Categorized | Job Hunting

Job Market Perks Up For Public-Relations Pros

Posted on 28 April 2009

Demand for senior public-relations professionals is blossoming after a nearly three-year dry spell. As the economic recovery picks up, companies and agencies of all sizes nationwide are hiring at the senior vice-president, vice-president and director levels, recruiters say. However, the job market is competitive since many layoff victims who lost jobs during the economic slump have postponed their searches until now. Candidates with business acumen, financial savvy and internal-communications skills are most likely to snag new positions.

Hiring is most robust in the construction, financial-services and health-care industries, says recruiter Carol A. Ravanis, a Boston-based vice president of Management Recruiters International. Companies have been adopting more aggressive goals for the next few months, which require additional staff, she explains.

The upswing has led to new business for PR search firm Spring Associates in New York. During the second week of April, it landed five new assignments to fill senior positions, says president Dennis Spring. “Unquestionably this is a beginning. I’m hearing from companies and agencies all over, and they’re not just saying they plan to hire, but that they are hiring,” he says.

Numbers Savvy

Candidates most sought after can provide tangible examples of how they served as a strategic business partner to past employers, says Smooch Reynolds, chief executive officer of The Repovich-Reynolds Group, a Pasadena, Calif., search firm.

“Companies are looking to identify the businessperson who happens to have deep expertise in communications and PR,” she explains. “CEOs today want communications practitioners who can devise a concerted and integrated business-development strategy. All of my clients are looking for this.”

Many employers also are seeking PR pros who understand the financial side of investor relations, adds Ms. Reynolds. For example, candidates should know how to price a share of a company’s stock, she says.

Mr. Spring is looking for such skills in candidates for a position as associate director of corporate communications at a large consulting firm in the New York metro area. He was assigned the search in April. The new hire will work closely with business-news editors and other media professionals and must have 12 to 15 years’ experience handling public affairs and crisis communications within the financial-services industry. The job pays an annual base salary in the $140,000-to-$160,000 range, plus bonuses and other perks.

PR job seekers also should emphasize their employee-communications skills, says Ms. Reynolds. “Investing in human capital has gone to the top of the CEO’s list of what needs to be addressed after coming out of the recession,” she says. “We’ve spent the past three years with employees feeling disconnected and devalued by management teams. As a result, CEOs are turning to communications leadership to define strategies to rebuild trust and loyalty with their employees.”

In January, Ms. Reynolds was assigned a search for the newly created position of vice president of internal communications for a West Coast entertainment company. The job pays an annual base salary in the $150,000-to-$200,000 range and requires creating a framework for communicating with employees on business-initiative, investor-relations and staff-benefits issues. A minimum of 10 to 15 years’ experience is necessary.

“The hard part is finding talent that can the handle the rigors of the client’s operating environment,” says Ms. Reynolds. “The entertainment industry is one of the toughest because you’re only as good as the last movie or show that critics have judged you on, and not everyone is cut out for that.”

Pay Goes Up

Despite the sluggish economy, average total compensation for PR executives increased in 2003, according to a report released in January from Spring Associates. However, corporate executives received bigger increases than agency pros due to a significant rise in bonus pay.

Bonuses for corporate PR executives soared by an average of 37% in 2003 over 2002 levels, compared to a gain of 9% in 2002. This is likely because companies sought to reward the few overburdened executives kept on board after downsizing, says Mr. Spring. By contrast, most executives on the agency side didn’t receive a bonus in 2003. The few who did saw smaller year-to-year percentage increases than in 2002, the report shows.

Gains in average annual base salaries were small by comparison, with salaries rising 4.7% for corporate executives and 4.4% for agency executives in 2003. As an example, average annual base salaries increased 6.3% to $136,000 in 2003 for corporate vice presidents in the financial-services industry. Meanwhile, average annual base salaries increased by 4.5% to $106,000 in 2003 for agency vice presidents in financial services.

Base salaries for PR executives are expected to increase by about 6% to 8% in 2004 from 2003 levels, says Mr. Spring. He predicts bonuses will remain flat or nonexistent for agency executives, but corporate executives will see a gain over 2003 levels.

A Crowded Market

Despite the increase in jobs, competition is stiff, say recruiters. “I’ve never seen this many experienced senior people out of work in the 24 years I’ve been doing this, and for such a long period of time,” says Mr. Spring.

A senior PR manager who was laid off in February from a national law firm is among those finding work. He landed a new senior-level job in early May. The 53-year-old interviewed at six companies and had “a couple dozen serious conversations with recruiters that had the potential to lead directly or indirectly to a job,” he says. His new employer, a large New York-based PR agency, will pay him an annual base salary in the $150,000-to-$200,000 range.

Some employers are being choosy about potential hires since they know the market is flooded with candidates. Consider a New England-based marketing agency seeking a director of PR. The new hire should have a minimum of seven years’ experience in PR and marketing at a nonprofit organization or PR agency that specializes in nonprofits, says Ms. Ravanis, who was assigned the search in early April. The position pays an annual base salary of about $100,000, she says.

Mr. Spring says employers often want candidates to meet a long list of specifications. For instance, in late September, a national airline based on the West Coast asked him to find a vice president of communications with at least 15 years’ corporate-communications experience within a highly regulated industry. The winning candidate also needed experience dealing with unions, working with C-level executives and managing employees. In January, the airline hired a candidate from the airline industry who met every specification.

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1 Comments For This Post

  1. JobSearchNinja says:

    One thing to remember is that salary ranges are all very well, but the key to maximizing your compensation is about clearly demonstrating the benefits that you can bring to an organization. A well-documented performance which provides a prospective employer with quantitative results and shows him how you solved problems or accomplished tasks is pretty tough to argue with!

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