PR agency earnings per consultant stagnant since GFC

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Earnings per billable consultant in PR agencies have not changed since 2009, but salaries are putting the industry under considerable squeeze, according to the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA).

Chairman of PRIA’s Registered Consultancies Group (RCG), Annabelle Warren, revealed findings of an industry study late last year showing salaries for senior account managers, account directors and group managers had increased, even though earnings per billable staff member had stagnated since the global financial crisis (GFC).

“The data shows that while staff are getting paid more, the revenue generated per consultant is not increasing. This is deeply concerning as additional profit is coming from managing overheads, which is short-term,” Warren says.

“The size of client budgets and retainers has been stagnant since the GFC and consultancies are tightly reining in costs with 51% saying cost containment was a key challenge compared to 42% last year.”

Despite the squeeze, the industry expects 2012’s growth of 3% to continue in 2013. 86% of the chief executives interviewed in PRIA’s 12th annual public relations consultancy benchmarking study expect to see more client work come in the door this year and more than 60% of firms indicate they intend to hire in the next six months.

The study also revealed a continuing shortage of mid-level staff. “PRIA has accredited 32 university programs across the country so good graduates are relatively easy to come by,” Warren says. “The pain point is finding staff with between three to six years of experience. Many consultancies still report the need to use 457 visas to get experienced staff at this level and these are mainly coming from the UK.”

Over-servicing also continues to be a problem in all consultancies surveyed, although 43% of firms reported that they had managed to reduce some of the free work hours provided to clients. “Some consultancies are giving away hundreds of hours to large organisations who have the capacity to pay, but this year tighter management has reduced the reported level slightly,” Warren says.

Just over 70% of the industry’s work comes from publicity and media relations, while the remainder is generated by work in community engagement, digital and social media, event management, internal communication, government and investor relations.

The annual study, conducted by Galaxy Research, represents consultancy owners across Australia and is based on financial and operations data submitted by members.