Daney Parker, Editor, PRmoment.com
Spoiler alert! If you really want to get rich, really rich, then maybe PR isn’t the career for you. However, you can certainly make a good living, and the benefits, financial and otherwise, make it a rewarding industry to be in. For those following the money though, here are a few thoughts about earning as much as possible in PR from those in the know.
Own your own agency
You don’t need to employ others to get rich, but it certainly helps. Ed Parshotam, copywriter and communications consultant, says: "There are better ways to become rich than going into PR, like becoming a hedge fund manager. Or being Matt Hancock’s neighbour. But there are also worse ways, like becoming a nurse!
"Becoming a successful agency owner is generally a path to greater wealth than being an employee. We could get all Marxist about this and talk about surplus value and the antagonistic nature of capitalism, but we’re really just discussing a fairly simple and observable truth: a successful agency relies on hiring people who generate more profit for the business than they take in a salary. Agency owners can therefore become wealthier each time they hire well, with their increased scale also boosting credibility and enabling them to win larger and higher-paying clients.
"Beyond this, there’s the usual combination of hard work, luck, talent, power and connections. You’ll need at least one to become rich in PR."
Be your own boss
To make the most money in PR you may need to own, and then ideally sell, a successful business, but Nigel Sarbutts, founder of PR talent business The PR Cavalry, points out the benefits of being your own boss even if this is as a freelancer: “The best rewards are achieved by the minority who sell their business, so for most the question is how do you get the best blend of maximising income, managing risk and quality of life.
“You can only pick two.
“Freelancing can be lucrative and offers the ultimate freedom – you are the captain. But the risks are high – your ship is a tiny dinghy.
“If being 100% accountable for your actions and income is an energising rather than terrifying thought, then freelancing will reward you in a way even highly paid employment can’t. If you value clients’ results over your job title and prestige, then make the leap.
“It’s impossible to put a value on the thrill of seeing your efforts turn into money that is all yours, but keep an eye on the long term – a business that is you alone has almost no trade value to sell.”
Freelancer Kerri L Watt talks about her own experience of the financial benefits of being freelance: “When I first started in PR, I was charging £150 a day. I quickly learnt that charging for my time was never going to make me rich. So I started charging per project ensuring enough to cover my time, some contingency and some leftover for a profit. Fast forward a few years and I was charging £1,500 for a one-day PR training session and now focus on an eight-week training programme of £3-10k and I can still have multiple clients at one time.
“There are clients out there who value what we do and will pay for it. The global pandemic has opened clients eyes to working with agencies and freelancers remotely so there is a huge opportunity for us right now.
“PR is absolutely an industry to get into to make serious money for a job you love and that brings major results to clients.”
Charge based on projects, not hours
To be more profitable, agencies need to think about their charging structure says Ellie Glason associate director at agency GingerComms: “I doubt anyone enters PR with the explicit aim of getting rich, but if you're running an agency you need to make sure you're profitable and then some. My big tip about how to do this? Move from an outdated 'hourly rate' structure to a project-based one. Projects are how you make money as an agency. Forget under or over servicing, obsessively filling in timesheets, hiring yourself out by the hour. A set project fee not only is an act of self confidence – this is how much this service/our expertise costs, no ifs, no buts. But in the long run you'll see profits rise – even with the odd over service. Other tips to bring in the cash: be nimble and don't put all your client eggs in one basket. This has been GingerComm's business model from its launch in 2015, and it now boasts a turnover of over £1m a year, produced by a lean team of 10.”
Be prepared for hard work
As with any business, the more you put in, the more you are likely to get out. Sarah Newton, director of agency Penguin PR, explains: “Whilst everyone has their own definition of what being rich is, Jeff Bezos definitely made the right decision by starting Amazon rather than setting up a PR firm!
“We have always served a wide array of clients in a variety of sectors and this saved us during the pandemic. During lockdown, this flexibility meant that we were able to migrate from companies that were struggling to those who were taking advantage of the changing trading conditions or were starting up because they spotted an opportunity.
