An industry ready to move: 2020 Salary Survey

Salaries are up, as is the confidence of a workforce better positioned to demand more from employers, finds the PRWeek/PR Talent Salary Survey.

On a big upswing. That summarizes the state of the PR workforce versus years prior, in terms of both their compensation levels and the number of job offers they are fielding, according to findings from the 2020 PRWeek/PR Talent Salary Survey.

“Candidates are being bombarded left, right and center with employment opportunities,” says Jim Delulio, president of PR Talent. He cites the strong U.S. economy, retirement of boomers and comms’ increased status within corporate America as factors to “the tightest market for talent we’ve seen in our 20 years.”

The median salary for a comms pro is now $100,000, which is up almost 9% from 2019, based on the survey’s 1,184 respondents. Furthermore, more pros than last year say they changed jobs in the past 12 months, while more anticipate doing so in the next year. Even the numbers of those willing to relocate domestically for a new job rose notably year on year.

“Employers, especially PR agencies, could bleed a lot of talent,” explains Delulio, noting agencies are in competition with in-house departments for talent like never before.

“It’s definitely a competitive market, but there is also a lot of comms talent looking,” agrees Liliana Esposito, chief communications officer at Wendy’s. “We recently filled two new roles and I was impressed by the caliber of candidates and their diversity of experiences.”

Giving them what they want

While the reflexive move is to throw money at acquisition and retention challenges, the survey uncovered a wide gap between what employees crave and what they are getting. This helps explain why so much talent is willing to make a move.

For starters, only 44% of respondents are satisfied with the career opportunities at their current company, down from 48% in 2019. And only 39% said “training and career development” is included in their overall benefits package, even though 77% believe it should be a crucial part.

Clearly, employers need to do better at providing their workforce with opportunities to learn, improve and ascend. “The last thing you want them to think is, ‘I am just a cog in a big wheel,’” says Delulio.

This applies especially to millennials, who see job hopping as the quickest ticket to career growth. “While folks used to stay at least five to seven years with one employer, now it’s two or three,” says Scott Allison, cofounder, global chairman and CEO at Allison+Partners. “It’s a generational thing. You must look at ways to get millennials to stay longer.

“They yearn for training, learning and a career path, but they also want a lot of feedback,” adds Allison, noting an important feedback loop is performance reviews with built-in check-ins throughout the year.

Performance reviews are golden opportunities to develop employees and hone their career path. However, more than one in three of the 83% who received an annual review said it was not beneficial to their professional development.

Tina McCorkindale, president and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations, says reviews can often feel like nothing more than a “pat on the back” or “very subjective without really being insightful for the employee.” She says this is especially true of reviews only done annually.

Johnson & Johnson has implemented a performance and development framework that gives employees “at least five career conversations with their manager throughout the year,” says Michael Sneed, the pharmaceutical giant’s EVP, global corporate affairs and CCO. “We also regularly remind employees and leaders alike how impactful informal conversations can be.

“Regular feedback, support and coaching gives employees a clear roadmap to success,” he adds.

Employers would also be in good stead to help their workforce grow beyond their current role in the organization.

Both Johnson & Johnson and Wendy’s assign comms staff to special, short-term and “stretch” assignments.

Wendy’s also organizes for staff training and networking events in partnership with other companies. “Everyone benefits — our training budget gets multiplied by adding companies’ other resources together, and the team gets to experience a broader range of industries and experiences,” explains Esposito.

The staff at GCI Health are invited to pitch internal initiatives they are passionate about, which has led to teams working on culture, diversity and inclusion and women’s mental health.

It also thinks beyond client work in their training programs, which this year includes nutrition counseling, financial management, CPR training and self-defense courses.

“It makes a big difference if people feel cared about and taken care of by their employer, both personally and professionally,” says Wendy Lund, CEO of GCI Health. Her assertion is supported by the firm’s success in attracting talent last year — nearly 70 new hires in the U.S. — and retaining them. Its turnover rate last year was 2%, down from 5% the year prior.

Stop hunting unicorns

Pros say an investment in providing training can also help with talent acquisition
in a unique way. Rather than searching fruitlessly for a unicorn of a candidate (or, if found, getting into a bidding war with rival offers), employers can hire talent who fill most of the job requirements.

If the perfect fit for a role is a square peg, Delulio says consider “hiring a round peg and fill in the corners with training and having that person grow into the role. The search for talent then becomes more about hiring a smart communicator with a passion for learning.” Unfortunately, he says “a lot of companies aren’t understanding it is a candidate-driven market.”

Employers should also note a troubling result in the survey: When asked to consider cost of living and future earnings potential, only 34% said they felt very confident they would remain in PR long term. Industry leaders hypothesize that this speaks to rising housing, commuting and childcare costs in big PR hubs such as San Francisco and New York City.

“Many people in big cities have really long commutes. We are talking 10 or more hours a week,” notes McCorkindale.

Even with salaries continuing to rise more than inflation, benefits such as flexible work schedules, telecommuting and maternity programs remain as crucial as ever for people to feel as if they can flourish in the industry.

“These things are a must today,” says Delulio. “Employers have to make it attractive for talent to stick around.”

Click here to receive your copy of the Salary Survey 2020 premium edition.


The PRWeek/PR Talent 2020 Salary Survey was conducted by Morning Consult and completed by 1,184 PR pros between November 6 and December 13, 2019. Respondents were 66% female/33% male/1% preferred not to answer. The surveys were conducted online. Results have a margin of +/- 3%. 2020 chart figures indicate 2019 data. All data was collected from this year’s survey respondents. Numbers represent median rather than mean.

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