“Don't go in to PR if making mega money is your dream,” says Trevor Morris, professor in public relations at Richmond University, “go into banking, racketeering or invent the next Facebook”. However, that’s not to say that a career in PR means a life of poverty, adds Morris, listing areas to focus on if making money is your priority: “Healthcare PR and public affairs are generally well paid. Fashion, restaurant and celebrity PR are not. The best paid area of PR is financial PR – doing the comms for mergers and acquisitions, stock market flotations and the like. The financial stakes are high – good PR can add millions in value.
“Big companies will also pay big money for experienced corporate communication stars – people who can help prevent a crisis and can represent the business in the media, government and the financial markets. But these sorts of jobs are limited in number and seldom go to anyone under 40.”
One option, is to start your own business. Morris says, “Owning your own consultancy can provide a very good living. And once you are making about a million pounds profit a year buyers will start knocking on your door. But only a minority of firms get to that size.”
It is a nice dream to think you can start a career in PR and be coining it in within a few years, but patience and determination are vital if you want to do well. Angela Casey, managing director at agency Pagoda Porter Novelli says: “The key to doing well in PR is to build up experience.“ Casey advises spending time in a range of disciplines, so you are in a good position for the future. “If you can find an in-house position or firm where there will be a selection of roles and sectors to work on early in your career, it should help you delay specialising too soon, which will help you avoid being pigeon-holed. Taking on a role where you have greater responsibility can be scary at first, but I do believe you only really learn by jumping in the deep end. Get the experience and get the responsibility and then you are in a good position to choose the type of PR you want to work in, such as corporate, consumer, B2B or financial. The key to it is to give yourself the choices rather than the employer.”
All the contributors to this feature agree, it is more important to concentrate on your own personal development, rather than on becoming rich. Tom Watson, PR professor at Bournemouth University, says that his students always focus on the path that suits their skills rather than on how much they can earn: “Usually they follow interests for a fulfilling career rather than which sector or agency pays the most.”
If your main focus is to have a good salary, then PR is a decent career option, but it also offers a lot more. As Richmond University’s Morris concludes: “PR is at the interface of the media, politics, business, brands, celebrity and society – and after the first few years usually quite well paid. It is also interesting and fun. That’s a lot more than can be said for most jobs.”
Take it from us
We asked PROs, who aren’t doing too badly, for their advice for others hoping to make a good living in PR
Rich Leigh, founder of agency Rich Leigh and co:
“First you need to ask yourself a few questions. Are you in it for the money? Or are you in it because you love the creative side of marketing? Do you want to get enough experience to be your own boss as quickly as physically possible?
“Maybe, not in any way helped by your parents (communicating to you primarily these days through despondent glances), or the internship you essentially pay to do at that agency (that publicly admonishes unpaid internships), you have no idea what the hell you want to do. In which case, let me lay out the land for you.
“The money is in financial PR. It just is. A recent salary survey of 850 PR and communications professionals by The Works – a recruitment agency for the industry – put financial PROs ahead at every level in terms of take-home. Corporate PROs aren't too far behind, with consumer cousins bringing (or taking it) up the rear.
“To a point, the skills and knowledge needed are transferable – but by the time you get close to account management level, you'll struggle to deliver against the level of expectation and might need to take a drop in salary if you wanted to try a different path. So, my advice is to move quickly if you're unhappy with the type of work you're doing – and keep an open mind. Read everything you can across the industry, so you have a broad base to build from.”
“Once you're enjoying your work, put your hand up for everything. Create opportunities for yourself and your employer, learn by faffing (I once spent days of my life inside and outside of work creating a Google Lively virtual home for my first agency, only for Google to shut it down a week later) and learn through being part of the community. If you're brand new to PR, have a vague idea of where you want to go, but remember that, just like any business, nobody owes you success. You'll be making it up as you go along, just like the rest of us.”
Chris Owen, director at PR firm Grayling PR:
“One of the inherent problems in the PR/marketing industry is that with all its levels and interim roles (‘Junior XYS’, ‘Senior XYZ’), there’s often an unhealthy competitiveness to working in an agency life if you constantly compare yourself to peers – either by job role, or by salary.
“Expectations are high among grads entering the industry and there’s a perception that PR pays brilliantly from the off; it doesn’t. There’s so much churn at the outset with people coming in and realising it’s not all about parties and champagne, and is more about reporting, team support and bloody hard slog when you start out – there’s pretty high attrition rates. This means agencies won’t necessarily invest highly (salary wise) until it’s obvious you’re both suited and enjoying it, which means those student loans will take longer to pay off, even if it means you’re enjoying the role and the challenges of your job along the way. But if a mindset of always needing to be better than your peers, (or perceived peers) is allowed to fester, it can be detrimental – you only have one career, yours, and it’s not a race to be the first to become MD before you’re 40.
“Be yourself, learn what you’re best at and do it well and find your own niche in the comms and marketing landscape – don’t over analyse and pore over the dreadful ’30 under 30’ lists punted out annually … they’re just recruitment fodder. Leave the narcissists to their own career and get on with yours. And enjoy it.”
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