Want to Know How to Progress to Associate Director?

Want to Know How to Progress to Associate Director
Posted: Jun 2019

As an Associate Director the fast-paced, deadline-driven world of PR can mean that managing your professional development can be tricky. Sarah Leembruggen shares her expertise in this Q&A with corporate and financial agency Associate Directors to help you maximise your potential.

Q I’m currently a generalist, should I start thinking about becoming a specialist?

If you are thinking about moving in-house, you are better off being a specialist so you can demonstrate in-depth sector knowledge and contacts in order to secure a role. The competition for in-house roles is fierce and it’s likely the next person walking through the door after you is a specialist in the sector so you will need to outshine them and that’s not easy if you’re a generalist.

Q When should I move in-house?

Moving in-house as an Associate Director isn’t easy as most roles come up are either Communications Managers which are frequently more suited to agency Account Directors or Heads of Communications which are suited to Agency Directors/Partners. Associates are great for Head of department or Head of Media roles although these roles don’t come up as frequently as they are less common in team structures.

Q Does in-house pay more than agency?

There is a bit of a misconception across the industry that in-house pays better. According to our latest salary guide 2017/18 the average salaries for each level in an agency and its equivalent in-house come out about the same. There is more disparity with senior level in-house pay as the pay bands are wider and super senior roles can pay more. That being said, in-house comms teams completely outshine agencies benefits packages and they offer more flexible working overall.

Q How much of a salary uplift can I expect in a job move?

We tend to see a 10 – 20% uplift on your basic salary in a move, however, it will depend on what you are being paid in the first place. Keeping your salary at market rate is up to you – the salary guide will help you here. Look at the ‘recommended range’ and the average. This will help you in your salary review discussions too. On the whole, people who move every few years tend to be paid more.

Q Do I have to be brilliant at new business in order to become an agency Director?

As a Director or budding Director, you will be judged on your abilities to retain clients, grow them organically and originate leads alongside many other skills. Not everyone is brilliant at all three parts and many agencies, especially the small to mid-sized ones will be looking to see if you will be paying for yourself in the first year. Agencies want great value and people who earn their keep, however, you can get promoted without being a demon networker, if you can demonstrate success in the first two parts.

Q I’m an Associate now, can I get a promotion to Director in a move?

In my opinion, 8/10 Associate Directors will probably not get a promotion when moving roles. Those who do may be moving to smaller agencies which give them the title to attract them to the business. In any case, you must be able to justify that you are operating at Director level. You need to remember that your abilities are unproven to a new employer and even if your promotion is due, your future employer will wonder why your current employer hasn’t promoted you already.

Q Is some form of flexible working possible at an agency?

Our salary survey highlighted that 80% of corporate and financial comms professionals feel that flexibility with start and finish time is important or very important. 33% of employers do not offer any and from what I can see, it’s a mixed bag across the industry. The attitude towards flexible working comes from the top. One of the main reasons agencies are losing great talent to in-house is that the latter is seen as an ‘easier life’ with more control over hours/diary. I think agencies need to change faster than they are doing if they want to hold on to great people.

Q If I do want to move in-house one day, what’s the one thing I should be aware of?

If you are an Associate Director, you should look at gaining some corporate campaign experience and broaden your skills. In-house roles are usually very broad and cover a wide range of PR and marketing disciplines. If your experience is narrow, you should be strategic in your job moves to get a broader skill set. When making a job move, you need to be thinking about where the role will take you and how it will shape your skillset.

The Works Search is a search consultancy specialising in PR and corporate communications. We have unrivalled matching abilities and 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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