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Alex Aiken on the PRCA Communications Census 2019

Blog post by: Alex Aiken, Executive Director of Government Communication, Friday 10 May 2019.

I’ve just finished reading the new PRCA Communications Census. It is claimed to be the most definitive analysis of the industry, it shows the industry where we are now, and where we are heading.

Alex Aiken headshot

Produced in conjunction with PR Week, and Norstat, the publication combines an industry survey with triangulation against publicly-available data, including those published by the ONS.

It is an interesting comparator with our own Skills Survey and Civil Service People’s survey and the PRCA should be applauded for holding up a mirror to our work in the private sector and public service.

The headlines for the communication industry are mixed.

On the positive side, the industry continues to grow. We estimate its value has now hit £14.9 billion – an increase of 8% since last year; and that industry headcount has now reached 95,000 – an increase of over 10%, meaning that the GCS is roughly 5% of the headcount and 3% of the spend of the whole industry. In every year of the past decade, the PR and communications industry has grown by around the 10% mark, a truly remarkable record in often turbulent business times.

The other good news:

  • The gender pay gap has decreased, falling from 21% to 14% – although this figure clearly remains too high;
  • AVEs are effectively dead in the UK, with usage now standing at a mere 7%, down from the 12% of last year, and massively diminished over the past decade. The work of AMEC and its partners here has been truly remarkable and has informed our own Evaluation Framework and the work of the Evaluation Council;
  • Social mobility statistics have improved slightly too, with the industry encompassing more practitioners from disadvantaged backgrounds. We have plenty to do here but I am proud that we will employ 70 interns from socially disadvantaged groups this summer and generally the GCS does well in being more representative of modern Britain than many parts of public service.

On the negative side, however:

  • One big number stands out – the 7%: the average by which practitioner income has declined. Average agency salaries are down by £3,000; in house ones down by the same amount; and freelancer income down by £1,000;
  • The survey asked for the first time about mental health, and 32% of respondents reported that they had suffered from mental ill health. A quite remarkable and worrying number, presumably not helped by the fact that over half of the industry reported working in excess of 45 hours a week -a 5% rise since last year;
  • There has also been no statistically significant change in the ethnic mix of the industry, at 89% white. Given the disproportionate number of PR practitioners who are young and/or who work in London, the industry as a whole is simply not reflective of the people we interact with, and the communities we serve.

A key PRCA recommendation from the Census is that the industry needs to get more serious about evaluation.

Over the past decade, much progress has been made, but the survey appears to show that for too many pieces of work, evaluation is still considered optional, and frequently is unbudgeted and proper use is not made of the insight. Until we prove the value that communication adds, we will not command the respect that we deserve, and so will not recruit and retain the very best people. Given that agency heads and communications directors have told the PRCA for the past decade that talent is their number one challenge, it seems evident that more rapid progress is required on evaluation. It is the answer to many of our industry’ problems.

The PRCA Census highlights many of the issues we face in the GS and is a useful comparator. The PRCA conclusions are honest and blunt and need to be acted upon. They should not obscure the basic fact that communication is an industry of the future; growing and popular if it meets the challenges of recruiting a representative workforce, looking after their needs and ethically using data, tech and creative implementation. But we should never settle for second best. We need to redouble our efforts to produce the best work and make this a great industry to work in over the years ahead.

You can read the survey here.


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