Are communicators paid enough? Are they getting raises? How do salaries compare region to region?
Ragan’s Salary & Workplace Culture Survey: 2020 Edition reveals disparities by gender and geography, with salaries in the Western region slightly topping those of all other regions.
Women earn less than men and are less satisfied with their take-home pay, the survey of more than 560 communicators reveals. Yet job satisfaction overall is encouragingly high, at 70%, suggesting that few communicators regret their choice of career.
Industrywide, the average annual base salary is $95,257. Of the four U.S. geographic regions, paychecks are highest in the 11-state region of the West, at $105,000, lowest in the 12-state Midwest, at $88,000, the Ragan survey of internal and external communicators reveals.
“I’m not sure that in places like Arizona and Wyoming and Idaho, the salaries would be among the highest, but in the aggregate the West edges out the Northeast in part because of the tech business,” says Jim Ylisela, co-founder of Ragan Consulting Group.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics bolster this conclusion. The median annual wage for a PR specialist in Washington state and California approaches $73,000, compared with $66,000 in Illinois, $62,000 in Georgia and $74,000 in New York.
The Ragan survey used U.S. Census Bureau divisions of the nation, combining Maryland and Washington, D.C., with the South. In the nation’s capital, a PR specialist earns a median salary of over $107,000, BLS reports. This drives up the averages across the region.
Differences in cost of living no doubt also explain regional variations in the Ragan survey.
Women’s pay trails
The Ragan survey shows that women’s average compensation for all positions ($94,319) trails that of men ($102,359). Among managers, women’s compensation also falls short, averaging $94,200, versus $99,000 for males.
“We all know there’s an income gap between men and women,” Ylisela says, “but in communications it’s really pathetic, because women dominate the industry. They’re overwhelming numbers, in part because it was a field that opened up to women sooner than some others. So, the fact that they’re still not earning as much as men is really kind of deplorable, in my view.”
Men also report bigger bonuses. Males averaged $7,815 in bonuses last year, nearly $1,400 higher than what women received.
Paychecks are higher for those in internal communications than among their external colleagues. Some 87% of internal communicators earn more than $60,000 a year, whereas 80% of outward-facing teams pocket cash in that range.
A slight majority (54% in both the South and West) express satisfaction with their salaries, but satisfaction levels slip to 50% when respondents are asked whether their pay raises were enough.
This four-point majority of satisfied communicators is nothing to celebrate, Ylisela suggests.
“It’s barely a majority,” Ylisela says. “It’s 11% who are very satisfied, and 43% were satisfied. Which means almost half of the people are somewhat noncommittal or less than satisfied. And in this case, ‘neither satisfied nor dissatisfied,’ to me, means not all that excited about it. … When half the workforce is kind of grumbly about their compensation, I don’t read that as a good thing.”
Internal communicators are more likely to be satisfied (63%) than their external industry colleagues (56%).
“I was being underpaid compared to other managers on my team,” writes one wily participant. “I received another job offer, and my current company gave me a counter-offer to stay.”
Salary satisfaction highest in government comms
If Uncle Sam (or his state equivalent) writes your paycheck, you’re more likely to be satisfied, the survey reveals. Some 61% of government communicators feel their compensation is adequate, compared with 56% in PR agencies, 57% of corporate communicators, and 50% of those working for nonprofits.
“People who work in nonprofits … many of them are there because they know they’re working for something particular cause or a particular mission,” Ylisela says. “That doesn’t mean they don’t want to make more money, but it does mean that they sort of understand what they’ve signed up for.”
Most participants (76%) got a raise in the last year, but bonuses lagged; just 55% say they’ve gotten a bonus. Most respondents (57%) say they got a 1% to 3% increase. Some 23% received a 4% to 7% increase, and the remaining 20% received above 8%.
The 3% figure “sounds more like your basic cost of living increase,” Ylisela says. “Nothing to write home about. … But 23% got actually a pretty significant bump: 4% on up is a real increase.”
Although salaries are higher in the West, bonuses were higher in the Northeast, at $8,400, leading the West by $1,500. The South ($6,109) and Midwest ($5,200) fall even further behind.
Though internal and external communicators may appear to be fraternal twins, those working internally make more than external comms pros, the Ragan survey reveals. Curiously, far more practitioners in PR agencies (71%) feel their salary increase was just right, compared with those in other fields.
In the end, there could be a risk for penny-pinching employers in a tight hiring market. Some staffers dissatisfied with their compensation have jumped ship for better offers.
“Recently changed jobs,” writes one communicator. “Satisfied with my new comp. I was unsatisfied with my former comp, which is why I left.”
Read the complete findings from the Salary & Workplace Culture Survey: 2020 Edition.