Here are some of the most common questions and myths about careers in PR, expertly tackled by the f1 guru.
Question: Is it better to have my first job in a global PR Agency rather than a smaller owner-managed PR business?
Answer: Not necessarily – if you work for a heavy hitting, global player you might work on bigger household name accounts and get experience of global toolkits and bigger budget campaigns but if you work for a smaller agency the chances are you’ll have more responsibility than your larger agency counterparts for the level you are at. You will probably be in more pitch situations and get a greater sense of how important new business is. The entrepreneurial environment, the sense of urgency and speed, and the creativity will rub off on you.
However: when it comes to your next move make sure you can talk about ‘rigorous planning and the importance of process’, two things that big agencies are well known for drilling into new recruits in the first two years.
Myth: If I don’t want to run a PR agency or set up on my own in the future it is best to move in house by the time I am an Associate Director.
Reality: Only partly true. Sure, once you are a Director you will get pulled into more internal meetings about new business planning, account management planning, resource planning, budget planning, financial planning, people planning, holiday planning than you can shake a feather at. Your time left for brilliant campaigns with clients is sliced in half or more. If you are keen to learn how to run a PR business then stay put. But you can stay put if you want to keep doing the work of a PR too. Insist that two thirds of your time is client facing or get yourself moved onto a key account as the global or EMEA lead, working closely with the client Marketing Director. These well paid roles exist in bigger, global PR agency networks. You often get to run a big team and although there will be plenty of planning meetings you will still do lots of client work.
However: The only danger is that if the client moves its business to another agency your role could be for the high jump.
Myth: If I move in house I can never move back agency side
Reality: Nonsense. You can always move back agency side so long as your story stacks up. Many agencies welcome a ‘boomeranger’ i.e. someone who has started their career agency side and wants to return. Why? Because you understand the challenges and realities of working in house – the endless negotiations with the Finance Director for annual PR budgets; the constant tussle with the CMO about where digital and social sits and who actually has responsibility for internal and external messaging, etc. You understand that it’s often easier for the ‘neutral’ PR agency to represent great creative ideas that challenge in house thinking.
However: if you are a boomeranger make sure you really do want to come back to agency world for the long term. If you are just seeking refuge until another in house role comes free, the agency will suss this out at first interview and you will find yourself being spat out like an unsavoury olive at a drinks party. Make sure you can talk about how much you love new business and that you can cite examples, from your previous agency life, of where you have been on the winning pitch team and have brought work into the agency from your own contacts or referrals.
Question: Do agency jobs pay more than in house roles?
Answer: This is partly the case. A good director of corporate communications will earn around the same as a Managing Director at a PR agency turning over more than £10 million. If you want to know exactly what these figures look like (you won’t find them in any salary survey) you need to email the guru and I can share this confidential information. Salary levels in agencies and in house are on a par until you have about five years’ experience. At this point someone with a good agency track record can start to outpace their in house counterpart in both brand PR and corporate PR. This continues until the most senior levels (15+ years’ experience). Benefits packages at agencies are also getting better and more imaginative. Agencies are working hard around sensitive areas such as maternity and paternity leave as they try to compete with the threat of losing good staff to in house roles. Agencies often offer generous sabbatical opportunities (sometimes up to a year) to long serving employees. Also look out for agencies, especially the smaller groups listed on AIM, that canoffer compelling share incentives to entrepreneurial employees who may be thinking about setting up an agency of their own.
Myth: I need Financial PR experience if I want to become an in house Head of Corporate Communications in the long term.
Reality: Not true. Most Corporate Communications Directors do have a blended background but they will not necessarily have had experience of financial results or financial calendar work. (By blended I mean some internal comms/employee engagement experience, some government /public affairs, brand/consumer PR, crisis and issues, sponsorship PR, purpose related communications – what people used to call CSR – and the crucial corporate affairs pedigree.) If you join a large or listed company then financial PR experience is very useful but the Finance Director will often have a head of Investor Relations working with them who will have come from banking or finance/capital markets. The company will also have a financial PR agency working for it and they will have the necessary financial insight and expertise.
Question: Do I need to stay in my first job at least 2 years and my second job at least another 2 years to demonstrate commitment?
Answer: Yes. Regardless how many people that tell you that loyalty is not important anymore and that companies expect the under 35s to hop around in their jobs this isn’t actually true in practise. Agencies and companies alike LOVE loyalty and if you want to ensure your CV always ends up in the YES box when you want to move then make sure you stay a minimum of 18 months to two years in your first role however tantalising the prospect of a salary increase of 3k may seem on returning from your summer holiday!
Myth: The only way to get a proper pay rise (i.e. more than 5k) is to move jobs.
Reality: False. Someone who stays in each job they have throughout their career for at least three years can a get much bigger salary hike each time they move than a serial job hopper can. Everyone loves a ‘sticky’ person who can demonstrate career progression inside a company. The truth is that most companies don’t want a short term partner; they want people looking for a long term commitment. The longer you are with a company the more valuable you will become to them – the more currency you will have. People just forget to negotiate themselves a rise or forget that they are allowed to negotiate once they are inside a business when it comes to pay review time. The cost of replacing a really good person both agency and client side is HUGE in time and actual cost.
You can send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will endeavour to answer them either through this the monthly f1 guru blog or in confidence to you directly, if you prefer.