07 June 2007

The job satisfaction imbalance…

Long one this, I’m afraid…a bit serious too. Sorry about that. But hey, it's Friday morning...what else are you going to do?

It’s also rather London-centric, so apologies in advance to those of you in the regions (though you’ll be on in a minute to tell us all how fresh the air is, I imagine).

It seems that recruitment issues have been at the top of the agenda this week. The blog post from Wadds highlighting Grant Currie’s efforts to entice some of the Rainier crew over to Inferno, and Currie’s decent response on his agency’s new blog (and well done Warren for digging out the URL) were neat examples of an increasingly severe problem that I’m hearing from agency heads, in-house PR directors and recruiters right now: good people are almost impossible to find.

David Brain produced a short but spot-on post regarding the news that Stephen “PR Blogger” Davies is once again packing up his laptop and moving on. It’s a largely financially-driven decision…as Davies himself puts it: “As much as I enjoy working in London, I simply can’t afford to stay here at this moment in my life.”

Brain is “very worried on this score” (so worried, in fact, that he threw an extra “r” into “worried”) and rightly so.

Understandably, a commenter on Brain’s blog highlights how more severe the same issue is for the likes of nurses, but we’ve still got to take note of the trend and its potential consequences for the PR industry.

Bear with me here, as I’m off on a ramble…but it’ll sort itself out at the end.

I’ve often thought of job satisfaction being rather like a graphic equaliser. Most of you from Generation i(Pod) probably won’t know what a graphic equaliser is…so there’s a picture of one above. It used to form part of your stereo system...and you’d tweak each little lever until you found the best sound quality.

There are lots of little levers that can be tweaked to increase (or decrease) job satisfaction. There’s salary, obviously, but there’s also colleagues, clients, office location, quality of coffee, culture, eye candy, flexi-working…and a hundred other factors that line up to make a job enjoyable or not. You might be as happy as a pig in shite…and then your best mate leaves and things aren’t quite as rosy. Or the company decides that it can’t afford a Christmas party…or free drinks…or your client changes…or the company moves offices. Any of these will have an effect on your job satisfaction (sometimes up, sometimes down).

The issue that Davies and Brain highlight is, I think, having some serious consequences on job satisfaction. London’s becoming more and more expensive and, therefore, people need to locate themselves further away from its centre (or wave goodbye to a greater proportion of their disposable income in rent or mortgage repayments). A long commute makes the working day less enjoyable in itself, but it also has an effect on the culture of organsiations.

When I started out in PR, my working life and my social life were almost one and the same – at least they both featured the same group of people, generally speaking. Work and play did blur, and it was easier because most people lived a reasonably short distance from the office. It also meant that it was feasible to get together (and get together, if you receive my meaning) over weekends. This had a hugely positive effect on the company’s culture.

I had a beer (or three) last night with the MD of a UK PR agency, and he confirmed that this had also been true for him when he started out, “I used to work my arse off…I’d get in at 7.00am and leave at 10.00pm…but I also used to spend a lot of my working day pissing around and having a laugh. It was great fun, and I didn’t resent the hours because it didn’t feel like it was just my workplace. I spend quite a lot of my time these days encouraging a bit of pissing around in my agency, but it feels forced; like we’ve got to somehow timetable playtime…”

Now, some might say that our industry has grown up; that we’ve needed to and have become more serious. Problem is, with London’s success as a global financial centre, the cost of living in or near the city has outstripped the PR industry’s ability to increase the salaries of its people. And even where salary inflation has grown, it has resulted in agencies having to demand that their people work harder (to maintain margins), leaving less time for fun and, understandably, a desire to get out of the office and away from work as soon as is realistic every day (compounded by the longer commute).

I’m with Brain…economic factors are having a serious effect on ability of the PR industry to offer people a rewarding, fun career. Which brings me onto my next point (I did say this was a long one…)

There’s a shortage of good people. I hear it all the time. Yet we’re also told that PR is consistently one of the top career choices for people entering the workplace, and the growing number of PR degrees (often oversubscribed) would point to more and more people entering the industry. So where do they all go? Or is it that even with this growth, there still aren’t enough?

I suspect that we lose a lot of people early in their PR careers. Perhaps PR graduates – having spent three years dissecting the grand PR strategies of the world’s biggest brands – find the reality of life on the bottom rung of the PR career ladder disillusioning? Added to the fact that they’re saddled with student debt and then find that it’s impossible to sustain a job in London and live within their means…well, it’s not a great surprise that many reconsider.

I’m not sure what the answers are. Brain calls for more affordable housing. I think that would be great, but clearly the likes of public-service workers such as nurses will (and should) get first dibs.

