CEOs and Politics
What's PR?

Who is PR?

Keep-calm-i-m-a-pr-specialistPublic Relations is one of those "knowledge businesses" where the company's assets go down on the elevator every night. So it's surprising how relatively little we have known about those assets on an industry-wide basis.

But now the MIT Media Lab's "Data USA" app has made Census Bureau data accessible enough that even a liberal arts major can begin to get a better handle on just who is practicing public relations.

It's also possible to analyze occupations from actuary to welder and to explore such questions as "the characteristics of powerful occupations." (Spoiler alert: PR specialist is not among them.) 

The data on Public Relations Specialists is mostly drawn from the Census Bureau's latest American Community Survey. Here are some highlights:

  • There are 117,499 public relations specialists in the U.S., most of whom (20%) work for agencies. The second industry with the largest proportion of PR people is education. About 8% of us work in colleges and universities.
  • On average, PR specialists are 39.9 years old. Men are an average 5 years older than their female counterparts. There are more women in PR than men, accounting for 63% of positions.
  • On average, women appear to age out at about 30 years old; men, at 55. On the other hand, according to the Census Bureau, 21 female PR practitioners have an average age of 95; 20 male practitioners have an average age of 88. At the other end of the scale, 60 men in PR have an average age of 16; 20 women, an average age of 17. 
  • PR specialists make $77,147 a year, a little less than locomotive engineers and a little more than market researchers. Interestingly, wages are more evenly distributed in the public relations industry than in the overall workforce.
  • Wages for PR specialists are highest in Delaware, Virginia, and Connecticut, undoubtedly reflecting where people live rather than where they work. The region with the highest concentration of PR specialists is Washington, D.C.
  • The highest paying industries for PR specialists are motion pictures ($185,000), electronic stores ($184,000), banking ($149,000), and telecom ($143,000). The lowest paying is retail ($27,000).
  • 83% of PR specialists are white, compared to 75% of the overall workforce. Only 8.5% are black, compared to 11% of the overall workforce. And only 3.5% are Asian, compared to 5.6% of the overall workforce. On the other hand, the PR industry does well by people of American Indian heritage -- they account for 0.8% of PR specialists compared to 0.5% of the overall workforce. (Note: "white" appears to include Hispanic, for whom there is no separate category.)
  • The three most common college majors PR specialists pursue are communications (39%), social science (11.8%), and business (11.7%). On the other hand, a relatively high proportion of PR people majored in cultural and gender studies. 
  • According to an analysis by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the two most valuable skills PR specialists are expected to have are social perceptiveness and speaking. Close behind are critical judgment, reading comprehension, time management, decision making, and active listening. Curiously, writing skills are only the 8th most desired skill, about as important as persuasion and negotiation.

My take-away? Public Relations is a young business, skewing female but with fewer people of color than it should have.

If the future belongs to those with skills in human behavior and data analysis, as a recent Arthur W. Page Society paper suggests, we have a long way to go. Only 11.8% of PR Specialists majored in social science; 4.6%, in psychology; and 1.6% in computer science. 



Public relations practice in Kenya is really growing. We now have more ladies than gents in the practice. slowly the C-Suite guys are seeing the need to have PR professionals in that boardroom!

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