Who took a pay cut during the pandemic?

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Posted: Jul 2021

The growth and success of the PR and Comms industry is largely dependent on the growth and success of other industries, so it’s hardly surprising that the economic downturn triggered by the pandemic has meant that budgets have been cut left, right and centre.

Findings from our most recent Salary Guide reflect the turmoil that businesses experienced during 2020 and continue to navigate into 2021. Comms professionals didn’t receive their usual bump in pay amid the economic turmoil; fewer pros made a change in employer for richer compensation; for many, it became a case of hoping that their jobs were safe as a significant number of comms pros, much like those in so many other business sectors, suffered furloughs and pay cuts.

Our survey, which polled 400 comms professionals, revealed that there were significantly more pay cuts made in agencies compared to in-house companies.

Over twice as many agency professionals were asked to take a pay cut compared with in-house professionals. From Senior Account Managers all the way up the ladder to CEOs, mid and senior levels were most affected. The more junior members of both in-house and agency teams were fortunate to be spared the cuts.

This correlated with our experience as many corporate comms agencies lost client revenue at the onset of the pandemic (some reporting 20-30%) so they needed to quickly reduce costs and reserve cash, not knowing what lay ahead. Freelancers had their contracts terminated and permanent employees were asked to take significant pay cuts across the industry.

Agency MDs and their Board Directors/Partners shouldered the lion’s share of pay cuts with 40% of MDs and 45% of Board Directors/Partners reporting pay cuts. While in-house comms teams also took pay cuts, a much smaller proportion of professionals were affected (less than half of their agency counterparts), and the majority of cuts were taken by Heads of Media (18%) and Heads of Comms (17%).

Business heads made the decision to reduce their wage bills asking mid and senior people to shoulder the loss of income. In-house companies rode the storm better than agencies, which was evident as we continued to hire for in-house roles throughout the pandemic. While Covid-19 has impacted us all to varying degrees, there remain some fortunate companies who have been able to carry on, unaffected – business as usual. As we took briefs from fintech firms, healthcare, construction, management consultancies, the virus didn’t even come up in conversation!

The PR industry is a robust one, and it has already started to show signs of bouncing back. Our survey found that, of the professionals who had taken a pay cut, 58% had already had their pay restored, and 20% of them had, in addition, had their pay cut returned. 22% were still earning a reduced income as of April 2021.

As we approach the 18-month mark since the pandemic began, it’s important to remember that there is only so much time professionals will want to continue to work on a reduced salary, especially as they see signs of their agencies recouping their lost revenue and getting back on their feet. Many professionals took the pay cuts on the chin as they were grateful to have a job, however, those agencies which continue with this cost-saving strategy may be on borrowed time. Salary is a key motivator in whether employees stay or go. Having happy, motivated employees isn’t a bonus, it’s a necessity for every successful business.

To read our Salary Guide in full click here

The Works Search 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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