“This did mean, however, that the increased availability of work was offset by smaller fees, either because companies were being cautious, or because, as start-ups, they had a limited budget.
“We will never be able to charge big city fees, but we do believe that growth and riches will come by working hard and taking advantage of the increasing opportunities for companies to share their news and communicate their values than ever before. Just like Amazon, we need to respond to the technology and the demand.”
Pay should not be capped
You shouldn’t have to branch out on your own to make money – agencies should properly reward their people, or they risk losing them, says Phil Caplin, founder of PR agency Broadcast Revolution: “To make real money in PR, I believe there should be no caps and people should be rewarded for when they deliver real impact in the business above and beyond their day jobs. Whether that be above average pay rises, or bonuses that don’t look insignificant after tax or the opportunity to own a piece of the business they are building.
“However the reality is somewhat different. The opportunity is only available as long as you have the entrepreneurial spirit and work in a flexible business model that allows entrepreneurs to flourish. This is typically more challenging when you work in a big agency that isn’t independently owned. In these types of companies’ individual performance is only one factor that influences pay rises and rewards, as they are ultimately linked to the wider business performance and what remuneration is available across the entire group. This capped mentality is often what leads to senior employees setting up on their own as they see the disparity between what revenue they bring to a company and what they get in return. It doesn’t have to be like this.”
Why money isn’t everything
So far, this feature has focused on getting as rich as possible in PR, but Tim Gibbon, founder of communications consultancy Elemental, concludes that making money should not be your motivation in this industry, especially in these strange times: “Sure, you can get rich. But define rich. When working in any media role whether PR or journalism; professionals have to hold themselves and the industries they work in and represent to account. Our industries wield great responsibility.
“There is a great responsibility that comes with these many of these roles people forget; to educate, enlighten, inform and yes entertain. If the sole focus to get rich at any cost, this could skew what professionals have to, need to, and should be doing to honour their roles and the responsibility they need to have in check. “It's filthy if the money is the only focus in any form. People are motivated by different goals and we shouldn't lose sight of this. Professionals should be remunerated for the skills they possess; not limited to experience, expertise, knowledge, etc, and this should not overshadow the profession which can impact, influence, change and affect so many. Like most things in life, balance is critical. These roles are honourable, and professionals should not be taken advantage of. Building one’s worth and being recognised for ability, hard work and skills, shouldn't stop what could be considered a stinking amount of money possible, depending upon the sector. “The pandemic has affected countless industries, not to mention the many PR can have an impact upon (as well as PR itself). Professionals have this in mind and need to be creative. This doesn't have to include selling your soul.
“Whether a side hustle or second income is necessary is a conversation for another time. What PRs should not lose sight of is integrity, respect of the industry and practice consistently seems to be low and we need to fix this.”
Rewards are not all pay-related
Agreeing that making money isn’t the point of working in PR, Alla Lapidus, director and co-founder of communications agency Moonlight IQ, explains why it is such a rewarding career: “PR isn’t a good ‘get-rich’ career option, unless you engage in insider trading, which happens to be illegal, or have the opportunity to take a stake in a start-up which becomes successful. It generally involves quite hard work, both in getting new clients and looking after them. Mostly, wealth accumulation doesn’t happen quickly. However, for some people, me included, it’s hugely rewarding and interesting.
“The pandemic has made things tougher for most areas of PR. It’s harder to get new business, plus many companies have put off making decisions about new products and services, which affects both their clients and PRs. Of course, it’s very different if you happen to specialise in anything Covid-, food- or fitness-related, in which case you’ll be doing just fine. Also, unless you have established relationships with journalists they’re much harder to speak to, with most switchboards offline. Having said that, things are picking up.”
For those interested in finding out more about salaries in PR there is more information here and soon PRmoment will be analysing latest research from recruitment firm Reed into salaries in PR and marketing.
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