Maybe more agencies (like Edelman) should consider establishing satellite offices outside London…where people could live more affordably and come into town as and when necessary?

What I do know for sure is that things are less fun than they used to be. And - for me at least – the “fun” lever on the PR job satisfaction graphic equaliser was always one of the most important.


Anonymous said...

>>"I’d get in at 7.00pm and leave at 10.00pm"<<

Fuck me, no wonder he used to enjoy the job more!

....the world's leading.... said...

It's late, it's late...but good point and well spotted. I've changed it - but 10 points to you.

Ged said...

I saw a lot of people leave the industry at about account manager level. They got tired of the whole game: pay, thankless tasks, politics and the general grind of BS. I now know a host of interior designers, beauty therapists, stay-at-home mums and financial advisers.

Anonymous said...

Top blog TWL. But it's not just an issue for PRs, it's an issue for journalists and most other office workers too. We talk about a connected workforce, PDAs and smarphones and Web 2.0 but we're still stuck to a Victorian working structure.

I remember reading that Graeme Wearden, the Guardian's online business correspondent has to commute on an early morning bus from Oxford to work - and that for a newspaper that boasts of its web credentials.

Most of us are tied to the same sort of office treadmill as the likes of Charles Pooter - just not as close as Holloway.

Anonymous said...

Oh. My. God.

You have just put in words exactly what I (and I reckon ALL my current colleagues) feel. To the letter.

Or maybe to take what you say in a more shallow vein, it all comes down to the fact that early in my career I used to snog colleagues. And now I don't. Damnit.

james warren said...

Thanks for the hat tip TWL, although 'digging out' is stretching it a bit... the URL was posted as a comment to Wadd's original post.

Interesting post though. As a commuter forced out of London by spiralling house costs, I could go on (and on) about the difficulty of making ends meet for hours (thanks Gordon). But, mercifully, I won’t. I do want to take issue with the points you and your UK MD friend make however. I’d imagine that the young bucks (not to mention does) at the agency he runs are having lots of fun and seeing plenty of each other (ahem) outside work, just as we all used to in ‘the good old days’ – it’s just (look away now MD) they don’t want him involved. And the opportunities for him to have fun are further hampered by the fact he is burdened with the responsibilities of management. As any fule no, the higher up the PR chain you climb, the more crap your job becomes. Fighting fires, dealing with staff issues, trying to win new clients while stopping existing ones from moaning, differentiating the agency in the marketplace, dealing with margin-obsessed owners - christ, even blogging - all add up to creating a fairly turd-filled day. Which is exactly (or at least partially) why you earn more as you climb the PR career ladder, not less. So perhaps your MD should get a grip, realise he earns more than his parents ever thought possible, appreciate that he's made some great friends and done some amazing things as a direct result of his career and accept that his staff are probably rutting like badgers whenever his back is turned. I suggest he climb back into his Porsche, drive off to his plush pad in Chiswick and pour himself another whisky sour.

Final point. Yes, PR used to be a bit more fun - but it also used to be less of a business critical activity. We always used to moan about the fact that noone really cared very much about what we got up to. Now that PR is more of a key business tool, we’re under the spotlight a bit more – which means we can fuck around a bit less. Every silver lining has a cloud.

David Brain said...

A satellite office is new one . . . but where? Kent? Essex? Sussex? And I wonder to use your graphic equalizer analogy (which reminds me of a 1980 powder blue 1.3 Ford Escort I once owned) if that would dial down the fun a bit once you've visited the local pub a few times. I know also nurses and fireman and "essential workers" are a first target for specific low cost housing policies, but it is creative and dynamic business talent that makes this city live and so there does need to be a big policy shift here. Ken Livingstone is absolutely right on that point. The trouble for me of course (and you) is that policy shifts take a long time to have effect in areas like development. In the meantime a stop to the house price rise index is about the best thing we can hope for I fear.

David Brain said...

By the way . . . . when are you going to put an RSS button on this thing?

....the world's leading.... said...

Yes, I was chatting to one of your guys this week and he said that you'd been moaning that we didn't have a feed button.

Truth is, I haven't a clue how to get one on here...but will get it sorted. We have got a feed though - it's here:


Stephen Davies said...

TWL, you can add one directly from your Blogger admin page.

Here's your feed:


Brilliant post btw.

Anonymous said...

Spot on TWL! And sorry David, while I see your point about agency heads i do think the culture in agency has changed somewhat. In the correction of 2001/2 when the social budget was thrown out, something fundamental changed in everyone and perhaps its us more senior types, who now have a permanent fear of losing business, that have lost the concept of balance in working culture.

