Survey reveals who pays more - in-house or agency?

With increasing demand for top talent within the PR and corporate comms sector, the importance of paying the right salaries is now greater than ever, a recent survey has found from search consultancy The Works Search.

With turnover at an unprecedented high level (the survey reported 33% of respondents moving jobs during 2021), hiring decisions have become increasingly more critical, with the repercussions of making poor decisions ever more visible. The emphasis on getting the hire right first time has now become essential.

The survey suggests that demand for quality candidates is at an all-time high, which means that there will often be more than one employer interested in them. The importance of being competitive and knowledgeable where salaries are concerned is imperative.

Salaries are on the rise

The survey took a close look at the average salaries for comms professionals over three years and reported that salaries have increased at all delivery levels for both agencies (Account Executive to Associate Director) and in-house companies (PR Executive to Head of Media).

Whilst most in-house comms professionals took home pay increases of up to 5%, agency professionals fared better with the typical salary increase hitting 10%. Furthermore, twice as many agency professionals took home the bigger pay increases (20%-30% range) compared to in-house professionals.

Bonuses match

Although more in-house professionals received a bonus (72% compared to 60% of agency professionals), the survey reported that bonuses rewarded in agencies now match those of in-house professionals, both averaging 18%.

The survey also looked at total compensation - base salary plus bonus - which revealed that professionals are receiving similar levels of pay in both in-house and agencies, with a slight advantage for those working in-house. The average total compensation for PR/comms managers in-house stood at £60k per annum, compared with £57k per annum for agency account directors.

Senior salaries

At the senior end of the market, however, the survey revealed that agency professionals are better compensated than their in-house counterparts. Whilst the average total compensation peaked at £178k per annum for in-house comms directors, the figure rose to £191k per annum for board directors/partners in agencies.

In-house bias

It’s widely believed that in-house roles are better compensated than agencies, but the findings tell a different story. Comms professionals often want to move in-house believing that ‘in-house pays better’. However, this is a misconception, especially at a more senior level.

With the appeal of working in-house stronger than ever - the survey found that professionals are now six times more likely to want to move in-house than to an agency - agencies know that they need to be competitive when it comes to their compensation offering, and many of them appear to be upping their game.

That said, the figures do not take into consideration the ‘high value’ benefits most in-house professionals receive. These can range from car allowances to higher pension contributions - an area where agencies fall short. Although many of the larger agencies have improved their benefits offering, the ‘value’ overall rarely beats in-house company benefits.

Methodology

The Works Search surveyed 335 corporate communications professionals, mainly in Greater London, during March 2022 to gather compensation data for the year 2021. The salary and bonus data were cross-referenced against 1,000 records of data captured over 2021 from The Works Search to ensure accuracy.

Written by Sarah Leembruggen, MD of The Works Search

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