2018 Best PR Agencies to Work For, North America | Holmes Report

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By Aarti Shah

Last year, we explored the portrait of a US PR professional and unearthed, unsurprisingly, the typical PR employee is female, well-educated, relatively young and mostly white. Perhaps even more unsurprisingly, not much has changed in 12 months.

This year’s survey included more than 5,000 adult PR professionals in the United States who participated in our Best Agencies to Work For survey between January and March 2018. Upon aggregating these responses, which came from boutique agencies to multinational players across markets all over the US, a picture emerged of the current state of the industry’s demographics. (You can read more about the methodology that our research partners Rockland Dutton Research & Consulting here.)

It’s worth noting, there’s some inherent sampling bias here, as the 50+ firms that opted to participate in the Best Agencies to Work For survey are presumably confident about their organization's culture and engagement (and their employees likely took the survey with the goal of winning recognition). It’s possible the findings would paint a less rosy picture if we had surveyed the industry at large. But even so, the scores for this year’s participating firms ranged from 20 points below average to more than 10 points above average, meaning there’s a wide range of perspectives represented among this sample.

This year’s data shows a 3-point increase in the number of women in the industry with 74% of respondents identifying as female (25% identify as male, meanwhile 1% opted as non-binary/third option). Notably, about three-quarters of the PR industry falls between the ages 22 and 37, making the overall makeup of the industry remarkably young. Last year, this age bracket represented 65% of the workforce — and those in the next age range (between 38 and 55) make up about 20% of the workforce, down from 33% in last year’s survey.

“Now having done this exhaustively for the last two years and determined that PR is dominated by young white women without a great deal of attention age, gender or color diversity - the trend over year over year is that we haven’t built a workforce that most resembles the American public,” said David Rockland, partner/CEO of Rockland Dutton Research, the firm that oversaw the data analysis for Best Agencies to Work For.

Even so, the numbers point to some progress around diversity. Last year, we called the industry astonishingly white with 83% identifying as white — this year, 79% identify as white. Meanwhile, the numbers for Latino, Asian-American and black this year are 6%, 4% and 3% respectively with the remaining opting for “other” or not answering.

“No matter how you cut it, the industry is nowhere near representative of the American public — yet we are in the business of public relations,” Rockland noted.

Jamie McLaughlin, founder and president of Capstone Hill Search, noted there’s been a “trickle-down effect” as companies like Lenovo and HP have required diversity among their agency teams.

“This is such a hot topic of conversation that the entire industry is more switched on,” McLaughlin said. “And many might be seeing the proven correlation between diversity and increased performance and revenue. But do we get asked to include racial diversity in our searches? Almost never. We do get asked to do this around gender though.”  

When it comes to salaries, the respondents generally earn less than $125K with 80% falling within that range. Breaking this down further, 21% of respondents earn less than $50K, more than half fall between $50K and $125K, with another fifth earning more than $125K.

“There is a natural pyramid within agencies, so it’s not surprising that you see a lot of people hit the $125K mark and leave the industry,” McLaughlin said. “And many often go in-house when they’ve done five to six years on the agency side and have that $120K salary.”  

He noted, the dearth for agencies right now seems to be at the VP or SVP level within highly-regulated sectors like healthcare and financial services.

Meanwhile, 90%  or more of the survey respondents say they are proud to work for their agencies, would recommend their agency as a great place to work in communications and would recommend their agency as a great place to build a career. This satisfaction is also reflected in individual career trajectories with 90% saying they understand how their role contributes to the success of their company. While engagement was high across all agency sizes, PR professionals at mid-sized and large agencies tend to be slightly less engaged than those in small or boutique agencies. Yet even so, only 82% say they want to say at their company for another 12 months.

McLaughlin said flexibility has the strongest impact on an agency’s retention record. Employees, for instance, who have earned the ability to work from home a few days per week are less likely to abandon that benefit — knowing it’s unlikely to be a benefit at a new firm right away.

“People are willing to work extraordinarily hard,” he said. “But they don’t want to be in an office all day doing it.”

Employees are happiest when they have been at their agencies for more than five years or less than three years. Agencies are at the greatest risk of losing talent between three to five years at the firm.

Other notable insights from this year’s survey includes:

Diversity and Inclusion

• Acceptance of different types of people is moderate, as 54% of PR professionals agree you don’t have to be a specific kind of person to fit in at their company.

• While PR professionals across the industry believe their agencies do a good job of empowering women in leadership (93% agree), fewer (69%) see opportunities for employees 50 and older at their current employer.


• Almost all PR professionals (95%) agree that harassment is not tolerated at their firm.

• Employees feel empowered to speak about sexual harassment, as 96% of PR professionals say they feel comfortable reporting sexual harassment by a client or colleague to their boss.

Career growth and opportunity

• Three-in-ten (30%) PR professionals don’t feel they understand all the career opportunities at their current agency.

• Talent retention continues to be difficult, especially in large agencies. While about eight-in-ten (84%) boutique employees find their agency does a good job at retaining talent, fewer employees in large agencies agree (69%).

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