Does public relations pay?

Earlier this week, I was asked if a graduate in public relations would be fast-tracked to a higher salary.  This came to mind when reading Flush Times Ahead for PR Pros (link from ) which cites the 11th annual survey by showing rising salaries in the profession in the US. 

The US study shows a particular emphasis on bonus payments at the junior end – where an in-house comms executive salary of $70k (down 1% on a year earlier) is boosted by a bonus of $5,767 – up 27%.  Agency side, is much less rewarding for those starting out in PR.  An account exec receives an average basic of $47k (up 11.8%) with a $2,950 bonus (up 46.5%)

A quick scan of jobs in today’s PR Week (UK edition) shows account assistant salaries around £18k-£20k with some agencies paying less and in-house communication officer jobs slightly higher.  Senior account executive and in-house PR Manager jobs range from mid-£20k to mid-£30k.  There are a couple of director level corporate vacancies at £90k-£120k, but the majority “head of…” jobs carry either a “competitive salary” or a range that covers anything from £37k to £66k.  (Interestingly no mention of bonus payments here.)

Most jobs seek experience (age discrimination legislation means they are not more specfic), but none request membership or a qualification in PR (although many specify general education to degree level). 

[One vacancy for a university lecturer does mentions a professional qualification in PR and/or equivalent industry experience and either membership or ability to become a member of CIPR (as the programme is seeking accreditation from the Institute).]

I’m not sure whether the UK reflects the bouyant PR salaries market indicated by the US data.  My feeling is that times are tough here, especially for consultancies where margins are being squeezed (indicated by the US study where billing rates are rising slowly).  On both sides of the Atlantic, I believe there is increased pressure on working long hours, with unpaid overtime.    

We offer a free JobSearch service to members, and I gather that the biggest challenge for anyone recruiting in PR at the moment is finding good talent. 

Being a member of CIPR and studying for a degree in PR ought to be criteria to highlight those with an enthusiasm and commitment for the profession – but this is not recognised in job adverts.

Regardless of having a qualification in PR – or making the commitment to be a member of a professional body – the key to being rewarded for your talent is to build a personal reputation.  Know your own value – invest in developing skills and contacts – and boost your ability to market yourself. 

There are no guarantees of fast-track salaries for graduates – even if you are fortunate to be recruited onto a corporate or consultancy scheme.   But with good talent at a premium, you can maximise your potential to earn at the highest levels.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

7 thoughts on “Does public relations pay?”

  1. Although not entirely related to this fast-track thread, I had an interview recently in Edinburgh at a consultancy and I asked the question: which do you see as being the better qualification, a communications degree or a specifically tailored CIPR qualification.

    You can guess she said that PR qualifications are obviously the first choice. And more interestingly, I think, she said that the CIPR qualifications don’t each anything that isn’t necessary and that she would welcome anyone who had one.

    In terms of PR consultancies I don’t think a graduate would earn more than someone who isn’t, but a non-graduate wouldn’t be there in the first place if they didn’t have experience of some sort.

    Plus, as you say market yourself, and start it before you graduate. Get writing that student newspaper or volunteer to help organise a uni event.

  2. That is interesting – I think there is something to be said for the intensity of the CIPR qualifications. For the Adv Cert, it provides a solid grounding of theory and practice, and for those who’ve already gained experience, the Diploma adds depth and rigour to practice, management and strategic counsel.

    I do think that undergraduate degrees have some advantages over the CIPR qualifications in terms of the breadth of what is covered – but certainly in the 1st year, I feel University students are finding their adult feet and so don’t necessarily gain as much as when studying PR as a post-graduate qualification.

    For the 4th years at Bournemouth, as I’ve said before, I’d be proud to support any of them in a career in PR.

    You also point out the real dilemma with qualifications – a degree is now the entry point, even if you are going to photocopy and stuff press packs for the first year. It is a shame that good juniors who aren’t academically adept at a younger age aren’t perhaps getting opportunities to show their talents in PR. I think that there should still be the potential for getting in without qualifications – but employers should support those with skill who would benefit from taking a professional or part-time qualification.

  3. I hope that the CIPR diploma is well recognised by all employers, it would be nice to see it mentioned as a requirement or accepted equivalent to other academic qualifications. If that was to happen, I’m sure more people would sign up for it.

  4. With the tight labour market, it seems insisting on any one qualification could be folly. It pays to be flexible and to look for right skills and aptitudes and experience. Formal qualifications are great to have, but not having one isn’t necessarily a deal breaker.

  5. Sherrilynne – you are right that talent shouldn’t be excluded by lack of a qualification. However, talent + qualification + experience + commitment to your chosen profession ought to be a real winner. When experience is mentioned in job descriptions as a criteria, then it is a shame that more recognition isn’t given to other potential assets.

  6. Interesting stuff, especially the comparision of US to UK benefits packages.

    One of my closest friends moved back to the US three years ago and she has what is considered a ‘good job’ there – which comes with 45 hour weeks, two-three weeks holiday, and cuts your leave requirement if you take sick days….

    It might not be the absolute example of a US job, it just demonstrates that a wider benefits comparison is important when comparing any job, (in this case those in different countries).

  7. Serena – you are absolutely right. There is a lot more in comparisons and choosing a job than simply salaries. What was interesting for me was that the only question I was asked by the undergraduate who started me thinking was about how quickly she could earn £25k – but she has probably already a level of student debt to think about.

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