PR firms seem to have the most trouble locking down mid-level talent — those with enough experience under their belt to require minimal supervision, but haven’t quite achieved rainmaker status.  And there’s a good reason for this: mid-level employees are the least engaged PR employees. Even so, the overall picture is a somewhat murky one — agency size, tenure and other factors play also. This chapter of the Holmes Report's Best Agencies to Work For research explores when PR professionals are most likely to disengage.  

How We Determined Engagement

To figure out the specific attributes that drive employee engagement, our research partners — KGRA — used regression analysis and concluded the following 10 assessments have a statistically significant, causal impact on employee engagement:

  • My agency is respected within the industry.

  • I have confidence in the quality of senior management at my agency.

  • I have confidence in decisions made by leaders of my Business Unit.

  • My company regularly discusses our progress toward our strategic objectives.

  • My company values our own corporate social responsibility.

  • This is a fun place to work.

  • My job makes good use of my skills and abilities.

  • There is opportunity for me to grow at my company.

  • My agency does a good job of retaining employees.

  • I like the people I work with.

The significance of these attributes can be best explained like this — if a PR professional’s perception that their current employer, Agency X, is “respected within the industry” increases by one point (e.g., from 8.9 to 9.9) on a 0-10 scale, Agency X’s overall Engagement Score would increase by 1.01 points (e.g., from 97.64 to 98.65). In this year’s rating, a boost of just 1.01 points from 97.64 to 98.65 on the overall Engagement Score would have led to a jump of 8 positions on the overall ranking.

This data is based on our Best Agencies to Work For survey that was conducted among 5,580+ adult PR professionals in the United States between January 8 and February 28, 2017. For more on our methodology, please revisit Part 2 of this series. For agencies that participated in the survey, customized results for your agency — including the metrics featured in this story — are available. Contact us for more information on obtaining these.

Engagement Is Highest At Boutique Firms

The good news is, PR professionals are generally a highly-engaged group. Industry-wide, 89% PR professionals are proud to work for their company and about equally as many (87%) are willing to speak positively about their employers to others.  In fact, most PR professionals would recommend their company as a great place to work in communications (87%) and to build a career (85%). Plus — and this is  crucial for engagement — most PR professionals understand how their role contributes to the success of the company (85%). Slightly fewer, but still a high number (78%), plan to stay with their company for at least another year.

But looking more closely across agencies of varying sizes, differences emerge. Those who work at boutiques (80 employees or less) are most likely say they are proud to work for their agency (93%) — meanwhile, only 85% of employees at large firms (250+ employees) agreed. Small firms (81-139 employees) and mid-size (140-249 employees) had comparable outcomes on this front with 87% and 89% respectively.

There is some research that shows higher engagement at smaller companies and this largely plays out when it comes to PR firms. For PR employees who work at boutiques, 93% agree with the statement “I do not hesitate to speak positively about my company to others” compared to 83% at large firms (small and mid-size employees fall in-between these two points).

This ultimately crosses into employee retention — boutiques are more likely to hold onto employees than larger firms. Eighty-six percent of employees at boutique firms plan to stay at their company for at least another 12 months. This figure drops to 73% for large firms. One factor here could be that employees at boutiques understand how their role contributes to the success of the company (93%) versus just 80% employees at large firms feel the same.

The Mid-Point Slump Is Real 

PR professionals hit an engagement slump at the midpoint of their careers — our research showed that Millennials and those making between $100K to $150K were the least likely to be engaged at work. Millennials also tend to be more skeptical about their employers. For example, only 80% of  Millennials (defined here as respondents between 18 to 34 years old) have confidence in the quality of their firm’s senior management. This improves slightly to 84% for Generation X (35 to 54 years years old) and soars to 90% for Baby Boomers (55+).

For agencies looking to retain their younger employees, it’s worth noting that only 78% feel their job makes good use of their skills and abilities — this contrasts with Generation X (85%) and Boomers (90%). Millennials also have a largely dim view of their agency’s efforts for retaining employees — only 66% believe their firms do a good job at this, meanwhile 76% of Generation X and 80% of Baby Boomers do. Millennial distrust of institutions —  including their employers — comes through when asked whether their company values its own corporate social responsibility. Seventy-eight percent of Millennials agree, meanwhile 85% of Gen X and 92% of Baby Boomers do.

Yet income is where the mid-point slum really comes into focus — those in the middle income category (those making between $100K to $150K) are often less engaged than those at the lower income (under $100K) and high income ($151K+ brackets). Those in the mid-income tier are least likely to have confidence in senior management or business unit leaders, believe there is opportunity for them to grow at their company and agree that their company is transparent about strategic objectives. (More on this in Part 4 focused on salary and benefits.) 

Another red flag for attrition seems to come at tenure. Notably, PR professionals who have been with an employer between two to five years are most at risk for exiting. The group of employees who have been with a firm for more than two years but less than five are least likely to agree with all of the 10 engagement attributes we mentioned at the start of this story. Only 88% within this group feel like their agency is respected within the industry, less than 75% have confidence in their management, just 78% believe their organization is a fun place to work and 75% believe their job makes good use of their skills.

Large Firms Are Still The Aspiration 

Despite boutiques outperforming larger agencies when it comes to engagement, most PR professionals aspire to work at the larger firms. When asked unaided which agencies PR professionals would like to work for outside of their current firm, the top five agencies named are all large ones: Edelman, Weber Shandwick, Ketchum, FleishmanHillard, Ogilvy and Golin were most often cited — in that order.  (It’s worth noting, many PR professionals also stated they would like to leave the PR industry altogether and would prefer working on the client side.)

When asked what they don’t like about their current agency, employees across the industry most frequently mention low financial compensation, little time-off, slow processes, lack of upward mobility and time tracking/entry as their least favorite things about their employers. Many employees further disliked to be expected to be online and reachable 24 hours, seven days a week. While work-life balance was mentioned as one of employee's’ favorite things about their employer, others emphasized its absence, suggesting it may vary greatly agency by agency.

When it comes to what they like about their agencies, industry-wide, employees frequently mentioned terms such as “agency culture,” “work flexibility,” “empowerment,” “work-life balance,” “freedom,” and “the people they work with.” Additionally, PR professionals valued the creativity and passion among their colleagues, highlighting it as inspiring. When asked to describe their current agency in a few words, employees most frequently highlighted people being open, engaged, hard working, diverse and the agency being fast-paced.

The next part of this series will explore the impact of financial compensation and benefits have on employee engagement.

For readers interested in purchasing these metrics for their own agency or other customized engagement reports for their workforce — or are interested in participating in the 2018 Best Agencies to Work For, contact us.