I particularly remember the look of shock from a junior colleague when, after an early morning launch, I decided that the most constructive way of spending the remainder of the day was in the pub. Yet when I started out that was par for the course after a 6 monthly review.

In terms of this work life balance/ location issue. I'm not convinced by the out of town thing. Having worked at an agency on the edge of London, my view is that it does more to destroy a culture than it does to create it. Firstly, the agency is often bereft of staff, since whenever there is a client meeting [generally in town] you've lost that person for at least half a day [which in turn creates cost in terms of profitability]. Secondly, a beer is out of the question as everyone has to drive. Thirdly, the chances of people living locally are almost zero [Bracknell anyone?] so the idea of getting together at the weekend is unlikely.

There is a way of reaching a balance: The first is to address the chronic over servicing of client accounts [often in the form of multiple reports or school mistress type clients that refuse to collaborate with their agency on work]. Secondly, be more up front with the advice we give, rather than rolling over and asking the client to tickle our tummies whenever they ask for the ridiculous [this must also be coupled with the commitment to break sweat when the moment demands it]. Thirdly, ask for realistic fees and stick to them. Then we can start rewarding staff correctly - and by this I mean cold hard cash [I’ve heard the arguments 100 times that cash doesn’t motivate but the last time I checked a duvet day didn’t buy a round in the pub on Saturday night].

That said. We also need to explain to staff that they aren’t going to be able to buy a house in Fulham, Clapham or the other ghettos where PR types end up living in shared houses or renting. Some people earn more than others - not nice but that’s the way of the world - and the rest of us will have to close our eyes, buy a hoody and wait for gentrification like the others that went before us.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Edelman has taken action by now, but I started on a salary of £15k at the agency not so many years ago. Partly as a result of this, I moved in house for a decent salary. Perhaps the agencies should lead the way in paying junior staff a fair cost of living to remain in London, rather than moving offices (with cheaper rent, at the very basic level) so that they can create greater margins but not increase the pay of those junior staff?

The Jiveman said...

Excellent and wise post, TWL. The costs of living and running a business in London (and arguably the wider South East) are completely out of control and will vandalise the PR industry over time. What makes it worse is that the Londoncentric nature of media and marcomms (along with a host of other industries – not just finance) means that as individuals and businesses we must be in or near London anyway.

It’s like the Waiting for Godot conundrum: “I can’t go on, I must go on.” A friend of mine working in architecture who just had his first baby told me of his awful paradox – his local schools are more likely to produce a trip to casualty than a GSCE but he can’t afford to move to Richmond or go private, can’t move further out as transport makes it impossible, yet there are no jobs for his kind of practice outside London. It’s a trap.

The same model applies to many kinds of PR: Media and clients are in London, but it is too expensive for staff, especially juniors, and you can’t pay City salaries (and have to have an office in a scummy part of town, etc) so people are unhappy (or just leave) yet there is nowhere else to be – rinse, repeat etc. Invaluable practitioners are lost to the industry as a result, preventing growth and change. When you’ve got the pressure of a fund manager without the compensation it’s time to think again – as my ex-AD partner did before moving into the (gasp) public sector on similar cash and better conditions.

The fact there are massive pots of virtually untaxed speculative and property derived capital sloshing around distorts everything from the price of a flat, to office rents, to a simple cup of coffee as there are now a powerful group of consumers economists call ‘price insensitive’. Combine this with the fact that the planning laws stop most sensible development across the South East and you have a living cost nightmare for people and business alike.

This will badly damage media, politics and the arts as well for these pay so little at the start an AE’s wage looks boardroom grade in comparison – the only way to start is to be from a rich family and/or be on the inside to begin with. This will tend to make things vapid and dynastic. Gordo and co need to shred most of the planning laws, build a transport network that gives people real choice about where they live and work while looking again at the tax system. Otherwise everything except the City will become as unhealthy as a Soviet TB ward. Maybe we should all take up trout farming and ‘downshift’?

Anonymous said...

C'mon really?? Is anybody here really that poorly paid - even bloody journalists can afford to live in London and they pretty much have to scratch by on the kind of loose change that PRs wouldn't even stoop to pick up off the floor. People have mentioned nurses and teachers, now there's two professions entitled to more than a little pissing and whining about their salaries. The image of somebody on £40k + bonus, feasting from the bins in cardboard city doesn't really wash (...much like the inhabitants of cardboard city). You know, just because you're in PR you don't *have* to live in Clapham. There are other, cheaper parts of London.

Anonymous said...

