PR practitioners make more money than journalists: Is this fair?

In some cases, junior PR professionals earn higher salaries than experienced reporters. Does this fuel animosity towards the public relations profession?

Every reporter and PR person knows there exists a love/hate relationship between the two factions.

Public relations people annoy reporters with impersonal, spammy, spray-and-pray pitches. Journalists don’t like PR professionals paid to peddle people and products. Cutesy alliteration grates on their nerves.

PR folks, on the other hand, sometimes find reporters rude, unresponsive, and occasionally sneaky, such as when they agree to a client briefing based on topic X, and immediately pivot to topic Y once the PR lead makes the intros. Classic sandbagging. Then there’s the whole problem of embargoes—as in, they’re rarely honored anymore, as most PR agencies have learned (and been burned) the hard way.

But there may be something more to the bad blood, perhaps unconsciously, on the part of reporters. This new wrinkle hadn’t occurred to me until my recent tweet got a reaction from a business/tech reporter that gave me pause.

Here’s the exchange I had with a reporter named Celeste:

I don’t know which publications Celeste writes for, but she was clear that newspaper reporters in particular aren’t necessarily raking in the dough. This isn’t surprising, given the major upheaval in the print newspaper business in the last 15 years or so. In fact, “those in the newspaper and publishing industry make $39,130 on average,” according to Eric Strauss of DemandMedia, who wrote about the Bureau of Labor and statistics data from 2011.

“The average annual salary for a reporter is $43,640 a year or $20.98 an hour … [meanwhile] … The top 10 percent of reporters earn $75,420 or more a year, while the bottom 10 percent earn as little as $20,000 a year or less,” he wrote.

The bottom 10 percent of reporters brings in an income that hovers on the poverty line for a family of three, were that the only source of income.

Compare that with the earning power of PR people. According to the PR Daily Salary and Job Satisfaction survey, 26 percent of PR professionals earn between $50,000 and $75,000. Another quarter of people in the industry earn between $35,000 and $50,000. Just 19 percent—the vast majority of whom are newbies—make less than $35,000, the survey found.

Even better for PR people, the vast majority of them got a raise last year and expect another one this year, according to the PR Daily survey.

Meanwhile, a recent salary survey by the Public Relations Association of America found that account executives earn about $52,000 annually.

What this data shows is that even fairly junior PR pros often earn as much or more than seasoned journalism veterans. Those who rise through the ranks of PR agencies can easily earn double the salary of tenured reporters in the highest paying jobs.

I was a hardscrabble general assignment reporter back in the day, working for a couple of mid-sized dailies and occasionally writing columns for outfits like the Boston Globe. I made the move to “the dark side” in 2000, when it became clear to me that the pathway to a higher income was hardly assured. In fact, it would be the exception.

Fast forward to today. If I hadn’t switched sides and was a reporter with 15-plus years under my belt, I think I’d feel a twinge of annoyance when a fresh-from-college PR-type earning more than me peppers my inbox with SPAM and then follows-up with five phone calls and three more emails asking if I got the original email.

What do you think—does the disparity in pay contribute to the tension between the two groups, which undoubtedly need each other to thrive? Does the salary data surprise you?

Parry Headrick is vice president of marketing and communications at Matter Communications. A version of this story first appeared on the company’s blog.

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