Monday, July 18, 2011

PR productivity sucks

It depends how you look at the numbers 

PR Week (15 July 2011) editor Danny Rogers bangs to PR drum hard this week making journalistic claims about the PR industry. He suggests to politicians that his survey, undertaken with the PRCA is proof of the massive and ever-growing value of PR to the British economy. Well, such claims make some people in the industry wince.

He is, after all a journalist and so might be forgiven for a bit of spin but the reality is that the PR is a pretty poor performer among the top flight sectors. Output per employee is dull.

The survey estimates that there are 61,600 people employed in public relations in the UK and that the industry has a turnover of £7.5 billion. This is an estimate combined with an ambiguous statement which could be interpreted as showing turnover per employee of £121,753 per annum.

The sector, like many others, is growing too but compared to most UK sectors, the PR industry has a very small upstream economic footprint. (press clipping and rudimentary intelligence, catering services and normal office overheads). Downstream economic impact is also limited.  Press relations is an example.

Compared to the top performing sectors, PR is not a great act. Here are some examples:

The UK music industry employs more than 120,000 people and has a turnover of £3.9bn per annum showing a £355,000 annual contribution per employee.

A similar sized industry, the Space Sector is also interesting. In the 2010 a sector study showed the industry with growth rates of 10.2% in the last two years turnover of £7.5 billion. With employment of nearly 25,000, economic contribution per employee £300,000.

UK Internet economy is worth £100 billion a year and Internet companies employ an estimated 250,000 staff showing £400,000 contribution per employee.

PR, it seems has a productivity problem. It needs to up its productivity by a factor of 2.5/3 to be considered top flight.

Perhaps this is the real value of the PR Week report. It has shown that, though growing (and not as fast as most of the top performers) it is not getting the best return per employee among the better exemplars.

For most practitioner (84% of practitioners have some form of general media relations responsibility and 77% write articles and newsletters), it is worth comparing journalist and  with PR salaries. Journalists are paid:


Salary Range

Magazine£11,170 - £34,459
Publishing£12,471 - £38,233
Newspapers£11,407 - £35,489
Internet and New Media£13,150 - £40,724

PR people are paid a comparable level of between 28,384 and £36, 500 average annual salary (up to Media Manager/Account Manager level). It would seem from these data that PR practice is comparable with the work of a journalist but PR work extends to 46.5 hours per week.

This would suggest that to compete with the high flying sectors of the economy, PR has to find an alternative to writing as its core activity.

What we now need from the research is some idea of where the high productivity gains can be achieved.

In addition we need some form of breakdown of the low value activities so that we can cut the cost of production of just simply cut out the activity.


  1. I’d be very, very wary of drawing such a sweeping conclusion about an entire sector using such flaky and estimated source data. Even if the data here were considered good, according to Wikipedia, labour productivity should be interpreted very carefully if used as a measure of efficiency. In particular, it reminds us that labour productivity ‘reflects more than just the efficiency or productivity of workers. It is the ratio of output to labour input; and output is influenced by many factors that are outside of workers' influence, including the nature and amount of capital equipment that is available, the introduction of new technologies, and management practices.’

  2. Andy, I do point out that "This is an estimate combined with an ambiguous statement which could be interpreted..." and I have tried to compare like for like.

    The interesting thing is that there is such a big difference that it is not unreasonable to believe that PR has very ordinary productivity and certainly can do a lot more to be more effective, productive and profitable.

    I think the ONS methodologies would be more robust but even so not as accurate as most of us would like.

    Thank you for the comment... it is very valid.