Public relations is booming but there's no room for complacency on salaries, gender and ethnicity

Stephen Waddington is partner and chief engagement officer at Ketchum and visiting professor at Newcastle University.

There’s lots to celebrate in the PRCA’s latest PR Census but the business has a long way to go to fairly represent the publics that it serves, writes Stephen Waddington.

The public relations industry in the UK is growing 10 per cent per year, and is valued at around £13 billion.

This is exactly the sort of upbeat data we’ve come to expect from the PRCA, the UK’s trade association for public relations.

But its recently published PR Census isn’t all good news. You don’t need to dig hard into the data to uncover the structural issues that are facing the business.

The PRCA’s Census, based on data from the Office for National Statistics and a YouGov survey of more than 1,800 practitioners, tells three contrasting stories.

The business is booming; it’s a business in transition from old forms of media to new; but it’s a business that doesn’t fairly represent the publics that it serves.

Business is booming

Public relations employs 83,000 people in the UK, up from 62,000 in 2013. The value of the market has climbed from £9.62bn to £12.9bn during that time.

In my view the growth results from the shift in practice from media relations to new areas of practice such as branded media, influencer relations and community management.

Organisations are calling on public relations to help manage an increasingly complex stakeholder landscape, from staff to investors, and from customers to citizens.

New media for old

As public relations makes this shift much of the business remains firmly rooted in the past.

51 per cent of practitioners view it as a profession; 40 per cent as an industry; and 9 per cent don’t know how it should be defined.

New forms of measurement based on outcomes are being adopted by practitioners but advertising value equivalent (AVE) remains firmly rooted.

The broadening of the public relations business, and shift from old media to new, is putting pressure on salaries according to the PRCA.

The average salary is £45,100 according to the PR Census, down from £53,731.

The CIPR published data in March that recorded a shift in the other direction.

Its State of Public Relations report, based on interviews with 1,500 practitioners, reported average annual earnings of £48,196 for 2016, up from £45,633 in 2015.

These discrepancies likely result from the increasingly wide range of roles in profession.

Public relations agencies are most frequently made up of between 11 to 50 people.

In-house teams are overwhelmingly made up of two to five people, regardless of organisational size.

Representing the publics we serve

The industry remains a young industry, with an average age of 28.

It is a female-led industry, with 64 per cent of its employees being women. There is a significant pay gap between the sexes, on average £9,111 in favour of men.

This is consistent with CIPR State of Public Relations survey, which characterised the gender pay gap as £11,698.

There has been little change in the diversity of the public relations, with 91 per cent being white and 89 per cent being British.

However, there are signs of improvement thanks to initiatives such as the Taylor Bennett Foundation. The youngest generations in the industry represent important improvements in diversity levels.

Public relations is booming but there are significant issues to be addressed as it grows.

Stephen Waddington is chief engagement officer at Ketchum and visiting professor in practice at Newcastle University. He tweets @wadds

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