The real reasons why people leave PR agency jobs

The average staff turnover at PR agencies is around 20%, which means one in five people will leave every year.  If you could choose which ones to lose then it might not be so bad but you can’t, which leads to disruption for clients and additional pressure on the team.  The war for talent is fierce; don’t lose yours.  Read our top ten reasons why people leave PR agencies.  We hear this every day so we know it’s true!

1. Lack of career progression.  While the structure of an agency is usually pretty standard as people work their way up from Account Exec to the dizzy heights of Director, the path is often badly defined, which means people frequently move on to move up. A clearly defined path to promotion would help people visualise their future.

2. Feeling undervalued and unappreciated.  If the agency’s fee income soars, the people responsible for its success will expect their salary to rise in tandem, not be told there’s a pay freeze.  New recruits bring paid more than incumbents for the same role adds to the festering sense of being unappreciated and is another common reason for jumping ship.  It’s not about the money, it’s about feeling recognised, valued and treated like a grown-up.

3. Long hours. The long hours culture is still endemic across PR with 41% working 49 to 79 hours a week and 84% having to deal with work-related calls or emails out of office hours, 54% of people have to do this every day*.  The benefits of a good work-life balance are well documented but the message doesn’t seem to be getting through to the world of PR and no amount of fresh fruit, massages or bean bags can make up for being permanently exhausted.

4. Lack of flexible, parent-friendly hours.  There’s a reason the 70/30 female to male split suddenly flips when you hit Account / Associate Director level.  Not enough agencies enable women who have children to return to work, because they simply don’t offer enough flexibility on hours.  Hankies out and wave bye-bye to all that highly experienced female talent….

5. Culture / psycho boss. For some strange reason, being shouted at, bullied (e.g. being asked if your clothes came from a charity shop), dealing with bonkers internal politics, crazy bosses (like the one who throws tantrums and screams at people across the office) or coping with egomaniac prima donnas doesn’t engender a warm fuzzy feeling.  Who knew?  You’d be surprised how many people cite these very reasons for wanting to escape.  Odd.

6. Being stuck on the same accounts. There’s often a cyclical element to PR accounts and, once you’ve been through the cycle a couple of times, it starts to get old.  People join agencies for variety and flexibility.  If they wanted predictability they would have gone in-house.  The tricky bit is balancing deep account knowledge and established client relationships with the risk that your prized account handler will get bored and leave.

7. Other people leaving.  Never underestimate the power of the social circle, particularly among younger members of staff who can still job hop without being deemed flaky.  ‘The grass is greener ‘ is a powerful myth.  Friends leave, rave about their new job while enjoying the honeymoon phase and soon the other dominoes start to fall.

8. Money.  Low on the list and with good reason as cash alone is seldom the only reason people leave. Yes, everyone would like more but you’d be surprised how few people cite a raise as the reason to go.  Even so, it’s worth ensuring your salaries are competitive as it’s much easier to hold on to good people than find new ones.

9. Wanderlust.  It’s not so much ‘gap year’ any more as ‘staggered gap decade’. Travelling (formerly known as ‘going on holiday’ – only now it’s for three months at a time) is now a rite of passage that lasts throughout the 20-something years, and in some cases (mainly people with long hair and an endearing commitment to peace) even longer.  You can plug the gap with a freelancer or cut your losses and hire someone without a trust fund.

10. Buyouts.  You joined an owner-managed business with a wholly-invested boss who was passionate about nurturing his / her agency and staff.  Then the agency was sold and merged with another organisation with a completely different culture, run by bean counters based in another country.   After a short period of mourning for the good old days, you leave.  And really, can you blame them?

If you’re looking for good people, we can help.  Email us here
Find out how your salary stacks up, check out the Workfish 2014 PR salary survey here.

*Source: PRCA PR Census 2013



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