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More comms professionals than ever want to leave the industry

Posted: Jul 2023
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The appeal of in-house has always been strong for comms professionals. Our 2023 Annual Salary Guide is now out and shares valuable insights, not only on the average salaries and bonuses being rewarded to professionals but also on how happy employees are in their roles, whether they have been promoted, and what direction they would like to take as they navigate their career paths. Is an in-house role still the one to chase, or are different options now on the horizon for comms professionals?

What our survey revealed

When asked where they would ideally like to work, more than half (57%) of corporate comms professionals expressed a preference for in-house roles. However, this is lower than the figure we reported last year (65%). While 39% of agency professionals expressed a desire to work in-house, almost as many (36%) said they were happy staying agency-side.

15% of respondents wanted to work in an agency, which is up 4 percentage points on the previous year, while the number of those wanting to freelance has also increased (up from 5% to 9%).

In-house remains four times more attractive than agency – while this looks impressive, in-house was six times more attractive in the previous year. So what has changed?

It’s often thought that agency life is pretty tough as you are advising companies, often quite a few of them, and their demands can come at any time. While hours can be longer working in agencies, post-pandemic working practices have evolved and we have seen how most agencies have settled into hybrid working patterns. This means agency professionals have more balance in their lives, less commuting, and more flexibility in their roles. Clearly this has made them happier.

We have noticed, however, that filling senior level searches for agencies and putting together an amazing shortlist of people continues to be really challenging; we have had to go the extra mile each time to make sure will fill every search. There just aren’t enough people who want to stay in agencies, although they will often consider an in-house move.

Filling the in-house searches presents a different challenge, as we have a much bigger pool of interested parties – as the survey shows, professionals want in-house roles. We can find that CEOs and CMOs have incredibly specific requirements for the perfect Director of Corporate Affairs or Head of Comms. We were placing senior level comms people across industry sectors in 2022 and were finding that the list of requirements was long, with requests for very specific experience – clearly wanting to get the senior hire right.

41% of men considering industry hopping

Findings from our survey saw a swathe of professionals thinking about changing their vocation entirely, particularly men. As was the case in 2021, 13% of professionals (men and women) want to leave the PR industry and 6% want to set up their own business. However, a whopping 41% of men in comms are thinking about a significant career change – 17% considering leaving the industry, 13% setting up their own business, and 11% freelancing. Fewer women are considering these career moves – only 3% wanting to set up their own business, 7% want to freelance, and 11% are thinking about leaving the industry.

Industry hopping is yet another feature of our changed world of work, and people’s shifting perceptions of what a career should mean. While industry hopping has accelerated following the pandemic, it’s not a brand-new phenomenon. Over time, the concern of changing industries has diminished between employers and employees. In fact, it can be seen as good practice: someone from outside an industry can offer a fresh perspective on how to do things, and it can show they want to challenge themselves.

However, the pandemic and subsequent hiring crisis have seemingly caused a spike in industry hopping. The post-pandemic era has seen greater opportunities to change careers as a result of supply and demand. Organisations were desperate to fill vacancies, meaning people were more likely to be well received if they switched sectors. It is worth noting that an employee’s loyalty isn’t to a company: it’s to their career, one that now includes different industries.

We urge comms leaders to recognise that people are rethinking what a ‘job’ means: their expectations of a role and employer are much higher following the pandemic. Employees aren’t only looking at pay – it’s finding a career that doesn’t feel like a job at all. They want work to be a bigger part of their life that’s not a grind but energising and with a purpose.

How happy are comms professionals?

When it comes to their pay, 72% of professionals said they were happy – this is the highest percentage we have reported to date. In our last Salary Guide, we reported that 66% of comms professionals were happy with their pay. When we look closely at the healthy salary increases that have been rewarded in 2022 – 79% of professionals received a pay increase, averaging a very generous 10%, professionals have reason to be happy. Employers need to stay alert though. Times are challenging with soaring inflation, interest rates and the cost of living at the forefront of everyone’s minds. A 10% pay increase is sizeable but for many employees it’s a requirement to simply meet their inflated living costs.

While employers have gone a long way to looking after their employees, this type of pay increase probably isn’t sustainable. So far in 2023, agencies and in-house comms teams are replacing staff where they need to and some corporate agencies are making senior investment hires, hoping to help with growth. It sounds like most agencies are ‘fine’ and ‘doing well’, although we also hear those saying that they are ‘probably not going to hit our targets this year’. Let’s see what the rest of the year brings. Will corporate comms professions continue to be as happy?

For a free download of our full Annual Salary Guide 2023, click here.

Time for a change? Check out our latest jobs!

The Works Search: a search consultancy specialising in PR and corporate communications. We have unrivalled matching abilities and are known for finding the top 5% performers in the industry - the ones who deliver and make your reputation great. For more advice or market insights, do get in touch with us on 0207 903 9291 or email:

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