school-heavy and not very ethnically diverse.

Just contrast the number of Sophies, Samanthas and Olivers to the number of Traceys, Kayleighs and Connors and you get the picture.

That’s the problem, what is the solution? The PR industry obviously hasn’t the means to force down the cost of metropolitan housing rents, but it does have other means, starting with the size of entry level salaries.

Increase starting salaries

Rather than give relatively large pay increases after a couple of years in the job, it would help if starting salaries were much closer to the £30k a year mark.

Of course, salaries of this size are a risk, especially to smaller PR firms. They will have to take the risk that their new first jobber might not actually like the work and will want to try their hand at something else. There’s also the risk that they only work for the smaller agency until they have enough experience to try for a job at a larger one, allowing the costs of training to fall to the agencies that can often least afford to bear them.

In my view, there’s little that can be done about first time jobbers getting jobs elsewhere, unless anyone reading this has some bright ideas?

Better benefits

Another solution to staff recruitment and retention is offering first-rung jobbers immediate benefits on signing on, such as loan schemes for travelcards or rail passes, rather than having a qualifying period of half a year, which many agencies adopt. This benefit would be hugely valued by anyone from a ‘normal’ background.

If your agency really wants to push the boat out, why not consider offering other benefits like paying bonuses more regularly than once a year and giving a much higher percentage bonus to the least well paid? If our profession wants to be truly inclusive and representative - and give opportunities to anyone who shows professional potential, regardless of their background - it is going to have to put its money where its mouth is.

Diversity matters

It’s a bit of cliché, but probably true, that clients will have a better service if a workforce is more diverse because it will be naturally more in tune with their staff and customers. Your team will feel much more able to fulfil their creative potential if there are opportunities for people from all backgrounds, too. Just look at large consumer industries that employ lots of people, such as big retailers like Tesco or phone companies like Vodafone, to name but two, to see what proper diversity looks like. Happily, it’s not just the staff, but also increasingly the management at these sorts of company who come from different backgrounds. While low rents are a thing of the past, the future of our industry relies of a steady stream of fresh talent, and it’s up to agencies and in house managers to ensure the talent pool is regularly stocked up and new ideas brought forward to combat what could be a very damaging structural issue.

Written by Tom Buchanan, MD and founder of agency Paternoster Communications

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