Public relations professionals are charged with helping journalists tell stories — their stories. Time to return the favor.
The 208,030 men and women employed in PR in the U.S. in 2014 earned $64,050 on average, or an hourly wage of $30.79, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Public relations — and fundraising — managers earned almost twice as much, $115,400, but their data is not included in our study.)
After reviewing more data from 337 cities, we found that life as a PR specialist varies in more than one way.
5 best cities for PR specialists
Of the 337 cities under consideration, these five earned our best score. They span five different states in three different time zones. Life as a PR specialist is different in each of them, but altogether, life is good.
1. Washington, D.C.*
With the country’s highest location quotient, a metric pointing to the demand of a PR professional’s services, and the highest annual average salary ($97,270), D.C. takes the top spot on our list. Home to some of the most image-conscious companies — and people — the capital has its fair share of employers in both the public and private sectors. They even have their own modestly-named Meetup group, where we imagine the war stories are told and heard.
*Statistical region includes Arlington, Va., and Alexandria, Md.
2. New York*
The most populous city in the nation, New York City unsurprisingly has the most positions in PR, with 19,470. To put that number into perspective, the average American city has just 565 PR jobs. New York City, joined by in-state peers Albany and Ithaca in our top 25, is also home to 79% of New York’s PR jobs. Edelman, the self-proclaimed "world’s largest public relations firm," had 5,308 employees in 2014, the year it registered nearly $800 million in net fees.
*Statistical region includes White Plains, N.Y., and Wayne, N.J.
3. San Francisco
San Francisco makes up for having the highest cost of living in the U.S. — it’s 100% more expensive to live here than it is in the average city — with the third-highest annual average salary ($83,530).
With its proximity to Silicon Valley startups, San Francisco, which paces California cities Sacramento (seventh), San Jose (14th) and Los Angeles (14th) among our study’s top 20, is a popular summer internship spot for versatile students. The city is also home to many senior-level PR professionals. The San Francisco Public Relations Round Table celebrated its 75th anniversary last year.
*Statistical region includes San Mateo, Calif. and Redwood City, Calif.
4. Madison, Wis.
The least-concentrated city among our top five — there are just 1,210 PR jobs here — Madison comes in fourth. The only city from Wisconsin to rank in the top 80, it beat out more media-heavy Midwestern cities like Chicago. Like other locales with strong PR presences, Madison has the benefit of a strong chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, which is based in New York and has 21,000-plus members nationally.
5. Austin, Texas*
The only city from Texas to rank in the top 20, Austin is home to one of the country’s most PR programs, the University of Texas at Austin’s Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations. It’s one of 17 universities in the state with programs for aspiring PR students. Only New York (31), Pennsylvania (30) and California (17) have more. On the data front, Austin is the most affordable city on the list, being 2% cheaper to live here than in a given American city.
*Statistical region includes Round Rock, Texas, and San Marcos, Texas.
Top 30 cities for PR specialists
Cost of Living
|2||New York, NY||$71,550||19,470||2.35||168||13|
|3||San Francisco, CA||$83,530||3,490||2.09||200||15|
On topic: what is it like to practice PR in your city?
It’s not completely about the data; there’s also a human element to how hospitable a city is to a given professional. We polled PR specialists from seven cities about this very question. Here’s what they had to say.
New York (#2)
"In New York, there is an abundance of creative talent and unique organizations. To make yourself and your client stand out, you truly have to think outside of the box and really find a creative edge. While this can be difficult at times because of how big New York can feel and how many talented people live and work here, it also makes it exciting and makes me work harder to find bigger and better success for clients." —Jess Camp, Blue Foundation Media
"The challenge of working in live entertainment in New York is that you’re constantly competing with a hundred other events that look and sound just like yours. Because of the sheer number of things going on, there is an overload of information that makes it hard to stand out in a journalist’s mind." —John Capo, John Capo Public Relations
"New York City is the best place to be a publicist because the city is like a pressure cooker of media. Aside from being the No. 1 media market in the country, the variety of media means that publicists have to learn how to seamlessly pitch a national TV show versus a professional trade magazine versus a non-traditional online influencer.
"The attention of the media here is extremely sought-after, which means there are high expectations for publicists to be the best at what they do in order to cut through the chaos and build relationships. On the other hand, it also means that there's a huge amount of opportunity to learn, grow and develop your career. Also, being in New York means that publicists — more so than in any other city — have access to top celebrities, nationally-recognized events and one-of-a-kind programs.
