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.

Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment in Social Media

By Debbie Friez

BurrellsLuce and Capitol Communicator

The only way to succeed in social media is to experiment a LOT! One out of 10 tries will be successful and two-three will be somewhat successful says Garrett Graff, Editor-in-Chief, Washingtonian. A panel speaking at the National Capital Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America at the Hamilton, Washington, D.C. on Sept. 18 confirmed his statement. All the panelists look for ways to communicate the experience, especially in relation to food.
Carlisle Campbell, Vice President, Ketchum, speaking about the Thoth Award winning Double Tree by Hilton Cookie CAREavan Across America campaign, said they focused on three key ways to connect to the public: a cookie confessional (video of consumers discussing cookie or Double Tree experiences), swarm car (a Twitter contest for an office cookie party) and an online sweepstakes. The swarm car originally left executives nervous, but eventually showed to provide additional opportunities – like when the Atlanta Associated Press office won, and tweeted their happiness.

With the implementation of the Facebook timeline, Vanessa French, Co-Founder, Pivot Point Communications, advocates using a lot of pictures. She also said Facebook users do not like shortened links, unless they are coming from an established media company. Speaking of pictures, everyone agreed “food porn” is irresistible to the consumer. People love to post food pictures, so organizations should take the lead and post photos to their media properties.

French advocated outreach to local bloggers about events, which she finds can often lead to their blogs becoming testimonials. But, as with all campaigns, the key is to knowing what platforms your audience is using. In reviewing Facebook and Twitter, Graff commented Facebook is for following friends who are strangers and Twitter is for following strangers who are friends.

Amy McKeever, Editor, EaterDC says she stays in-touch with many smaller restaurants through Facebook and Twitter, and she finds Twitter to be a good way to gather news. She doesn’t post news to social media until it is posted to Eater, because her goal is to drive traffic to her site.
Campbell says the debate over creating a website versus a Facebook page is often discussed in their office. Many of his younger colleagues advocate for the Facebook page. French says if you do choose a website, be sure to advocate for a blog, which will help with SEO.

The panel considers Pinterest the new bright shiny tool, and brands need to evaluate it for usefulness for their campaigns. Graff says it is especially useful if you are targeting young women looking to get married, even if the wedding is not imminent. French commented on several non-profits, like the World Wildlife Federation, using it successfully. She also said many men are on Pinterest talking about technology.

An audience member wanted to know if the panelists are using QR codes? French said she pitches them to clients, but they are often not included in the final campaign. Graff feels we are at a low point for QR codes, right now. They are not easy to use, so he says a simple link works just as well. But, he thinks a more advanced universal QR code might be on the horizon?

Debbie Friez can be reached at

Public Relations and Ethics

By Mitch Marovitz, APR

As the chapter’s Ethics committee lead, it seems appropriate to begin a discussion by posting the question of why do we devote so much time and effort to the topic? To what end? Does it help the bottom line?

We like to call our business a profession even though we do not meet several key requirements to be a “profession.” For example, a self-governing body does not license us. Also, while we do have ethical standards, they are not universal. And, there is not a single governing body to adjudicate infractions. There are some good reasons for this I’m told, and they stem from our First Amendment right to free speech. I’m not sure I understand how standards of conduct impede free speech, but I’ll take it as a point of faith in people much smarter than me that it is so.

The history of our practice in America is replete with examples of unsavory behavior, especially during PR’s early history that focused on press agentry and publicity. Those first exposures to our work resulted in lasting impressions and a generalized characterization of our work as spin-doctoring or propagandizing; not so much concerned with the truth as with the well-being of our clients.

Check out this clip about Edward Bernays on the subject of propaganda.

Of course, we’ve come a long way from those early days. The profession—or craft—has moved on and grown. There is now a body of research on public relations and practitioners now focus on developing “mutually beneficial,” or two-way relationships between our clients and their stakeholders. Key among the conditions required for two-way relationships to work, I believe, is trust. For it is only with trust that the organizations we represent and the stakeholders upon whom our organizations depend can move forward together. And trust, I submit, requires ethical behavior in order to grow and flourish.

If you accept the premise of two-way communications as foundational to the success of public relations programs today, then ethical behavior becomes necessary to the success of our work and adds to the bottom line of our firms and our client’s firms. Also, in the midst of a crisis, our clients and managers can’t be wondering if we are telling the truth: too much is riding on the outcomes of our communications. They must trust in our messages and strategies. Conversely, not being ethical has cost many millions of dollars over the years due to court cases and even—for some–jail time.

