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2020 Public Relations Salary Survey: How Much Money do PRs Pros Make?

The median public relations salary in the U.S. is $100,000 in 2020; it’s higher for in-house PR and corp comm roles at $145,500 and lower for PR agencies at $90,000

What PR professionals earn in income appears to be on the up and up. That’s according to the latest annual PR salary survey for 2020 published by PRWeek.

The survey was conducted before the Coronavirus hit the pause button on economic activity. The results were published in early March before many realized how disruptive the pandemic would become.

Even so, I don’t think we can or should simply toss the results out the window. While there will certainly be an impact on talent acquisition and retention in PR, it’s still a benchmark worth considering as you consider changing jobs – or growing or shrinking your PR workforce.

As always, there are important caveats include at the bottom of this post you should read.

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1. The median PR salary grows.

Most (64%) of PR professionals feel “well compensated” in their roles, and compensation continues to rise. The median PR salary – across the board – grew to $100,000. That’s up about 5% when compared to the median PR salary PRWeek reported last year.

Over the last five years, the publication has reported the median PR salary as follows:

  • 2020: $100,000
  • 2019: $95,000
  • 2018: $95,000
  • 2017: $91,000
  • 2016: $92,125

Last year the economic pundits had switched their talking points from a “jobless recovery” to “flat wage” growth. It appears 2020 was on track to shuffle those talking points again until the current pandemic ensued.

2. PR salary by in-house, agency and non-profit.

Work at an agency can be best describes as a mile wide and an inch deep. In-house PR work tends to be the inverse – an inch wide and a mile deep. The macro-effect is that agencies train and transform junior staff into experience practitioners which becomes a primary funnel of in-house talent. In-house pays for that transformation over-time in agency fees and in luring the best agency talent to the client-side.

Here’s how median salaries by in-house, agency and non-profit stacked up in the 2020 survey:

  • Median PR salary for an in-house role: $145,500
  • Median PR salary at a PR agency: $90,000
  • Median PR salary at a non-profit: $85,000

Here’s a look at those median salaries reported over time:

3. PR salary by geography.

The cost of living varies considerably by location and so too do salaries. Of course, a budget can go further in different locations. For example, the average apartment in San Francisco is 747 square feet with an average rent of $3,629, according to data from RENTcafe, where in Atlanta it’s $1,467.

Here’s a break down of some geographies by median salary:

  • Atlanta: $98,500
  • Boston: $116,200
  • New York: $120,000
  • DC: $100,000
  • San Francisco: $154,000

Here’s a look at the median salaries, as reported by PRWeek, over time:

4. Median PR salary by gender.

On the whole, the salary gap by gender appears to be shrinking, according to the data in this year’s survey.

Overall median PR salary:

  • Men: $107,000
  • Women: $95,000

The difference this year is $12,000 – that down from a gap of $30,000 evident in last year’s numbers.

Median PR salary of respondents with more than 5 years’ experience:

  • Men: $115,000
  • Women: $106,000

That gap also appears to be down. Last year it was $24,000 and this year it’s $9,000.

Median salary of PR with less than 5 years’ experience:

  • Men: $57,200
  • Women: $53,000

This gap is up when compared to reporting from 2019. Last year this gap was $2,500 and this year the difference is $4,200.

Clearly, there is still room to improve before hitting parity. However, there has been an improvement and the study found that to be true in areas other than just compensation. For example, 39% of respondents “saw more hiring of women in the C-Suite.”

5. PR culture and growth; money isn’t everything.

While most respondents are satisfied with their compensation, there’s much to be desired. The survey found just “44% of respondents are satisfied with the career opportunities” in their current role. Culture, professional development and greater responsibility all factored into reasons why some respondents said they changed roles last year.

According to the survey, the primary reasons for leaving a role were:

  • 24% wanted new challenges and opportunities
  • 16% for better compensation
  • 14% layoffs
  • 13% were promoted
  • 9% dissatisfaction

A few related interesting stats related to job satisfaction included:

  • 77% cited training and career development
  • 74% say culture and atmosphere
  • 67% say recognition for a job well done is “very important”

Indeed, as I’m prone to say, the figurative pat-on-the-back is the most underutilized tool in a manager’s toolkit.  If someone’s doing a great job, be sure to tell them.

How the Coronavirus Might Shake Things Up

There’s a whole lot of forecasts about what will and won’t change as a result of the great quarantine of 2020. Some say everything will change, while others wait for it all to get back to normal. The truth will probably fall somewhere in between.

Here’s what we know for sure: as long as there are sales, votes donations to be made, there will always be a need for people who specialize in communications. More than ever the messages are data-driven and delivered over digital formats.

So, if you find yourself with more time on your hand than you’d prefer at the moment, then use this time wisely to learn something new.  We are all forever students.

Here are my takes on previous year salary surveys by PRWeek:

Other salary resources you should consider:

  • Some compensations sites also have estimates that you can configure based on role, title, region and other factors: two I’ve noticed include com and Salary.com

Caveats to the PR Salary Survey by PRWeek

In the past, PRWeek modifies it’s reported from the survey the year prior. For example, in the 2019 edition, the publication reported the median salary at an agency for 2019 was $96,000. However, in 2020 the publication revised the median salary at an agency for 2019 down to $80,000. So, when the 2020 survey finds the median salary for 2020 at an agency was $90,000, the pblication reports that as a $10,000 increase rather than a $6,000 decrease.

Why? I asked PRWeek about this previously and the publication said the discrepancy is a result of comparing this year’s responses with those from same people last year – rather than comparing the results in whole or year-over-year as I do.

This year it seems, PRWeek has also switched up its partners in the survey. In years past, the survey has been completed in coordination with the recruiting firm Bloom, Gross & Associates, which is not cited in this year’s study. To the publication’s credit, it includes this methodology at the bottom of its own reporting this year:

“The PRWeek/PR Talent 2020 Salary Survey was conducted by Morning Consult and completed by 1,184 PR pros between November 6 and December 13, 2019. Respondents were 66% female/33% male/1% preferred not to answer. The surveys were conducted online. Results have a margin of +/- 3%. 2020 chart figures indicate 2019 data. All data was collected from this year’s survey respondents.”

You can read the analysis of the data by PRWeek here, which also has a link to the premium report you can purchase for $348.

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Image credit: Unsplash

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