Employee satisfaction at U.S. public relations firms is higher than at any time since The Holmes Report began surveying industry professionals almost a decade ago, with more than 57 percent of the 4,700 respondents to this year’s survey giving their firm a perfect 10 out of 10 when they were asked whether they would recommend it to a friend.


The overwhelmingly positive response to that question gives the industry as a whole a Net Promoter Score—based on a methodology developed by Bain & Company consultant Fred Reichheld, author of The Ultimate Question—of around 60 percent. That number is based on the number of employee promoters (those who give their firm a score of nine or 10) minus the number of detractors (those who give their firm a score of six or less). Reichheld’s research has shown that Net Promoter Score is a solid predictor of a company’s future performance.


In last year’s survey, the industry achieved an overall Net Promoter Score of 56 percent.


The 60-plus firms whose employees participated in this year’s survey, conducted in April and May, scored better on every single one of the 47 dimensions in our survey, with the average score across the board about 3.7 percent higher than the survey conducted in the first quarter of 2007—a reflection of the robust growth enjoyed by the U.S. public relations industry over the past 12 months, and perhaps also an indication that employees are generally optimistic about the future despite recent tumult in the real estate and financial markets.


Scores in the United States also continue to be significantly higher—on every single dimension—than scores in Europe. On average, PR agency employees in the U.S. score their firms 4.7 percent higher than their counterparts at European consultancies, who were last surveyed in May and June of 2007.


What Employees Like and Dislike


Once again, employees were most likely to agree with positive statements related to their firm’s commitment to client service. For example, when asked whether client satisfaction was a top priority at their firm, the average response was 9.37 on a scale of one to 10—the highest score on any single question, as it was the previous year. And asked whether people were prepared to do whatever it took to get the job done for clients, the average response was 9.27—although scores were significantly lower (8.37) when employees were asked whether their firm placed a higher priority on serving current clients than on chasing new business.


Employees also gave their firms high marks on questions related to ethics and quality of management.

When asked whether firms provided equal opportunities to all, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation, respondents gave an average score of 9.33, and there were high levels of agreement when employees were asked whether firms dealt ethically with employees (9.27) and were willing to turn down assignments they considered unethical (9.11).


Most people believed their firms were respected within the industry (9.27) and that management would rather their firm be the best rather than the biggest (9.13).


Findings were similarly consistent when employees were asked what they liked least about their jobs, giving their firms the lowest marks on questions related to financial compensation.


The lowest mark of all (7.48) was reserved for the question about whether people found their jobs rewarding in financial terms, and they were almost equally unimpressed when asked whether they were compensated fairly for their contribution to the firm (7.57) and whether they felt their compensation to be competitive with other firms



Some of the questions related to empowerment also elicited low marks. Employees were not convinced that their firms had eliminated unnecessary bureaucracy (7.67) or that they did a good job of delegating work to the appropriate level (7.88).


And there is cause for concern when it comes to professional development. Employees once again express concern when asked whether their firms did a good job of explaining all the career options open to them (7.64) and whether they were satisfied with the overall level of training at their firm (8.09)—although most agreed that they were being encouraged to learn new skills (8.58).


The biggest improvements were registered on questions related to firms’ ability to retain the best people (a 6.1 percent improvement); whether management listens to what employees have to say (a 5 percent improvement); whether morale was high (4.8 percent); whether firms were being managed for the long-term (4.6 percent) and—perhaps most encouraging—whether employees believed they could balance work and life demands effectively (4.4 percent).


Last year, employee scores suffered the steepest decline on work-life balance question, suggesting that firms had been slow to staff up in response to business growth, placing more strain on staff.


Industry Demographics


The U.S. public relations industry continues to be dominated—at all but the most senior levels—by women. Almost three out of four respondents to our survey (72.5 percent) were women, up slightly from 72 percent in 2006 and 70 percent in our 2005 survey.


But once again, the percentage of women declined with age, so that among those aged 22-26, women made up slightly more than 80 percent of the population, while among those aged 52 and over they accounted for just slightly more than half (54 percent, up from 51percent last year) of all respondents.


The industry also continues to be dominated—at all levels—by whites, with the percentage of non-white respondents remaining roughly the same:  4 percent African-American, 4 percent Hispanic and 4 percent Asian-American.  (The number of minority responses is likely inflated somewhat by the fact that several firms distribute the survey to support staff as well as to practitioners.)


Finally, the public relations industry continues to recruit from a relatively diverse educational pool. Almost a quarter of respondents (24 percent) indicated that they had received their bachelor’s degree in the liberal arts; 20 percent have a public relations degree (up by a single percentage point over 2006); 15 percent have a journalism degree (down by a percentage point); 6 percent studied business; 5 percent studied marketing; and 1 percent studied law. Three percent of respondents have no degree at all.


Demographic differences


As in previous surveys, we saw a strong correlation between age and employee satisfaction.


So when we asked employees how satisfied they were overall, the youngest group—those 26 and under—were the least enthusiastic (8.02) while the oldest group (52 and older) reported the highest levels of satisfaction (8.91). The progression was not a smooth one, however, with the sharpest increase coming from those aged 27-31 (8.09) and those aged 32-36 (8.46).


That increase is perhaps a reflection of the fact that those aged 27-31 find it most difficult to balance the demands of work and life effectively (7.63) and that achieving work-life balance gets significantly easier as employees get older.


On most issues, men felt far more positively about their employment than did their female colleagues, and while some of that difference could be attributed to the fact that there are more men at the more satisfied senior levels, it held true among respondents from the same age group.


So men were more likely to say that overall, they found their job rewarding (8.46 compared to the average of 8.22 for women) and that they could balance work and life demands (8.08 to 7.84).


Multicultural employees—with the exception of Hispanic employees—were slightly less likely than their white counterparts to express satisfaction with their jobs. African-Americans in particular were less likely to agree that overall they found their jobs satisfying (8.11) compared to their white counterparts (8.25). Asian-Americans also expressed slightly less satisfaction (8.17) although—for reasons not entirely clear—Hispanics expressed the highest level of satisfaction (8.46).


Black employees were considerably less likely (8.57) to say that their firms provide equal opportunities regardless of gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity compared to white employees (9.30) although Asian-Americans (9.17) and Hispanics (9.36) were less likely to share their concerns.


The industry’s happiest employees are in Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.; its unhappiest are in Seattle and Chicago. Minneapolis respondents were most likely to find their job rewarding overall (8.44 compared to an industry average of 9.27). Seattle respondents (8.97) were least likely to agree.