Jiveman makes a valid point. I have experience of working both in a grossly over-servicing London agency - where it worked out cheaper to live miles (and miles) out of London and pay several grand a yr to commute in - and an agency miles away from London - yes, in the regions TWL! Have to be brutal here, and it may just be that I was at a fairly good London sweatshop, but the standards in the regional office were a lot lower in comparison to London place, and I think this is an issue. However, from little ol' me's point of view, I was able to get the results just as well in the regional place as in London. It comes back to yesterday's post - know your shit and you're away! Location is increasigly irrelevant IMHO. Debate!

....the world's leading.... said...

"know your shit and you're away! Location is increasigly irrelevant"

I'd agree...when you reach a certain level of experience/seniority. But junior staff - if they're really going to learn the ropes - are going to need to be based in the agency's office.

Anonymous said...

Or let's PR a house price crash!! Even better. Can the power of TWL and all its readers make a shithole in Brixton affordable again!?

Matt said...

Very sobering discussion, but nothing particularly new. Agency life is not what it used to be, end of story. It is overheated, overcrowded, budgets are squeezed, clients are often tossers but are any of those at the heart of the BIG SHIFT?

I think fundamentally the attitude of the employee has changed. In 'our' day, you kind of put your life in the hands of your employer and trusted them to do right by you. I started on £6K a year (ok that was in 1947) but got lots of big rises every six months and before I knew it I was driving a nice car and earning £17K a year. And it was great fun.

I disagree with Mr Warren when he suggests that this is just bitter and twistedness from the old gits who don't have the stomach for it any more, and behind the scenes people are having just as much of a mad larf as they used to. They aren't. Even fresh faced young grads join employment and within minutes they are being made 'aware' of their own 'value' by RECRUITERS. Or, to get closer to the truth, they are being blown up by recruiters to believe their value is in fact far far higher than it really is. This leads to poaching (because agencies are sold a dummy, quite literally), and then we have incompetent idiots trying to do jobs they aren't capable of doing.

This has a profound impact on company culture. In the old days, you could look someone in the eye and say 'no, you're not ready to be an AD,' and they respected you for it (provided you could back it up). Now we live in fear of some other bastard agency saying 'course you're an AD, here, have another £20K and we'll put you on the board in two years'. Not sure if it ever happens once they've gone, but anyway, the integrity of managing careers is in danger of going out the window.

It links back to the email about Mr Currie's recruitment efforts. It's ugly out there. Dog eat dog. It would be nice not to have to join in the bun fight but if you don't, some else will eat your lunch.

Does this create a fun, enjoyable, fulfilling industry to work in?

I blame the recruiters. They are creating an industry of over-inflated egos, pushing mediocrity up the food chain, where it doesn't belong.

Anonymous said...

"The image of somebody on £40k + bonus, feasting from the bins in cardboard city doesn't really wash..."

What's a bonus?

Anonymous said...

£40k + bonus for junior staff?

Tell us where you work now, so that we can all get our CVs in

Spud said...

Firstly - great post TWL.

Second, in the London / Shires debate everyone's right, another problem that agencies will encounter if they attempt to move out is the perception that all the good AEs and AMs are London based and won't be tempted out of the big smoke, and the ones that are already in the Shires aren't up to the 'London level'.

Overservicing - do I detect the first sparks of an effort to look at overservicing as an industry problem and not an agency one?
Right now, any client who's done a little homework is looking at pitches that compete with each other one one thing only: just how many extra miles the agency will run. There's very little in price between the middleweight tech PR agencies. It's really about time we all started to compete on quality rather than quantity...

My final point; How do we ensure that, as an industry we ensure that the day to day bears at least a passing resemblance to the ideas led, creative, relationship building exercise that the budding PR leaves Uni looking for - and not the frantic reporting and idiotic knee-jerk arse-licking they end up with - maybe then we can keep them in the industry, and maybe then we'll be able to find those good people and pay them a good return wherever they're based

Anonymous said...

Spud, agree with a lot you're saying. But not all the good AE/AMs are in London. Some do move out, having learnt shitloads of good stuff in London. I am one (I hope!). I am really frustrated by some of the lack of talent I work with in the shires but I’m determined not to let my standards slip, otherwise, I'll turn into that shit PR we all hate. The agencies out of London are desperate for decent talent, and there is money to be made if you're up to it! I think a lot of it's about personal drive and ambition. I don't want to be shit at whatever I do, and am just so grateful to having started off at a decent London place. OK, so my quality of life was shit when I was there, and I wouldn’t have wanted to do it for any longer, but I learnt so much. Hate to say it, but I think London is useful to have done, but the talent can easily flow out after that. We just need more good agencies to set up beyond the smoke – chick in egg again! It is starting to happen – I can think of a few.

