PR industry salaries revealed: How much top firms like Edelman, MSL, and Teneo pay employees, from account executives to managing directors

  • Around 270,000 people worked as PR specialists in the US as of 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • PR firms have cut hundreds of jobs due to the pandemic-related downturn, but the field remains high-paying and intensely competitive.
  • To find out how much some top firms pay, Business Insider analyzed the US Office of Foreign Labor Certification's 2019 disclosure data for the largest independent and holding company-owned PR firms.
  • Salaries range from $62,000 for a senior account executive at finance-focused Prosek Partners to $420,000 for a managing director at consulting firm FTI Consulting.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

About 270,000 people worked as public relations specialists in 2018, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of May 2019, their median annual pay was $61,150.

PR salaries can vary widely. A VP at privately-held consulting and PR firm Teneo can earn $205,000, while the same role at Publicis' MSL brings in a base salary of $165,000.

Competition in the job market is more intense than ever as top firms like Edelman, Ketchum, and Weber Shandwick have cut jobs in the face of the pandemic.

Independent and holding company-owned firms alike still pay top dollar for international talent. They are required to file paperwork for all employees on visas, and the US Department of Labor's Office of Foreign Labor Certification releases that information for all employers every year.

Negotiations for the salaries below are based on "prevailing wages," or the minimum amount companies must pay people for the jobs in question. In most cases, the salaries are considerably higher than the prevailing totals, which the Department of Labor uses to protect US employees' wages and prevent educated immigrant labor from accepting lower pay to get visas.

Some of the industry's largest firms did not apply for any visas during fiscal year 2019, which ended in March 2020. But Business Insider analyzed the latest available data from dozens of those that did file for permanent green cards and temporary H-1B, H1B1, and E-3 visas to offer an overview of what employees around the industry make in different roles.

These numbers don't include every type of visa or pay rates for US-born employees or include any form of compensation beyond base salary.

Spokespeople for all the firms listed either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.

Edelman, the industry's largest firm, paid a VP, tech and media specialist up to $155,000

Edelman is the world's largest PR firm by organic revenue, bringing in $892 million in 2019. The company employs around 6,000 people in more than 60 offices worldwide from China to its headquarters in Chicago.

In June Edelman cut 390 jobs, or 7% of its global workforce, and reduced salaries after clients in the travel, hospitality, and auto industries significantly cut their spending.

These are salaries and salary ranges for a variety of jobs across Edelman's US offices:

  • Analyst, digital intelligence: $67,000
  • Director: $101,774
  • VP, operations research: $105,997
  • Senior business analyst: $113,630 to $115,211
  • Manager, enterprise systems: $151,000
  • VP, technology media specialist: $135,000 to $155,000

Holding company-owned firms Marina Maher Communications and Hotwire paid VPs $170,000 and $185,000

Visa data is somewhat limited for the largest ad holding companies because they spend less recruiting international PR talent than they do for traditional advertising, which makes up a much bigger share of their business. At Omnicom, for example, PR accounted for only 9.2% of overall revenue in 2019.

Still, listings across WPP, Omnicom, IPG, Publicis, and Havas provide a clear range of salaries at top firms:

  • Graphic designer, Havas Formula: $75,000
  • Senior account executive, MSL, Publicis: $77,000
  • Executive support manager, Hill + Knowlton Strategies, WPP: $76,211
  • Senior DevOps engineer, BCW, WPP: $88,000
  • Senior analyst, Ogilvy Public Relations, WPP: $70,000 to $95,000
  • Director of strategic communications, Glover Park Group, WPP: $145,854 to $150,000
  • Senior planner, Golin, IPG: $135,000 to $155,000
  • VP, MSL, Publicis: $165,000
  • Global VP, fabric care, Marina Maher Communications, Omnicom: $170,000
  • SVP, strategy and development, healthcare, BCW, WPP: $178,000

Smaller holding companies like Enero Group, which owns Hotwire PR, Next 15, which owns M Booth, and Project Worldwide, which owns Praytell, also hired workers on visas.

  • Senior director, marketing analytics and insights, M Booth, Next 15: $130,000 to $145,000
  • VP, account strategy, Praytell, Project Worldwide: $145,000
  • Executive creative director, Praytell, Project Worldwide: $158,434 to $175,000
  • VP, global finance, Hotwire PR, Enero: $185,000

Independent firms APCO Worldwide and Mission North paid a specialist and an SVP $115,000 and $205,000

Some independent firms also brought on overseas talent, including APCO Worldwide, the second-largest independent firm behind Edelman, as well as specialized shops like Prosek Partners, which handles comms for some of the world's largest financial services companies, and crisis firm Sard Verbinnen & Co, which is backed by private equity firm Golden Gate Capital.

Here are salaries and salary ranges at several independent firms:

  • Senior account executive, Prosek Partners: $62,000
  • Associate, finance public relations, Sard Verbinnen & Co.: $75,000
  • Account supervisor, Racepoint Global: $79,000
  • Senior consultant, corporate communications, APCO Worldwide: $80,000
  • Comms specialist, Prosek Partners: $80,000
  • Senior associate, Sard Verbinnen & Co. LLC: $114,999
  • PR specialist, APCO Worldwide: $115,484
  • SVP, Mission North: $205,000

The PR divisions of consulting firms ICF, FTI, and Teneo paid top executives up to $420,000

Consulting firms with PR specialty divisions offer some of the industry's top-paying jobs.

ICF Next is part of consulting firm ICF International. It has applied for more visas than many larger organizations after forming from the 2019 merger of firms based in the US, Brussels, and the UK. FTI Consulting is a management consulting firm that advises its clients across restructuring, technology, and high-stakes moves like mergers, acquisitions and corporate crises.

FTI reported revenue for its PR business dipped 3.8% year-over-year to $56.9 during the second quarter. For the full fiscal year of 2019, its PR revenue jumped 18.3% year-over-year to more than $243 million.

Teneo is a PR firm that only works with CEOs and charges monthly retainers up to $250,000; past clients have included Uber's Travis Kalanick and Dow's Andrew Liveris. Last year, it sold a majority stake to CVC Capital in a deal that gave the agency a valuation of more than $700 million.

These are salaries and ranges for PR jobs across ICF Next, FTI, and Teneo:

  • Associate, organizational design and change management, ICF Next: $68,250
  • SEO search strategist, ICF Next: $70,031 
  • Senior consultant, FTI New York: $100,000
  • Senior business analyst, ICF Next: $105,000
  • Business intelligence engineer, ICF Next: $120,000
  • Associate, Teneo: $63,000 to $126,000
  • Senior solutions engineer, ICF Next: $131,858
  • Senior director, FTI Washington, DC: $155,000
  • VP, Teneo: $205,000 to $215,000
  • Managing director, FTI New York: $300,000
  • Managing director, FTI California: $420,000

Read more about the top PR firms:

  • Edelman insiders describe layoffs at the PR giant after the CEO promised there wouldn't be job cuts
  • Meet the 27 most influential fixers in public relations at companies like Google, Microsoft, and Nike
  • PR firms are seeing a significant uptick in crisis work as more companies seek guidance in navigating responses to the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement

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