"I have friends in other cities who are in PR, and what I’ve typically found is that there’s a much more local focus to their work. Because there’s not the immediate access to national media, their clients and work tend to skew to the media in their immediate area. However, I do have friends, especially in L.A. and Chicago, who do work with the national media, but have to travel to New York in order to do any in-person networking." —Tyler Williams, Alterna Haircare
"New York is the hub of the world’s media. It’s the ultimate PR testing ground. I have collaborated with PR agencies and publicists across North America and would say that the quality of life they enjoy is probably better, though their professional perspective tends to be behind the trends curve and a little less global." —Norah Lawlor, Lawlor Media Group
"We're based in Northern Westchester, so being a relatively short train ride from the city, we arrange media days for clients there with various media based here. It's an advantage to other PR firms." —Bill Bongiorno, BlueChip Financial Public Relations
Los Angeles (#14)
"Being an entertainment publicist in Los Angeles is great because there are always events to take your clients to. Also, many journalists are based here, so it’s great to be able to pop into their offices, say hello and connect with them regarding your clients. —Melinda Jackson, JAG Entertainment
"We actually work with clients all over the United States, and even internationally. I’d say the challenge of PR in a large market like Seattle, Tacoma (where I live now) or the San Francisco Bay Area (where I grew up and started my PR career) is that competition is fierce and it’s harder to get local recognition for your clients in those markets." —Erika Taylor Montgomery, Three Girls Media, Inc.
"In Phoenix (and elsewhere), many digital agencies attempt to add public relations to their services offering list, and they are horrible at it. There are very few holistic public relations agencies that get it, and even fewer corporations based here that can fully grasp the benefits of public relations and execute it well. You’re on your own out here and have to build a network outside of Phoenix, both with media contacts and industry peers." —Chris Piper, DriveTime
"Since I’ve done a lot of work with country music artists, a lot of folks think I’m based in Nashville, Tenn. But, really… it doesn’t matter these days. I have worked with artists from Canada, the U.S. and Sweden. I’ve had artists from Alaska, Washington, Missouri, Nashville and others. I’ve only ever had one artist from Pittsburgh. It’s a global market, and everything is at the click of a mouse, so it shouldn’t matter where you’re from if you know what you’re doing and you have the contacts." —Michael Stover, MTS Management Group
"Chicago is great for PR — it doesn’t feel as overwhelming as New York City or Los Angeles, and you can build real relationships with the media, fans. And if you work in sports, Chicago is an amazing sports town." —Dan Lobring, rEvolution
"I’ve worked with the Chicago media for almost 30 years… Chicago has so many fabulous restaurants. I specialize in representing restaurants and food products. We are huge foodies in Chicago, and I just love that about our city." —Andrea Foreman, Andrea Foreman PR
"Chicago has a tremendous media presence that is only matched by New York and L.A., so I think it makes life a bit easier since we have so many great media sources right here in our hometown. If you want to work in PR agencies, we have plenty of those; if you want to work corporate or in-house, we have plenty of opportunities for those types of positions, too." —Bill Ames, Triumph Books
"Being a PR specialist in Chicago gives you incredible access to an abundance of outlets and sources. Being in a larger city as a PR specialist has its perks. I have friends who are based in L.A. and Miami. Their access to resources is endless. There can also be an advantage to growing your client base. Larger city equals a larger population, which could mean more opportunity." —Danielle Sorresso, The Media Group, Inc.
Fort Lauderdale, FL (#65)
"Our specialization isn't as much regionally-based, but industry-based. We have made ourselves leaders in the retail sector and those that are selling services and products to retailers. New York and L.A. are always leading cities in PR due to the entertainment nature of L.A. and the number of corporations based in New York. However, we have found that firms that have selected particular niche industries seem to do well no matter where they are located." —Kelly Coughlin, Annex Communication
These were the three key questions we asked in coming up with the list.
1. What can PR specialists earn in the city?
We ranked the best cities for PR specialists based on the median annual pay. Income is likely the most important factor people consider when starting their career or relocating elsewhere. A high salary in an expensive city, however, may be less attractive than a lower salary in an affordable town. Our next metric takes affordability into consideration.
2. How affordable is it to live in this city?
Now that we have the median salary, we’ll look next at the cost of living. The cost of living is a measure of how far earnings can be stretched. Cities with lower cost of living index numbers ranked higher in our study. For example, the average city is benchmarked at 100. A city with a cost of living index of 157, such as Washington, D.C., would mean that generally speaking, living expenses are 57% more expensive compared to the average city.
3. What is the location quotient for PR specialists in the city?
A place with a high median salary and low cost of living may seem perfect, but job opportunities may be limited. Our third factor accounts for this by favoring cities with high location quotients. Location quotient measures the concentration of PR specialists in an area as a percentage of all occupations, and then compares that to the national average. We interpret a higher location quotient to mean a relatively higher demand for a PR specialist's services.