Are more PR executives opting for smaller agencies?

Part of the natural ebb and flow of the PR industry is seeing executives moving out of PR agencies and into in-house roles, lured by the promise of a better work-life balance and more decision-making power. But increasingly, we see those executives making lateral moves to small and boutique consulting firms instead.

In an industry roundtable hosted by Prospect, eighteen senior PR professionals came together to discuss current trends and issues, and many participants voiced the view that corporations are finding boutique and specialised firms more attractive to trust with their consulting work, challenging large agencies to rethink their business models.

(Read also: Why senior PR guys leave big agencies)

The need for specialised consulting roles

While it’s long been known that consultancies benefit from having combined knowledge in different areas and offering a breadth of experience, clients are increasingly looking for experts in specific sectors such as oil and gas, technology, finance and FMCG. As such, independent consulting firms led by senior talent with specialist industry experience are becoming more attractive to clients.

Independent or specialised consultants are seen to offer a more concentrated level of expertise, more years of experience, and more of a focus on quality of work.

Tod Gimbel, managing director of Landmark Asia, shared, “Clients are looking for firms that can do face to face session with CEOs and then help the clients navigate the very complicated and diverse issues they face in the region. A smaller, specialised firm has the ability to give clients very high level of personal service. The person they hire is the person who will do most, if not all, of the work.”

This challenges agencies to invest in educating their PR teams to develop their skills in specific areas or recruit new consultants with niche knowledge. But this may be a win-win situation for agencies, as a way to motivate employees to stay longer by evolving their role in a new direction, while also attracting new clients.

Ee Rong Chong, managing director at Ogilvy PR Singapore, said, “Agencies need to constantly adapt and change their business model to stay relevant. It is our responsibility to invest in our people and specialise in various sectors and accumulate new skills. This allows us to deep dive into client industries, build knowledge and provide real insights and value to communications.”

Breaking the 24/7 work habit

In most cases, work life balance has also been another great challenge for agency professionals. As such, many mid level agency executives who are seeking a better work-life balance are making the switch to in-house roles or to boutique consulting firms that promise a more balanced approach to work, creating a vacuum in many large agencies.

Emma Dale, co-founder and managing director at Prospect said, “This is the real sticking point at the moment, agencies tend to lose mid-level talent to in-house roles or boutique firms, often in the quest for better work-life balance. We also see a rise in small specialist firms due to the lack of senior vacancies in agencies. Rather than competing to join another agency, many senior executives decide to set up by themselves and use their own network to get business.”

Whether in a large agency or a smaller independent consulting firm, consultants must find ways to work more closely with corporations, in order to blur the line between agency and client and develop a stronger relationship. This will help to encourage more transparent ways of working, with client and consultant more aligned on expectations and deadlines and thus creating a happier team on all sides.

The industry roundtable also revealed the preliminary findings of this year’s Annual Public Affairs and Corporate Communications Salary Survey. The key findings include:

• Men earning 36% more than woman

• Professionals in Australia are the most satisfied with salary

• Professionals in Singapore are least satisfied with their travel schedules

• Professionals in Hong Kong and Singapore are least satisfied with work life balance

This was an opinion piece submitted by Prospect Asia