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

Women are a majority in the industry but lag in high salary categories, PR Daily’s first such survey reveals. And PR agencies predominate at the highest and lowest pay scales.


Men are overrepresented in high salary brackets in the public relations industry, while women disproportionately fill in the lowest ranks, the first-ever PR Daily Salary and Job Satisfaction survey shows.

But if you’re slogging along for low pay at an entry-level position at a PR agency, don’t despair. In the long term, you may come out ahead. Agency staffers led among those earning in the highest salary bracket.

These and other findings emerged in a PR Daily online survey of 2,787 industry professionals ranging from PR associates to company presidents and chief executives. Respondents to the questionnaire on salary and job satisfaction largely came from the U.S. and Canada, with contingents from Europe, Oceania, Asia, and Africa chiming in.

Nuances and cautionary notes emerge in a deeper look at the numbers.

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

“In a tough economy, I’ve found that any excuse will be used to avoid paying employees deserved salary for their work at my company,” wrote one account executive. “However, I do love where I’m at other than that issue.”

Another respondent—a social media director—said PR professionals ought to appreciate the salaries they earn, despite budget cuts and a fast-paced work environment.

“At its simplest, all we do is talk and write,” the respondent said. “We’re not responsible for human life. Our lives are not in danger. Our job does not involve slowly physically destroying our bodies like a blue-collar worker. If we take a step back, we have very little to complain about.”

Compensation by gender

Of our survey participants, 77 percent were women, roughly in keeping with industry reports. A total of 72 percent of Public Relations Society of America’s membership is female, says spokeswoman Stephanie Cegielski. (Three-quarters of those in her department are women.)

If women predominate in PR, it’s no surprise that they constitute a majority at every pay level. However, the percentage of women at the highest pay levels—more than $75,000 a year—falls short, given that they make up more than three-quarters of our survey respondents.

This finding surprised Catherine Bolton, former chief executive of the PRSA and now head of a consulting firm in Pennsylvania. Women have long made up the majority of PR practitioners, reducing gender-based pay differences, she said.

“I don’t think there’s a great discrepancy in salaries between men and women,” she said. “I’ve never really felt that. What I have always felt, though, is that with the profession itself, our salary is low overall compared to other professions.”

Jolie Downs, a Santa Cruz, Calif.-based partner at Paradigm Staffing, which recruits professional communicators and PR experts, sees a difference at the upper end of the scale.

“When you get up to the $300,000 range, the percentage of women I’ve seen making that range is much lower,” she said.

Eighty-five percent of those earning less than $35,000 are women. At $35,000 to $50,000, women still predominate, at 82 percent-five points above their percentage of the total survey group. The percentage only begins to match that of women’s numbers in the survey population at the $50,000 to $75,000 level: 78 percent of these earners are female.

That slips to 60 percent at $100,000 to $150,000. Among those making more than $250,000, women make up 67 percent.

A number of survey respondents indicated they aren’t paid what they’re worth. One woman reported she was “hired at a senior level role, with a non-senior level salary or title.”

PR agencies predominate at the top and the bottom

Of those earning under $35,000 per year, a 49 percent plurality are employed by PR agencies. Private companies follow, with 23 percent. Nonprofits account for another 11 percent, and publicly traded companies number 8 percent. Government employees make up only 3 percent of those in the lowest bracket, but they also had little representation at the highest tier.

At agencies, there may be hope in the long term for lower-paid employees. At the highest end of the scale—$250,000 and above—38 percent work for agencies, and 31 percent are self-employed. Those working for private companies make up 13 percent of this group.

Our sampling at the $250,000-plus range, however, included only 16 respondents, making broader conclusions about pay at this level less reliable.

The greatest parity among salaries at different types of organizations came in the middle rage, at $75,000 to $100,000, where most organizations hold between 14 percent (PR agencies) and 25 percent (privately held companies) of the share. (The self-employed were an outlier, with 5 percent.)

Among those earning $100,000 to $150,000, employees of public companies make up the largest portion, 28 percent. This group also constitutes 31 percent of the $150,000 to $250,000 range.

With budget cutting on the agenda, some government employees saw their compensation decline.

“Organization is in constant crisis,” one government employee reported. “Significantly understaffed; furloughs and pay cuts and reduction of other benefits have reduced compensation with no end in sight.”

Topics: PR

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