Anonymous said...

"£40k + bonus, for junior staff?"

Don't think there's any mention from the poster that that's a junior wage. But to be fair, if that's not the carrot that keeps them happy for a couple of years on lower wages (which are still living wages) then what is it?

At 22 you need enough money for rent in a fairly cheap and cheerful part of London. The problem is not just with house prices, it's also with people coming out of Uni with overinflated expectations. I remember starting my first job (some years ago now) on £14k and thinking I was richer than God himself.

Anonymous said...

Or, move to San Francisco. Granted, the good times won't last, but for right now, it's a good place to be, and darn it, we need good people too, even if it's just to show the Yanks how it's done.

Stephen Davies said...

Anonymous said: "The image of somebody on £40k + bonus, feasting from the bins in cardboard city doesn't really wash (...much like the inhabitants of cardboard city). You know, just because you're in PR you don't *have* to live in Clapham. There are other, cheaper parts of London."

£40k + bonus? You're having a giraffe aren't you? And I do live in Clapham - I pay £422 per month before bills. Tell me, is that expenisive for London? Me thinks not.

Reading these comments has made me more sure that I've made the right decision. Still going to miss the crack though...

....the world's leading.... said...

Stephen - "Still going to miss the crack though..."

I think you mean craic, don't you?

Unless...umm...oh my...perhaps you do need to get away...

Stephen said...

Heh! Craic is the way it's spelled in Ireland. In the north east we pronounce it as 'crack'. E.g.

What's the crack? Or

We had a good crack. Or

Any crack like?

The last example doesn't mean "do you have any Crack for me please, Mr Drug Dealer?"

Spud said...

Stephen, I'd say that 422 per month to live in Clapham is a very good deal, and I can only assume that you've been there a while... A close friend of mine has just moved to an agency in London and is paying double for a 1 bed flat. And it's not even in Clapham! In fact, it's not even on the northern line!

Anonymous said...

Harvard, Noiseworks, A Plus (as was), Berkeley, Companycare, Insight, Whiteoaks, DPA and probably loads more I can't remember.

All these tech agencies have always been based outside of London - some for about 20 years. Everybody on here is talking as though the notion of tech agencies outside of London is something new. It ain't.

Anonymous said...

I moved out of London for the same reason encountered agency boss after agency boss bemoaning the lack of decent PR people in the North. Problem is that the wages of spin up here are a lot less than darn Sarf (£30k for a b2b AD anyone?). There aren’t many agencies, aren’t many PR jobs, aren’t many big accounts, and you still have to shell out a decent wedge of cash to buy a place anywhere. There are a lot of good freelancers that work from home though, but you need to go in-house to enjoy anywhere near the cash you'd have been on in London town. Proper grim up Norf, innit.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
"Or, move to San Francisco..."

Do some work Little Whitey, stop wasting billable hours posting comments ;-)

Anonymous said...

This whole exchange has really pissed me off.

I entered PR on £16k, and worked my way up to a very competitive salary. I have to work long hours, some of my clients are real shits, my bosses often don't have a clue and back me into corners I have to wrangle my teams back out of and we don't socialise like we used to.

But seriously, how DARE PR people who have a job in a profession they chose, that (lets face it) doesn't help the world one bit, complain that they deserve affordable housing.

Buy a nurse or a teacher a drink in the pub next time you go on a post work jolly funded by your boss, and ask them what sort of pay and conditions they get for a job that is critical to national infrastructure.

Honestly - get some perspective!!!

If you don't like PR - leave.
If you don't like recruiters and their underhand methods, don't take the candidate (I have done it in the past... it hurts when you want them, but you feel worse if 3 months in you are paying more than they deserve)
If you don't like London - move out.
If you don't like the north - move south.

You all talk like you have no control over your lives, and like you don't get paid a hell of a lot of money in the grand scheme of things. I have never before known of grads obsessing about getting on the property ladder. Rent for a bit until you prove you deserve more pay. Jesus! Its not like £422 a month aint a bargain.

Ben Schmark said...

If you didn't spend all day reading each other's blogs, you wouldn't have to stay so late at work.

Honestly, state the bleeding obvious.

There are 39 tech PR sites in the UK alone!

Anonymous said...

Just two things:

1) Nobody enters PR for the money. If you did, leave.

2) The reason the fun has gone out of the industry is that new entrants are taking themselves and PR far too seriously. Just read some of the blogs and comments from young PR people. Jesus.

Stephen said...

This was a quality discussion.