Public Relations Tactics

Examining Agency Compensation

December 1, 2017

[shaun wilkinson]
[shaun wilkinson]

By Katharina Muehlbauer and David Rockland, Ph.D.

As we think back over 2017 and the work we did at Ketchum Global Research & Analytics (KGRA), one of the studies that was particularly important and illuminating was the Best Places to Work survey for The Holmes Report.

The study with Holmes allowed us to look at what determines how much someone is paid at a PR agency. In other words, while we may hypothesize (correctly) that women are paid less than men in public relations, is that due to gender or other factors, such as education, tenure or job type?

We collected data from more than 50 agencies in North America (and in Western Europe and Asia) and received 5,580 U.S. responses, a robust sample. We learned that if the PR profession were a person, then she would be a well-educated, white, millennial woman who works in New York City. Here are some of the summary stats:

  • Women — 71 percent  
  • City with most PR people — 31 percent (New York City)
  • Millennials — 65 percent
  • White — 83 percent
  • Bachelor’s degree or more — 96 percent

We decided to build a model to determine what drives compensation. While the PR world says that it values diversity and inclusion, when it comes to paychecks, is this true? Sadly, it isn’t.

We used a technique called “regression analysis” to determine what causes annual total compensation, such as tenure, responsibilities, education, gender and ethnicity.

When you build this kind of model, you have to establish an average employee to measure differences from. So, we picked Katharina since she fits the profile almost perfectly — albeit with a master’s, which most other PR professionals don’t have. So, for this analysis, the average employee is a white, female millennial with a master’s degree working in New York City. This person makes an average of $55,212 a year in her current role (without tenure factored in).

And, here is what our analysis showed:

  • On average, men make $6,072 a year more than women when all other variables are held constant. This effect takes place from age 40 onward, suggesting an impact from women stepping away from the workplace to have children in their 30s.
  • Non-white PR professionals make an average of $9,302 less than white professionals when all other variables are held constant (such as tenure, education, role and gender). Hispanic PR professionals are impacted by this the most, while there is less of an effect on African-Americans, Asians or other minorities.
  • On average, professionals make about $7,606 for each additional year that they work in public relations. Traditional PR roles commonly earn around $6,000 per year less than specialist roles.
  • Surprisingly, one’s field of study doesn’t matter much (but business degrees pay more), albeit the amount is statistically insignificant. PR pros with master’s degrees earn around $5,279 a year more than those with only bachelor’s degrees. Counted over the length of one’s career, this means that obtaining a master’s is worth it.

The modeling we did is strong, explaining 75.4 percent of what causes compensation (r-squared for you stats lovers). However, it does not account for a number of factors — effects of becoming a parent, sampling issues from the low numbers of non-whites in the profession, and tenure in other roles.

Nonetheless, we can confidently say that gender and ethnicity affect what salary one makes at a PR agency. As we look toward 2018, we hope that this research helps drive a conversation toward making public relations a profession that is more representative of the publics that it works with, and that PR pros are compensated accordingly. 

Katharina Muehlbauer is a senior research associate at Ketchum Global Research & Analytics. She works with a wide range of clients, including Cleveland Clinic, Philips, IATA and Mastercard. Reach her at

David Rockland, Ph.D., retired as CEO of KGRA on July 31, and continues as a part-time chairman. He and his wife, Sarah Dutton, have also started their own research and consulting firm to work with Ketchum and other clients at


Lucy B. Siegel says:

Just a note: 2016 research by PR Week showed that women in PR earn less than men starting very early in their careers. With less than five years of experience, the median salary for men in PR was $55,000 compared to $49,000 for women. That’s a 12.25% gap. This shows significant sex bias right from the getgo, especially considering research that shows women get higher grades in college than men.

Dec. 5, 2017

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