Section one of the State of the Industry Report examines the salary, bonus, benefits and training provision offered to communications and corporate affairs professionals
Throughout the State of the Industry Report we drill down on a wide range of issues and trends confronting those operating in communications and corporate affairs roles across Asia Pacific, notably in the key hubs of Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore. This qualitative research will examine the internal and external challenges, covering key issues such as the talent deficit, the drive for localisation, the rise of digital, increased stakeholder scrutiny and the relationship between agencies and their clients.
But first, using a wider sample base of 356 responses to this year’s online salary survey, we focus on three of the most important issues for professionals: their salaries, bonuses and benefits.
This element of the research has been conducted for the past four years, allowing us to benchmark the salaries, pay increases, bonuses and benefits of a wide range of professionals operating in corporate communications in-house and within consultancies.
Salaries Still on the Up
Despite budgetary pressures, salary and bonus levels remain buoyant across the region. Reflecting a shortage of talent, salaries continue to rise. The average salary received by practitioners regionally was US$130,703 (up from US$121,157 last year). Despite slowing inflation in countries such as Singapore, this equates to an average increase of 5.5%, which, while lower than the 7.2% recorded last year, highlights the continuing demand for qualified corporate communications and public affairs professionals.
As a health warning, entry-level practitioners should be aware that these figures represent the PublicAffairsAsia network and Prospect client base, which is skewed towards mid-level and senior-level professionals – some with over two decades of experience and many in VP roles. So while we present salaries as industry averages, they are drawn from the middle to top end of the seniority spectrum.
Reflecting the cost of living and comparatively high marginal tax rates, salaries remained highest in Australia, where a typical professional earns US$160,233. Next in the league tables were professionals in Singapore, whose base salaries averaged US$138,412, followed by Hong Kong, where the average was US$126,234.
Many professionals also received bonuses – although the average was down on last year, with the average respondent securing US$24,767 (2014 – US$31,430). This takes the combined salary and bonus package up to US$155,470 (2014 – US$152,587).
Agency Versus In-House
The talent move from agency to in-house is still prevalent and caused by several factors, including the desire to focus on one brand, less pressure to deliver revenues and bring in new business and a belief that in-house roles offer a better work-life balance. This year’s survey highlights again that pay is generally higher in the in-house environment, with the average agency staffer receiving a salary of US$106,657 as opposed to the in-house average of US$142,000.
We should be alert, however, to the fact that this year we have removed agency CEOs and elite-level staff from the agency average, but have left senior in-house professionals, a small number of top earners with base salaries in excess of US$300,000, in the in-house calculations. However, senior-level and Managing Director agency personnel have the capacity to significantly out-earn their in-house colleagues at this equivalent level. In addition, the average “elite” agency staffer, most likely regional CEOs and in-country Managing Directors of large businesses, secure salaries averaging US$403,000, again beating their in-house communications counterparts.
Anecdotally, the industry has witnessed a small number of high-profile former in-house figures moving to agency roles in recent years, and this supports the view that the agency sector can prove lucrative for people at that stage in their careers.
It’s no great surprise that the link between length of career, seniority and salary remains unbroken in the region. Average salaries across sectors continue to rise in line with the length of the respondent’s career in communications or corporate affairs. Salaries up to five years in Table 2 appear to be high, but this reflects both the increased competition for qualified staff and the response base – most respondents were thought to be towards the end of the first five years in their careers.
Salary and Function
The role you have within the broader terms of communications and corporate affairs disciplines can have a significant impact on your earning capabilities. We analysed the average earnings of those in different roles, and for the fourth year discovered that practitioners in corporate affairs still significantly out-earn other communications professionals. Public relations executives reported average salaries of US$110,000, while those in corporate affairs roles earn an average of nearly US$180,000.
We have analysed and discussed the reasons for this significant differential in pay, and believe there are several factors involved. The remit of a corporate affairs professional tends to have a closer alignment with the business and holds responsibility for regulatory and government affairs, risk & legal. The position is frequently a board role within the company. In addition, some corporate affairs professionals have previously held senior roles in the media or had government or legal functions prior to embarking on a dedicated corporate affairs career.
Diversity and Gender Pay Gap
The majority of employers in the region are adopting an enlightened approach to gender and diversity. However, even though more women than men go into the PR agency world, men tend to be in the majority across senior leadership teams – with a few notable exceptions where women lead agencies.
Many of the major MNCs and PR agencies in the region operate women empowerment initiatives and diversity programmes aimed at keeping female workers in the workplace and allowing a diverse workforce with the opportunity to take on leadership roles.
Despite this, the industry is not finding it easy to resolve the issue of unequal pay – although there are signs of progress in this year’s numbers. Our data reveals that men earn on average US$143,216 while women lag behind at US$115,102. This compares to averages of US$136,683 for men and US$100,444 for women in 2014.
While the underlying factors are complex, including the fact that many women take career breaks to bring up children and may in some cases be trailing their spouses, the gap between what men and women earn remains significant.
However, judging by this year’s figures, the gender pay gap does appear to be narrowing, with women now earning one-fifth less than men, down from a gap of more than a quarter identified in the 2014 salary survey.
Training and Professional Development
Given the acute shortage of talent reported by many executives in later sections of the report, it might be expected that companies would be investing significant time and resources in upskilling existing employees. However our salary survey reveals average training (both in-house and agency) of 2.8 days per year, only marginally up on the 2.7 days scored last year. Agency-side professionals received an average of 2.6 days of training in 2015, while their in-house counterparts received 2.9 days of professional development on average. Notably, 105 survey participants said they received no training at all in 2015.
In our previous salary survey reports we have revealed the slow death of the expatriate package. Benefits are now more closely targeted and very few practitioners are in receipt of the full package of overseas benefits once considered normal within European and North American companies operating in Asia Pacific.
Despite there being a shortage of talent, firms prefer to hire candidates based in the region with market knowledge and in most cases Asian language skills. If a communications professional is being hired from the West into the APAC region, in general they are coming to Asia under their own volition without any expatriate package enticement or full relocation plan.
Benefits are still relatively standard in APAC, consisting of some form of pension, healthcare, performance-related bonus and annual leave allowance.
Results from our survey show 62% of respondents receive healthcare personally or for their family. Nearly 33% of respondents received a 13th month salary. Fewer than 10% receive housing allowance (down from 14% last year) despite significant rises in the cost of living in key hubs such as Hong Kong and Singapore in recent years. Only 5% of respondents received support for their children’s education and fewer than 10% received financial support for flights home to their country of origin. Car allowances are also on the decline, with only 14% of those surveyed receiving a car or funds to help run one.
There is still strong evidence that employers are failing to encourage their staff to fund their retirement. Fewer than 10% of respondents benefitted from non-contributory pensions, while 32% were paying into contributory pension arrangements through their employment. While many respondents may eventually have state-provided pensions, this still means that 60% of staff currently have no access to, or are choosing not to pay into, a workplace-related pension scheme.
The average annual leave among respondents was 19.5 days per annum, with the lowest leave recorded at just 10 days per year and the highest 45 days, excluding public holidays.
On a positive note, 20% of respondents reported they received shares or share options from their employer.
The workplace environment finally seems to be changing to reflect employees’ concern about burn-out, which has been apparent in previous surveys. Nearly 33% said they can now work a flexi-time system, 17% have a professional development allowance and 16% are in receipt of complimentary food and drinks.