PR Agencies face hiring crisis as the appeal of in-house remains strong

Only 11% of corporate comms professionals would consider an agency role if they were to move jobs today. This is one of the findings of the Salary Guide 2021 from PR and corp comms search consultancy The Works Search. This shows that 7% would freelance, 4% would set up their own business, 8% would leave the industry, but a whopping 69% of professionals would like an in-house role.

Why are in-house roles so appealing to corporate comms professionals? Why are agencies short on talent and at risk of losing the good people they do have?

If you were to move jobs, where is it likely to be?

Talent goes in-house

The fact that only 11% of professionals are interested in moving to an agency role (a figure that has been decreasing every year) and that an in-house role holds greater appeal is not new news. What is interesting is that agency bosses don’t seem to realise why they are not getting volumes of great professionals offered to them for their jobs, or why vacancies are open for months. The fact is, they are not really competing for talent with other consultancies; their real competition is in-house. The talent is looking for roles with comms teams sitting in listed businesses, private companies and start-ups. Agency bosses seem proud that they rarely lose people to other agencies - in the belief that losing them to in-house is somehow better. Surely the time has come to re-evaluate why their talent is leaving en masse?

With the pool of great people to fill agency roles shrinking, the days of sourcing people easily are over. At The Works Search, we need to make ten calls to find one person who will consider an agency role, and then they are very particular. Agency owners know it’s hard, but they haven’t really worked out why and not enough of them are adapting their businesses to the loss of talent.

Why is in-house so desirable?

The money is perceived to be better in-house, although the reality is average in-house salaries are very similar compared to agencies. Bonuses and company benefits are also thought to be better. Our Salary Guide can verify that average bonuses in-house are currently larger than agency bonuses. In-house also offers higher value benefits: bigger pension contributions, death in service schemes, more flexible working policies, more life insurance, ability to buy more holiday… the list is long. Many corporates do not require you to work weekends or highly unsociable hours, which is something that can’t be said for agencies.

The generations growing up in PR careers now want a work-life balance. Women continue to face the challenge of weighing up if the demands of agency life are sustainable with having a family and being present in the office. Now that we have successfully worked at home through a pandemic, employers have an opportunity to re-set and rethink their offerings.

Agencies tend to think carefully about their margins so perhaps it’s time to invest in creating a great employee value proposition. The agencies who figure out how to make themselves exciting employers will shine out in this market, as the fight for talent is going nowhere.

Methodology

The Works Search checked over 2,000 database records and polled 400 corporate comms professionals to share insights on their pay and company benefits, and how the pandemic has affected their roles. The data and survey material were gathered during the calendar year 2020.

Written by Sarah Leembruggen, managing director of The Works Search

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