Revolutionary Measures

The state of PR – underpaid, overworked and under representative

Over the 20+ years I’ve worked in PR I’ve seen the profession become much more visible, if not necessarily better understood. However, while we’re not there yet, there’s a growing realisation at a senior level within organisations about the business benefits that strategic, well-executed and effectively evaluated PR campaigns can deliver.

So, the latest PRCA PR and Communications census provides the perfect opportunity to take stock of where we are now – and where we need to improve. Reading through the results, and the analysis from my ex-colleague Stephen Waddington, five things jump out at me:

1.PR is big business
Total industry turnover is £14.9 billion, up 7.9% since 2018. To give some perspective this is bigger than the UK space industry (£11 billion) and about two-thirds of the defence sector. This is positive news, particularly as I believe that there’s a lot of PR and communications that isn’t covered by the census, either because it is carried out as part of other people’s roles, or that those doing it don’t realise it is PR.

2.PR is growing
As well as turnover increasing, so is the number of people working in the industry, rising by 9,000 to 95,000. That’s the size of a large town or small city – the PR industry has grown from being the equivalent of Chester (population 86,011) to Bath (94,872). All very lovely, as it shows that the market need for PR is growing, hence the profession’s expansion.

3.Average salaries are down
Unfortunately, this is where the good news ends. The average salary has decreased across agency, freelance and in-house roles, falling from £45,950 to £42,700. That’s a drop of 8.75% that the PRCA puts down to increasing numbers of more junior staff in the industry. PR has always been a pyramid, with lots of account executives and fewer account directors, but widening the base of the profession brings risks. Automation and AI are likely to remove the need for many of the traditional parts of the account executive role, and if we are to be seen as more strategic (and win a place at board level), we need to grow the amount of senior talent that is correctly remunerated. Otherwise skilled people are likely to either leave the profession or not even consider it in the first place.

4.And workloads are up
Not only have average salaries dropped, but they don’t tell the full story when it comes to workload. Half of PRs work for 45 hours a week (10 more than their supposedly contracted 35 hours), with senior professionals most likely to work overtime. That means that not only are people being paid less, but they are expected to do more. As well as being financially unfair this risks stress, burn-out and mental health issues. It is therefore sad, but unsurprising, to read that 32% of PRs have suffered from, or been diagnosed with mental health issues.

5.Diversity is not happening
Two-thirds of PR people are female – yet there is an average gender pay gap of 13.6% across the industry. This is shameful, even if it has dropped from 21% last year. Clearly skilled, motivated women are leaving the industry or not getting the senior jobs that they should be. Equally concerning is the lack of diversity in PR – 89% of the industry is white, although it is more diverse at more junior levels. PR needs to better reflect overall society – there shouldn’t be any barriers to entry for people. After all, you don’t need access to specialist equipment to enter the profession, meaning it should be open to all, regardless of background and ethnicity.

To me the PRCA census shows both sides of the industry – accelerating ahead in many areas, but still needing to fix fundamental issues around pay and diversity. Without overcoming these challenges it won’t have the talent and backing to truly establish itself as the strategic, vital profession that it actually can be.

May 29, 2019 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Machine, Platform, Crowds – what it means for marketing

What does the future of business, and by extension the world around us, look like? A recent book by two experts from MIT points to a radically different model that companies need to embrace if they are to survive.machine

Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing our Digital Future by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson focuses on the three emerging trends that are changing how every business operates:

  • Machine – artificial intelligence is replacing the use of the human mind in many areas. While concerns about robots stealing jobs have been raised, this move also brings benefits. Applied correctly, in the right areas, the power of AI far outweighs what the human mind can do, leading to better products and services, better personalised to our needs.
  • Platform – aggregators that own no assets of their own (think Airbnb and Uber), are taking over from those that create products. Essentially they act as gatekeepers, taking a cut of every transaction without physically creating anything themselves.
  • Crowd – ideas and movements now come from the wider crowd, loosely organised, rather than tightly knit internal teams within companies. Wikipedia vs the Encyclopaedia Britannica is the perfect example here.

What does this mean for businesses? Essentially anyone trying to continue as before, or who simply tries to cram these new trends into their existing ways of working is going to fail. The authors give the example of the move from steam to electric power. Those businesses that simply replaced a steam engine with an electric motor quickly found themselves outpaced by those that realised electricity could completely change how a factory operated, enabling innovations such as conveyor belts and assembly lines.

It is also going to mean big changes in marketing, and therefore how marketing agencies (and marketing departments) are structured.

Traditionally agencies have focused on a single marketing discipline – whether it is PR, inbound marketing or SEO. They were built on a pyramid model to maximise efficiency, with lots of junior people doing relatively low value work at the bottom, with strategy coming from higher up. In-house marketing departments were again organised into different disciplines, with many having little cross-over between them.

The trends outlined in the book completely transform this model. Take Machines. You don’t need lots of junior people doing repetitive tasks that can be replaced by automation, and increasingly decisions taken at a middle ranking and senior level will be based on data analysis, rather than gut feel. Whether it is deciding which products to push through online advertising, or which influencers to approach on social media, AI will remove much of the legwork from the process.

Looking at Platforms, that’s where the traditional agency model comes unstuck. Why does a client want to go to multiple different agencies, all with their own specialisms? While the very largest might want the overhead of employing and managing disparate agencies, many more will want to embrace a platform or network model that brings together the skills that are needed, when they are needed, all under the control of one gatekeeper. It won’t matter if people with these skills are contractually employed by that agency or not, it will be more about solving a business problem. The gatekeeper handles the management, quality control and administration, without having the cost of full-time staff.

Finally, the Crowd. Marketing in the past has been top down – company X came up with an idea, developed a product, tried it out on some potential consumers, and if feedback was good, launched it. The whole process took a long time, and there was no real guarantee of success. Marketing now has to be much more of a two way conversation – listening to the crowd and using their insight to inform decisions on everything from product to pricing. The perfect example of this is the recent fidget spinner craze – it came from social media and completely bypassed the marketing machines of the big toy companies, catching them on the hop.

For anyone that thinks I’m being overly pessimistic or that the changes won’t impact them, take a look at other industries. Even 10 years ago electric cars were confined to a tiny niche in the market – and now major economies such as the UK are queuing up to ban petrol and diesel vehicles by the middle of the century. Once industries hit a tipping point, change is extremely rapid. The other point for marketers to note is that brands still need their skills, but at a more strategic level. You need to be agile, knowledgeable and willing to change, but the benefit will be a more interesting and varied role that is at the heart of business success.

October 18, 2017 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments