How can agencies safeguard their future?

07 Oct 2019

We shared the findings of our latest salary survey with the PRCA and they ran the following insightful piece by Sarah Leembruggen on the future of PR agencies as part of their current #FutureOfPR blog series:

Findings from our recently published Annual Salary Guide 2019 revealed that only 14% of respondents want to move to an agency; a whopping 70% want to move in-house. The remaining 16% want to freelance or leave the industry. This isn’t a surprise; the last ten years have seen an increasing desire for corporate communications professionals to move in-house at some point in their career, making things increasingly tougher for agencies.

Reasons for agency professionals looking to move in-house are usually one or more of the following: they want to work for just one brand; they want to be at the heart of the business; they want to have more of a say over the comms strategy; they want to be in control of their diary. They also think they will receive a better salary, a bigger bonus, and lots of high-value company benefits. However, as our survey revealed, this isn’t always the case.

Why have agencies managed to fall so far out of favour?

Agencies haven’t necessarily done anything different to push people away, it’s just that many haven’t really moved in line with the change in attitude towards flexible working and the fact that millennials (a large proportion of the industry) want a better work/life balance. Agencies are still great places to work – it’s fast-paced, varied and challenging. However, not everyone wants this. As in-house communications teams have increased in recent years, there have been more opportunities to move in-house, and that trend is here to stay. The desire to do something different, have better company benefits and work for one brand is appealing. This leaves agencies desperately short of talent.

Is the grass really greener in-house?

A closer look at the average salary of an agency professional and that of a professional working at the same level in-house shows that they are actually being paid about the same. Our survey found that pay rises were on average very similar in agencies (6%) and in in-house companies (7%). However, the company benefits are better in-house when it comes to what’s on offer, the value of the benefits and the take up. There are also better pension contributions on offer in-house.

To the future - what are agencies doing about it?

We know from what our clients say that they are thinking about their hiring and retention strategies. Perhaps not hard enough though. It really is time to for agencies to take some serious action, and fast, or they may well forever be considered second best.

Many agencies are clearly not blind to the situation and are making an effort to reward and retain their teams; Our survey found that agencies are giving out more pay rises than in-house companies across all levels – for the first time in ten years. They are also giving better bonuses at a senior level. Board Directors received an average bonus of 55% of their salary, compared to the 30% bonus for Global Heads of Comms in in-house companies. Quite a difference, and definitely one of the more surprising findings from the survey.

What else do they need to do?

Take a long, hard look at their flexible working and well-being policy. This is one aspect that is becoming increasingly important to all PR professionals – almost 80% of our survey respondents would like to be able to work remotely, and overall, most think flexibility is extremely important. Millennials, in particular, just won’t put up with it – they will move if they are not happy. So, there is still a way to go for agencies. While they have clearly stepped up their game, they still fall short when it comes to offering an attractive ‘full package’.

Survey information

We checked 1,139 database records of corporate communications professionals from across the industry to gather data on salaries and bonuses, as well as polling 228 corporate communications professionals to share insights and opinions on their pay, company benefits, pension contributions, and flexible working options on offer. The timeframe of the survey was January 2018 - December 2018.

Read PRCA’s full feature here:

#FutureOfPR: How can agencies safeguard their future?

The Works Search are executive search specialists in corporate and financial communications. For a full breakdown of salaries, bonuses and benefits, download our Annual Salary Guide.

For more advice on salaries and bonuses, or if you think we can help you with a search for a high performing communications professional for your organisation, please get in touch with Sarah Leembruggen on 020 7903 9291 or email

Salary Survey 2018 - 2019