More comms professionals than ever snub agencies in favour of in-house roles

Small talent pool sized
Posted: Aug 2021

Yet again, findings from our Annual Salary Guide 2021 reveal that agencies are still playing second fiddle to in-house companies when it comes to where comms professionals would consider moving to in their next role.

The figures have not changed since the previous year’s findings – in 2019, a whopping 69% of respondents said they would like an in-house role, and this figure stands true for 2020. Only 11% of comms professionals would consider an agency role. This puts agencies in a precarious place – short on talent and at risk of losing the good people they do have.

The strong appeal of in-house roles is hardly breaking news; over the years, we have heard time and again how candidates want to work for just one brand, to be at the heart of the business, to be in control of their diary and benefit from more flexibility. They also think they will receive a better salary and a bigger bonus. Our survey findings confirm that while average in-house salaries are in fact very similar compared to salaries in agencies, the average bonuses in-house are currently larger than agency bonuses. In-house comms teams certainly stand out when it comes to 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.

So why aren’t agencies putting up a bigger fight to turn this around?

We now need to make at least 10 calls to professionals, who are actively looking to move, to find just one person who will consider an agency role, and even then, they are very particular in their requirements and expectations. The pool of talent for agency roles is shrinking rapidly, which surely means that agency owners need to carry out a proper shake-up and adapt their businesses to mitigate the hiring crisis and avoid losing their great people. Agencies are competing with major corporates for their talent, not other agencies.

Agencies were certainly harder hit by the pandemic than in-house companies – 24% of agency professionals took a pay cut compared to 10% of in-house respondents; agencies needed to make more cuts to company benefits, as well as pare back and freeze more salaries and make more redundancies. No doubt about it – it has been a rough ride in the agencies. However, they have bounced back. We have heard some impressive stories of agencies recovering their revenue and quickly restoring employees’ salaries. But it’s going to take a lot more for the agencies to stand out again.

How can agencies start to really shine?

One positive outcome of the pandemic is the opportunity it has presented for agencies, in particular, to take stock and start moving with the times and the evolution in the way that we now work. It’s time for them to align themselves with the new expectations of professionals. 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.

The pandemic has changed what comms professionals are looking for when they move jobs, and agencies without any form of flexibility and few ‘high value’ company benefits are less attractive. A good salary and bonus package isn’t enough anymore – perhaps it’s time for agencies to review their company pension policies, flexible working offerings, private healthcare and share option schemes, and life insurance policies.

When agencies are facing a shrinking pool of talent (and they have their work cut out for them if that talent is made up of the 11% of professionals willing to consider a move to an agency), it’s time to think about creating a great employee value proposition. The agencies who figure how to make themselves exciting employers and start competing with the benefits of in-house will shine out in this market and remain attractive to the small pool of talent.

To read our full Salary Guide, click here

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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