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What do Public Relations Salary Ranges Look Like in 2019?

For the last four years, I’ve reviewed the annual public relations salary survey by PRWeek. The 2019 version is soon to be released and I perused the coverage to see what was new.

Whether you are looking for a new job – or looking to fill a PR role – it is worthwhile to keep a finger on the pulse of compensation in your chosen profession.

There are important caveats you should read carefully included at the bottom of this post. In addition, there are links to my take on this survey from prior years as a reference.

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s_Median_PR salary by in-house agency or non-profit

1) Median PR salary steady at $95,000

The median salary for public relations professionals in the last 12 months came in at $95,000. This is flat in comparison to the median salaries PRWeek reported* over last several years:

  • 2019: $95,000
  • 2018: $95,000
  • 2017: $91,000
  • 2016: $92,125

In the overall economy, wages haven’t kept up with inflation – a fact that’s been widely reported in economic news. Where a few years ago, the economic news narrative was a “jobless recovery” today it’s wage growth.

Typically, as the economy grows (and it has continued to grow) the unemployment rate has fallen. When that happens, wages should rise to match the demand and increased competition for new hires.

That hasn’t happened during this extended period of recovery and precisely why is a matter of debate. It’s even more confusing because businesses still complain they can’t find talent.

In my opinion, this salary survey is reflective of broader economic trends. It’ll be interesting to see if that changes in 2019 because last year, wage growth in the broader economy bounced up and down. That movement – any movement – was welcomed as positive news.

2) Median PR salary by in-house, agency or non-profit

Corporate positions do tend to pay more than agency positions – and that remained true this year. The median salary breaks down across corporate, agency and non-profit sectors of PR as follows:

  • Corporate communications median salary was $127,100;
  • PR agency median salary was $96,000; and
  • Non-profit communications salary was $85,000.

Here’s how PRWeek has reported* the numbers over the last several years as I’ve tracked this survey:

As you can see, the ranges have been relatively flat for the last several years. Only non-profits have seen any substantive movement in salary hashmarks.

s_Median PR salary by in-house agency or non-profit-grid3) Median PR salary by region

Where you work has an impact on the amount of money you take home, so don’t get enchanted by the numbers. For example, the cost of living in San Francisco is much higher than in Philadelphia.

Here’s how the numbers break down for 2019 by geography:

  • Atlanta: $87,500
  • Boston: $100,000
  • Chicago: $110,000
  • Dallas: $117,500
  • Los Angeles: $98,000
  • New York: $100,000
  • Philadelphia: $105,000
  • San Francisco: $102,500
  • Seattle: $107,100
  • Washington, DC: $120,000

Here’s a look at a handful of hot markets and they’ve changed over time:

Be careful with how you use these numbers because sampling issues start to appear when you drill down to specific geographies. For example, Atlanta probably did not experience a swing of ~$40,000 up and down over the last few years.

So, these numbers are a ballpark figure, and you should follow up with more research specific to your location. I’ve found ZipRecruiter has a dynamic site you can tailor to give you ranges, based on the listings.

In writing this post, I checked my local area and the site says the average (not median) salary for a “public relations manager” in the U.S. is $70,771 per year. However, near Atlanta, PR managers “are making on average $62,649 per year or $8,122 (11%) less than the national average annual salary of $70,771.”

s_median PR salary by region-grid

4) Median PR salary by gender

Salary parity by gender has become a hot button issue in every market including PR. Here’s how the numbers stack up in the PRWeek survey:

  • Median salary for women in PR: $90,000; and
  • Median salary for men in PR: $110,000.

The $30,000 gap does seem to have dropped a bit from a $35,000 gap reported last year. It is progress, but there’s clearly a long way to go still. If that gap closes at a pace of $5,000 every year, then we’ll have parity six years from now.

PRWeek breaks out these numbers by over and under 5 years of experience. The breakout shows the disparity grows larger with experience

  • Women with less than five years’ experience: $47,500;
  • Men with less than five years’ experience: $50,000;

And

  • Women with more than five years’ experience: $91,000; and
  • Men with more than five years’ experience: $115,000.

If you are an employer, then parity in compensation for commensurate work is essential – if you want to attract and retain talent. To that end, the 2019 JOTW Communications Survey, an annual study I conduct in partnership with Ned Lundquist, found high agency turnover ranks among the top 10 reasons client fire a firm.

5) Employed, but open to new opportunities

Just 12% of respondents to the PRWeek study changed roles in the last 12-months. That’s more or less on par with the figure last year, which came in at 15%.

When asked about the motivations for leaving, here’s how the result tallied:

  • 23% said new challenges and responsibilities;
  • 18% said better compensation;
  • 14% said layoffs and downsizing;
  • 11% said a promotion; and
  • 14% said job satisfaction.

The diversity of opinions here demonstrates that there isn’t any single reason for an employee exodus – all of these things matter. There are of course, retention strategies too. The retention tools employees cited as most important were similar to those reported last year:

  • 75% say career development and training are important benefits; and
  • 74% said flex time as an important benefit

I suspect the risk of employee turnover is higher than these numbers indicate. This because in the aforementioned JOTW survey found 56% of respondents were gainfully employed, but open to new opportunities. In addition, that survey also found that 47% of respondents have observed more PR work moving in-house, which may mean there will be more in-house jobs.

When you consider all of these indicators together:

  • flat wage growth in a growing economy;
  • that agency types can obtain visibly larger salary bump by going in-house;
  • more in-house work leads to greater demand for talent in-house; and
  • more than half the talent in market is open to new opportunities…

…there seem to me, solid evidence to suggest the competition for talent is going grow stronger.

It’s worth mentioning here, that JOTW stands for Job of the Week. It’s a free email newsletter about jobs and openings in the world of communications. You can list your job openings, or review job openings, for free by sending it into Ned. Here’s the most recent JOTW issue as of today, which includes instructions on how to do just that.

* Caveats to the PR Salary Survey Presentation

The caveats to the data PRWeek reports is that it changes from year to year. In other words, in 2018, the publication reported a corporate median salary of $127,100, but when the 2019 report was published, they revised that 2018 number down to $119,500.

This means when the publication says that median salaries jumped 6.7% this, that’s because they revised the numbers.

By contrast, the numbers I list here are as they were originally reported. This survey is a snapshot in time, which is diluted when the publication makes these adjustments.

In a prior year, I asked the publication about this practice. The editor told me the firm that conducts the survey on their behalf does this to make a like comparison. This concerns me for several reasons:

  • This adds complexity and confusion. For example, right now, at this moment, PRWeek.com, for example, has more than one piece of content about the same survey reporting two different numbers. In fact, they have several years of reports with conflicting data.
  • It reduces transparency. For example, we know the sample size in 2018 was 1,053. This year, we know the 2018 sample has changed but don’t know to what degree it has changed. It’s probably smaller, but how much smaller? We don’t know.
  • The publication doesn’t provide a margin of error – and I’m pretty sure they can’t because I doubt this a random sample. This means you simply cannot get excited about a 6% change in this year’s report.

Broadly, I think PRWeek does the PR community a service with this survey. That’s why I write about it. This caveat section is to help PR pros understand how the presentation of data can impact the narrative.

In total, some 1,213 respondents took the survey for this 2019 report. You can read PRWeek’s own reporting here or purchase a copy of the full report for $348.

For reference, here’s my take on the survey in prior years:

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Image credit: Unsplash

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