Report: Communicators love a challenge, a clear mission and a decent wage

Ragan’s 2020 Salary and Workplace Culture Survey reveals how communicators rate their compensation, bonuses and workplace perks as well as the factors that lead to job satisfaction.

Ragan's Salary Report

What makes a communicator love his or her job?

The communications field can be demanding, given its long hours, changing targets and short deadlines. There can be pressure to work overtime and weekends, always be available and continually track a changing media landscape.

Technology has disrupted the industry, offering new opportunities for finding audiences—yet also making harsh demands for speed and accuracy.

For many communicators, the value of the work is the No. 1 priority when it comes to job satisfaction. That’s according to Ragan’s Salary and Workplace Culture Survey: 2020 Edition.

Close runners-up are “organizational mission/integrity” and “freedom to pursue new ideas and projects.”

Lisa Osbourne Ross, new chief operating officer for Edelman U.S. and president of its office in Washington, D.C., says the key to creating a great atmosphere for employees is to help them envision their career path.

She says that when she took over the D.C. office for Edelman, she asked questions in four categories:

  • “What are the one or two things that you think we could do better to be a great office?”
  • “What should I not touch?”
  • “How are you? Are you in the right job? Do you feel valued, and do you know what your path forward is? Do you have the resources that you need to do your job?”
  • She says: “The fourth one wasn’t a question, but an offer—which was that I’m here to help.”

Leadership is crucial for an organization seeking to create a culture that works for everyone and encourages talented employees to stick around. Great leaders should focus on creating a strong organizational mission, something that many communicators rank as a top factor when considering a job.

Ross’ colleagues also say great leadership is essential for building a happy workplace.

Cherise Adkins, senior media supervisor for Edelman’s D.C. office, says accessibility sets leaders apart.

“A great office honestly starts with great leadership,” she says, “and I really feel that strong leadership trickles down into like workplace culture.” By being accessible, Adkins says, leaders can help employees along their respective career paths and see their future within an organization. For her, being in an environment where employees are “groomed as future leaders” is “reinvigorating” and “inspiring.”

Money matters

Ross says employees want to feel “valued financially,” as well as recognized for their work and welcomed into a kind and caring environment. According to Ragan’s survey, that financial value might be more attainable depending on your gender and your geographic location.

Salaries lag in the South and Midwest behind coastal workers, and men earn about 8% more than women.

If you’re looking to make a decent living, your odds appear better in internal comms, judging from our survey. Some 87% of internal communicators earn more than $60,000 a year, whereas 80% of external communicators pocketed cash in that range:

Salaries are on the rise for communicators. Most reported a raise within the past year, but not everyone was fully happy with their bump. For example, 46% of nonprofit workers reported being dissatisfied with their increase.

What workers want

Perks are another part of the employment and compensation puzzle that agency leaders are trying to figure out to attract and retain the best talent.

Ross says to keep work fun for employees. “We spend so much time at work,” she says. “People want to enjoy themselves, they want to have fun, and so we worked on a culture that created those things.”

For Ross and her team, creating a great environment for workers also helps foster great work for clients. “I have always believed that when you focus on people, profitability follows,” she says. “When you focus on people, your clients get the best counsel.”

According to the report, top perks for communicators include professional development, working from home, free beverages at work and flexible hours.

When it comes to more traditional benefits, such as health insurance and paid leave, the benefits were so common as to be obligatory for any employer looking to hire communicators.

Authenticity of self

One thing that any organization can do, regardless of its ability to offer fat salaries or outlandish perks, is provide a workplace where employees feel they can be themselves.

For Edelman’s Ross, authenticity is a key part of leadership and creating a winning office culture. She says it is important that employees “know where I stand” and vice versa.

“I am loud and boisterous, and I have a potty mouth, and I wear clothes that reflect my mood,” she says. “I ask other people to do the same.” She argues that many people in the workplace, especially those who don’t easily fit into the mainstream, can come to work and feel they have to comport themselves according to a staid workplace ideal.

“People come to work, and they have to try to slot in,” she explains. “They have to try to fit in to what everybody else is.”

In her opinion, making employees be something that doesn’t come naturally is a recipe for failure in the PR world.

“It’s too much work, because you’re coming in and your first job is trying to fit in, and then you’re doing your second job, which is trying to serve your clients,” she says. “I need you to come right in and serve your clients.”

A great time to communicate

On the whole, communicators are upbeat about their work. As many as 70% rated themselves as satisfied with their jobs, and many are optimistic about the field. Just as many say they are satisfied with their benefits, but there’s room for improvement.

To see how your organization and its salary scale stack up against the rest of the industry, check out Ragan’s full report.

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