Ask the PRofessor – Calculating an Hourly Rate

(Q) I am an experienced PR professional with a preference for internal communications. I left my job in March and after dealing with some family stuff for my elderly father, I am now resuming my job search. While I’m looking, I want to pick up some project work. In doing so, I’ve been asked what my hourly rate is. I’ve gotten conflicting information about what is standard for a senior-level internal communications professional and know that most work is paid on a project basis, not hourly. Can you help me with a standard hourly rate for this area? Do you have any guidance on a formula for
project-based rates as well? Help!—MCS, Burke

Dear MCS: This is a difficult thing to calculate, because there are so many variables. How much money do you want? How much do you need? How long will it take you? And of course, how much is the client willing to spend?

One way to respond is to ask the client first what they’re willing to pay, either on a project or an hourly basis. If it is the latter, be prepared to suggest how many hours it will take you. Then negotiate what you both think is a reasonable fee for your work. Often a flat fee is more comfortable to both the client and the freelancer than an hourly wage.

Another approach is to simply take your annual salary from your last job and break it down into a hourly wage, and then multiply it by a factor of two to three. That will help make up for the fact that you aren’t in a salaried position and will help cover “down times” between projects.

Ultimately, however, it all depends on how much money you believe you will need at this stage of your life, working on a part-time basis, and how much the client is willing to pay. Somewhere in between you will probably find an answer that will satisfy both of you. And it may lead to more project work, which we hope will result in full-time employment. Good luck!


The “PRofessor” is Fred Whiting, APR, Fellow, PRSA, a long-time PRSA-NCC member, chair of the Mentoring Committee and an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland and Hood College in Frederick. Fred will answer questions personally and publish some in the chapter’s website and blog.

Do you have a question about public relations? Ask the PRofessor! Submit your questions here or you can leave public questions/comments below.

One thought on “Ask the PRofessor – Calculating an Hourly Rate

  1. MCS, the average PR consultant charges about $150 hour, which is on the low end for this area, and you will see rates between $125 and $300 range, depending on the consultant. It is not uncommon for independents to charge slightly less to nonprofits. Independents who charge retainer fees typically charge retainer fees of $3500 – $5000 a month. The locally based IPRA puts out a survey that includes information on hourly rates but I believe the information is just for members. Might be worth your while to join.

    The larger PR agencies might charge $300-$750/hour, $20,000 to $40,000 a month for major accounts. The average (national) rate for a PR CEO from a larger agency is just over $500/hour, for a smaller agency is $300/hour and for an acct. exec. is $183/hour. I would imagine DC rates to be higher than the national average. Public affairs and healthcare PR are the major account areas in DC and those tend to be more expensive.

    I wrote a blog post on what PR professionals working for agencies and for corporate communications departments earn in the DC area, so you might want to check that out, if you choose to apply formulas to calculate your hourly rate.

    Temporary employees with PR experience — less experienced than yourself — earn about $50/hour on short-term assignments and the agency gets half of that amount.

    A lot of independents charge fixed fees for projects, which clients like, of course. Most of my work is fixed fee and I collect a 50% deposit up front. Determining what people tend to charge for typical fixed fee PR projects is harder to guestimate, because the scope of each project is different. Fees for a press release or short PSA typically start at $300 and can be much more. $10,000 starting for writing a speech or annual report — can be much more. The fee to write a brochure might start around $2,000, email newsletter w/3 short articles, maybe $1,000, website copy starting $300/page. These are just rough guidelines. Some charge less, plenty charge more. The economy, though, and what people can pay. That is always a factor.

    While most independents around here sell on quality and experience, they also sometimes convey that they are a value alternative to PR agencies.

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