Amith Prabhu: The vicious PR cycle of education, jobs and salaries

21 Jul,2014

By Amith Prabhu


I spent a day on the campus of a leading communication school this past week interacting with first and second year students. Something that is an annual feature on my calendar. The institute also happens to be my alma mater. Students here invest or spend a million rupees over two years to get a master’s degree – this amount is ten times more than what my batch mates and I shelled out a decade ago.


The students hope to graduate and get job offers at an annual package that is close to what they pay as their fees in the first year and this is where a major mismatch happens. Half the fee is Rupees 5 lakh and starting salaries at most PR firms are not even remotely close. They range between Rs 2.5 to 3.5 lakh. This leads to students wanting to pursue corporate jobs which promise better entry level salaries but not the kind of learning one would get at a PR firm. To add to this wound, I’m told some firms discriminate between institutes and choose to pay students from one institute a premium over the other, which is an unfair practice, if there is truth in it.


The reason PR firms cannot pay fairly higher salaries to freshers is because the retainers have not risen in the last ten years the way the fees have skyrocketed. Hence there is a major disconnect between college fees, starting salaries and retainers. How does one fix this constant problem?


To add insult to injury, there are the undergraduate courses which compete for the same jobs and same internships. Can PRCAI step in to work closely with the communication management institutes offering two year programmes to offer them opportunities that are better I terms of number of quality jobs at a better pay?


Because if this problem is not addressed we will continue to pay peanuts and get monkeys.


Our profession will continue to remain mediocre. And no amount of tall talk can salvage the situation. There is a school of thought that feels a master’s degree in communications is not a prerequisite for a career in Public Relations but that idea is not based on a solid foundation.


The communication institutes need to unite and relook at their fees. One can’t hope to recover huge infrastructure costs in five years instead of ten and put the onus of paying back huge investments indirectly on PR firms through greater starting salaries than they already are. A vicious cycle is being created which does not seem breakable in the short to medium term.


The salaries, retainers and college fees need to be interlinked and three sets of stakeholders need to sit across the table and find a solution. Clients need to realise that if they want to get the best team working on their business from a PR firm, the PR firm needs to hire the best talent available. This can only happen when retainers go up.


Until such time this happens, there will be sulking faces all around. Public Relations firms will not be able to attract better talent who come at a price. The face of the business will not change.


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2 responses to “Amith Prabhu: The vicious PR cycle of education, jobs and salaries”

  1. Chandan Chatterjee says:

    Thank you for doing this piece. It is a discussion that has been waiting to happen.

    Interestingly we co-hosted PRConclave 2014 with MSL Group India last week and the discussion veered around to why PR agency retainerships tend to be low. The answer commonly accepted during the Conference was that the PR agency was executing the mandate and not offering advice to Senior Management of the Client.

    In fact if the agency is to have a say in key Communication decisions it needs to move up the the Value chain and that can not happen with any one who comes from a UG course or a 12 month Diploma course.

    what we offer to the PR agencies are student (talent) conversant with Marketing + Branding + 8 detailed PR courses (including New Age PR skill-set including CSR, Employer Branding, Social Media Management etc) + Research + Analysis + Digital + Strategy skills at MBA level, duly validated by our very reputed Board of Advisors, ‘;Industry reviewers and Symbiosis University’s Academic Council. Any one can figure out at a glance that such skill pool are not available fronm any where else.

    Several PR agencies of course are working on making efforts to break out of the thinking that has dominated the Media Relations mindset within agencies.

    I will be happy to sit across with any Industry decision maker on resolving the talent issue.

    Chandan Chatterjee
    SIMC – Pune

    • Amith Prabhu says:

      thanks for reading and commenting. Firstly, we have to stop calling PR firms agencies as they do not generate revenues based on commissions but are modelled on law firms which charge retainers. Secondly, the client person needs to start feeling less threatened in terms of paying the right retainer and also involving firms in counsel to senior management which many believe is their prerogative. Lastly, students of PR need to up the level by being smart which is something a lot of effort needs to go into and we can talk about it. Someone needs to bell the cat.