Largest PR paychecks come mostly from coastal cities

Major companies and big media bring financial rewards to pros in the Northeast and on the Pacific Coast, a PR Daily survey shows. But the Midwest leads in the top pay category—a possible outlier.

On the basis of salary alone, TASER International in Scottsdale, Ariz., would have a tough time competing for talent against New York City or the high-tech regions of Silicon Valley and Puget Sound.

But with its sunny desert environs, its Star Trek-worthy headquarters, and its bonuses and stock options, the manufacturer can snag top talent even though it’s not on the East or West coasts, says Steve Tuttle, vice president of communications.

“There’s a great opportunity to make more than just your salary,” says Tuttle.

The recruiting challenge is just one result of regional salary variations—a matter explored by the PR Daily Salary and Job Satisfaction Survey of 2,787 industry professionals ranging from associates to company presidents and chief executives.

The online survey showed that the Northeast and West Coast mostly dominated the high salary categories, with one possible outlier in the upper range, the Midwest.

Respondents to the questionnaire on PR salary and job satisfaction largely came from the U.S. and Canada, with contingents from Europe, Oceania, Asia, and Africa.

Northeast leads in $100K to $150K

The Northeast topped the $100,000 to $150,000 range. Of those earners, 24 percent came from the Northeast and 16 percent from the Midwest. Trailing closely were the West Coast, at 15 percent, and Canada, with 14 percent. Ten percent of those in this range came from the Southeast.

The West Coast—the land of Microsoft, Google, and big agencies from Los Angeles to Seattle—triumphed in the $150,000 to $250,000 category, making up 29 percent of the earners at this level. In this range the Northeast came in second, with 26 percent, against the Midwest’s 12 percent.

Rust Belt residents can allow themselves a fist-pump at the highest level. The Midwest boasted the most top earners: 33 percent of those earning more than $250,000 hail from the heartland.

Before New York’s top execs storm in and demand a raise from the board, it’s important to note that our sampling from all regions at this level amounted to only 16 respondents, making broader conclusions about pay scales at this level unreliable.

Salaries highest on the coasts

Told of our findings, Dennis Spring, president of Spring Associates and publisher of his own extensive salary report for the industry, says paychecks are highest for both agencies and corporations in and around New York City, California’s L.A. and San Francisco markets, and the Seattle area.

This is because these regions have the bulk of agencies, the headquarters of major corporations, and, in New York, the highest concentration of media outlets.

“So that’s where you’re going to find the most PR people, and that’s where you’re going to find the most competition,” says Spring.

RELATED: 10 happiest cities for PR and marketing pros

Jolie Downs, a partner in Paradigm Staffing, says PR pros heading to the Midwest tend to be reminded that the cost of living is lower.

“When people relocate to those areas, they are often expected to take pay cuts,” Downs said.

(Neither Spring nor Downs was involved in the PR Daily survey.)

In our survey, the largest number of respondents—26 percent—earn in the $50,000 to $75,000 range, followed by another quarter that earn from $35,000 to $50,000. Fewer than 1 percent of respondents earn more than $250,000 a year.

Which region prevails at the low end? The Midwest wins the Poorly Paid PR Pro Prize, constituting 21 percent of respondents reporting salaries of less than $35,000 annually.

Israel and Canada

Paychecks vary even more widely internationally, even in a highly developed economy such as Israel’s. There PR salaries average half to two-thirds what they are in the U.S., says Goel Jasper, managing director of Finn Partners Israel.

“Israel’s PR ecosystem is on a much smaller scale than that of the U.S.,” Jasper said. “Therefore, corporate PR budgets are smaller, averaging between $5,000- [and] $7,000-per-month retainers—meaning that salaries are smaller as well.”

Regional variations can play a role even within individual foreign markets. PR jobs in the U.S. tend to be higher than in Nova Scotia, says Paige Hoveling, manager of communications for The Lung Association of Nova Scotia.

“Across the rest of Canada, which typically has higher pay rates than N.S., I’d say they’re about on par,” she says.

Salary vs. experience

Not surprising, salaries correlated with experience. Among those earning less than $35,000 a year, 27 percent had been in the field for under a year. Sixty percent had one to 5 years’ experience. Only 2 percent reported more than 20 years’ experience.

Go figure: In the Quarter-Million-Dollar-Plus Club, we couldn’t find anyone with fewer than five years’ experience. (At the next level down, however, 2 percent of the $150,000-to-$250,000 range had less than one year’s experience.) In that $250,000-plus range, half reported more than 20 years in the field. Age has its rewards.

As for 2013 projections, 58 percent of respondents were expecting raises. The highest percentage—32 percent—received 2-3 percent raises. A quarter reported raises of 3-5 percent.

One European respondent reported being overworked and underpaid, reducing any incentive to go the extra mile.

Asked what one thing should be changed about work, the respondent said, “Raise salaries and employee engagement strategies. That way, we’d be motivated not to look for other jobs; we’d be committed to be loyal to the company.”

Given the choice between a 3 percent increase in salary and an extra week’s paid time off, a majority of both sexes preferred the cash. But more women (38 percent) than men (29 percent) would have chosen the time off.

Feeling underappreciated

Asked what they would change about their job, numerous PR people across the globe cited salary. In the U.S. there was little regional difference to the sense workers reported of feeling underpaid for demanding work.

“More pay!” wrote one Northeasterner. “Money!” a Midwesterner pleaded. “Increase in pay!” a Canadian (not Hoveling) begged.

One Northeastern senior communications manager longed “to be fairly compensated for my market worth. I believe I am underpaid by 15 percent.”

Flex-time matters, too

Several commenters said they would be willing to trade off pay for greater opportunity to work more from home.

One Midwestern public affairs manager said: “I would take a pay cut for more flexibility. Wish my employer would recognize that most work could be done via telecommuting. I realize the importance of face time and collaboration, but there should be a balance.”

Others said they didn’t sign on for the money. Hoveling, of The Lung Association of Nova Scotia, says she and her colleagues work in not-for-profits “because we love it, we’re committed to the vision, passionate and we’re optimists that want to try to help people and make the world just a little better.”


RELATED: Our survey finds PR pay disparities by gender, type of employer

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Topics: PR

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