Our Market View - What are the agency and in-house hiring trends in PR and communications?

12 Apr 2016 by Sarah Leembruggen.

We remain in a candidate-short market.  What we mean by this is that sourcing truly talented professionals (the top 20%) remains labour intensive and our biggest challenge.  The days of filling roles through on-line advertising are over.  Over the past 12 months, we have had the most success from our proactive headhunting and referrals from our network.  In fact, this comprised 63% of the professionals we placed last year.

In-house moves are in hot demand

Agency roles are in our opinion by far the hardest to fill compared to our in-house corporate communications teams.  The ‘grass is greener’ syndrome is evident at nearly every level now, with MDs down to Senior Account Executives showing interest in an in-house move.  In fact, 9 out of 10 people we speak to will only consider an in-house move, which has impacted agency salaries and bonuses as employers and are keen to look after their talent.

What’s the appeal of an in-house role?

We hear that the increasing desire to move in-house rather than considering a consultancy role stems from more respect for in-house teams, and the presence of so many ‘superstars’  – truly great people to learn from; the hours are perceived to be shorter and more manageable, and being at the heart of strategy development is attractive.  There’s also the allure of being paid more (although this isn’t necessarily always true), having more diary control as well as the strong appeal of working for one brand with a more focused set of media, the possibility of broadening a communication skill set and getting to really understand a business well.  What is often overlooked is the argument to consider staying or returning to a consultancy – the more an organisation values PR, the more effective you can be.  The key is in how much value your role holds, and this is often reflected in the budget and attitude of your stakeholders.  Working out internal politics and how to manage your internal stakeholders effectively can be a challenge as well as limiting promotion prospects.

How do agency roles stack up?

While we have undoubtedly been inundated with requests to move in-house, we have still seen a few in-house to agency moves; those looking for agency roles are in search of a faster pace, and have a desire to freshen up their skill set and be a ‘profit centre’ rather than viewed as a ‘cost centre’. 

Feedback from agencies is that they struggle to find great talent quickly especially at certain levels - Senior Account Manager, Account Directors, Associate Directors and Directors (particularly ‘rainmakers’).  We have also seen consultancies that have been over-paying and over-promoting again.  There is a shortage of seriously good talent and PR agencies frequently try to fill the role themselves, or panic and give the role to several recruitment agencies who all think one of the others will fill it so don’t push the boat out to fill the role themselves. 

How are we able to deliver in current market conditions?

This shift in the hiring process has impacted the way we service our clients; we have moved to a partnership model, working with most on an exclusive basis to ensure we have time to go the extra mile to find the best talent the market has got to offer.  We put all our energy, resources and focus into delivering on these roles, and we are filling 80% of the exclusive briefs.  It’s twice as hard to fill agency roles now compared to just a few years ago, which is why we have changed with the market to ensure we still deliver.

We service a market where 60% of professionals are not actively looking so it’s been a year of keeping in touch with our network to support us with servicing our clients.

Who’s hiring – and what are the sought-after roles?

To give you further insight, we have placed a large number of mid and senior level comms professionals in-house, mainly with leading property firms, asset management companies, private equity firms and management consultancies, law firms, retailers and online businesses.  All names you would recognise.  No one industry sector dominated in terms of quantity, although PR Managers were the most in demand in-house, and Senior Account Directors and Associates in the agencies.  No doubt this is a reflection of the flow in-house.

We saw more investment hires (newly formed roles) at super senior level, both in-house (Heads of Media/Heads of Thought Leadership/Global Heads of Comms) and agency (Directors/Partners), which demonstrates the confidence in the market. Counter offers are becoming standard, particularly with the move from agency to in-house. 

In a nutshell

PR and corporate communications is changing fast, and we have seen in-house and agency teams adapt around us, offering broader communications services and more integrated services to support more demanding in-house teams that want exceptional value.  We have seen the usual replacement roles, newly formed roles and teams (especially in-house in Corporate Communications and Internal Communications).  There have been lots of counter offers; clients have to move quickly on those they like to secure them.  We have moved our recruitment model (working on roles exclusively and to an agreed time frame) to adapt to market conditions which is taking some clients by surprise although delivering on 80% of exclusive roles at no extra cost is going down well.  We are looking forward to another strong and steady year.

Our findings have also been published in Gorkana recently – read more here.

The Works Search specialise in placing mid to senior level PR and communications talent in leading PR agencies and in-house organisations across London, on both a contingency and executive search basis. For our latest roles visit our jobs page, or contact the team on 0207 559 6690 to discuss your career in confidence.

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