About 50% of PR professionals in APAC see pay freeze and cuts

Last year wasn’t an easy one for the PR industry as nearly 40% of communications professionals faced a freeze in their salaries, and 10% had to make do with reduced pay. The 50% of respondents, who saw a pay rise, said a study by Prospect and PublicAffairsAsia, largely came from in-house roles.

According to the 2021 State of the Industry Report, comparing PR professionals in the agency to in-house, it seems that those holding in-house roles were more likely to receive a salary increase last year, and significantly less likely to have seen their pay cut. Only 6% of in-house respondents saw their salary reduced last year, but a significantly higher number (17%) of agency staff suffered pay cuts. An equal percentage of in-house and agency professionals saw their salaries remain the same.  

Taking into account overall packages, including salary, bonus and benefits, about 45% of respondents across APAC said their overall packages had remained the same in 2020 as in 2019. However, 37% reported an overall increase, while 17% reported a cut in their total compensation. About 55% of respondents said that their companies were applying company-wide approach to pay and compensation as a result of COVID-19.

When it came to bonuses, while 40% of respondents confirmed that they had received a bonus, 25% said they were not going to receive a bonus. And for those who received bonuses, there was a mood that payments were less generous than in previous years with more than 25% receiving a month’s salary or less - and only 11% receiving more than three month’s salary. Compared to 2019, 21% of respondents reported bonuses being broadly the same, while 16% saw an increase, compared to 20% who experienced a decrease in their bonus payment.

A seat at the table

In Asia Pacific, communications professionals across both agencies and in-house roles have had an uphill battle in educating companies about the value of communications. While significant in-roads have been made, public relations and communications agencies are still going head-to-head against digital or branding specialists in pitches. In these situations, agencies were competing not only on the strength of their ideas, but also on the value of public relations as a discipline.

Meanwhile, those in-house also have the challenge of not coming across as executional or strategic. These often results in communications teams being excluded from company-wide strategy discussions and decision-making, said the study.

However, weeks following the emergence of the coronavirus, the tide turned.

The strategic importance of public relations for business survival became undeniable with many firms seeking to reassure internal and external stakeholders, while mitigating potential long-term risks to their reputation.

Within this period, 71% of agency and 100% of in-house survey respondents noticed a greater appreciation of the value and importance of the communications function. With one third saying that this greater appreciation has been shown by the increased inclusion of communications teams.

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In cases where the communications function was previously highly valued by the company, the events of 2020 further solidified this position.

However, the increased recognition of the value of communications has also resulted in greater pressure and expanded responsibilities, oftentimes without enhanced resources.

The events of 2020 also necessitated the communications industry to return to its core value proposition. Once the global nature of the pandemic became a reality, business continuity was the immediate goal across the board. Communications professionals were called upon to support companies to calm the fear and provide guidance and reassurance to internal and external stakeholders across cultures and geographies.

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While half of agencies surveyed observed an overall reduction in their clients’ agency budgets, the specialties that remained in demand in 2020 were internal communications, digital and social media, crisis and issues management, and strategic counsel.

With the evolving work culture, the study also highlighted a shift in the relationship between agencies and companies from a commercial agreement to a personal connection. Some agencies supporting clients in industries hardest hit were able to reduce fees or provide services pro-bono for a period of time.

The 2021 State of the Industry Report consolidates qualitative and quantitative research conducted among 302 Communications and Corporate Affairs professionals throughout Asia Pacific. Just over 70% of research participants described themselves as holding senior positions, while 25% were mid-level and 4% junior professionals. Respondents were based throughout the region with 39% in Hong Kong, 38% in Singapore, 6% in Mainland China, 3% in Australia, 3% in India, and 11% in other APAC markets.