I certainly understand we always want to have good news for our clients and our stakeholders. But, I also know the news is not always good. It’s hard to tell our clients (or their stakeholders) they may be in the wrong. But, we have to do it…for everyone’s sake. In fact, telling your client bad news may, in fact, gain you more favor in their eyes than if you tried to hide or sugar-coat the truth.) A firm grounding in ethics helps us do the right thing and maintain balance in the relationship between stakeholder and client.

While September is Ethics month, our conversations about ethics should be ongoing. How can it guide us as we guide our clients? How can it help us cope with difficult situations where shades of gray seem the rule? What might we do in specific situations?

It is best to consider these questions before a crisis actually occurs. I’ll look for examples that will help us discuss the shades of gray we often face in the practice of our profession. I’d also like to hear from you about your experiences with ethical issues. Did you consult with peers when you faced such issues? Did you find help in the PRSA Code of Ethics? Let’s discuss these topics together now so we’re all on the “same page” in terms of how we might be expected to respond when the time comes.

5 Tips from the Other Side of the Desk

By Stephanie Bostaph
Five years ago, I was a newly-minted journalism graduate from West Virginia University,
determined to make a difference in Washington, D.C.  I accepted my first job as a staff
assistant for former Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia.  A few years and jobs later, I am now the director of operations for Concepts, Inc., a small, woman-owned communications firm in Bethesda, Md.  Although I am still a young professional, sitting on the other side of the desk gives me a unique perspective and plenty of insight to share about how to best start or advance your career.

1. Be Passionate.

When you enjoy what you do, you give off positive energy. If you don’t like your current job, focus on activities outside of work. During interviews, draw parallels between your skills and interests. At Concepts, our projects make a difference in the lives of others, and during the recruiting process, we look for people who have the same dedication and drive. Talk about how you are training for the Tough Mudder, volunteering in your community or writing a blog about cooking. The things you mention in your interview tell employers a lot about the person they may ultimately hire.

2. Every Job Counts.

Whether you are still looking for a breakthrough into the industry or recently accepted a position, every job matters – even the ones, you may think aren’t applicable to your career. I felt incredibly discouraged after changing jobs twice during my first year after college. Initially, because I discovered that I didn’t want to work in politics, and then, because the car dealer advertising industry was hit hard by the recession.  However, those jobs and the ones after gave me skills that helped advance my career.  My first job exposed me to the inner workings of Congress; my second taught me how to negotiate tough business deals; and the last two (where I worked as a waitress and an unpaid social media intern) built resiliency.

3. Get the Facts Right.

This one is simple – do your homework and remember, the “devil is in the details.”  Make sure you research the company before you apply for the job, and spell the company’s name correctly on your cover letter. We can always tell when someone rushed through the application process, because 90 percent of the time he or she calls our firm “Concept PR.” You only have one chance to make a first impression.

4. Practice Writing.

I am still surprised at the number of writing samples we receive from job applicants that have significant grammar and punctuation errors.  In our industry, above all others, being able to effectively communicate messages is crucial.  During the application process, you need to show employers what you can do for their clients.  The first way we judge your abilities is through the presentation of your cover letter and résumé, and second, through your writing. Now is the time to start practicing, and find others who are knowledgeable about different areas to check your work.

5. And Most Important, “Pay It Forward.”

No one makes it to the top alone.  Friends, mentors, professional colleagues and the Starbucks barista who makes my tall latte every day – they have all contributed to my success.  The number one take away is to “pay it forward.”  Once you’ve gotten your foot in the door, help someone else without expecting something in return.  I can guarantee that you’ll feel rewarded, and who knows where that person may end up some day.

Stephanie Bostaph is the director of operations at Concepts, Inc., a small woman-owned communications firm in Bethesda, Md. She is a proud Mountaineer, West Coast swing dancer and an MBA graduate student at the University of Maryland.

Ask the PRofessor – Advice for young professionals

Question: What advice do you have for young PR professionals/ recent grads to enhance their careers from the start?—W.N.W., Fairfax, Va.

Dear W.N.W.: As a beginning PR professional, you may find that your greatest challenge is to adapt to the demands of your new workplace. You will find the world of work to be quite different from campus life. For one thing, they expect you to arrive on time! For another, they don’t like it if you leave at 5:00 on the dot, as if you couldn’t wait to get out of there. Your style of dress will probably be different, and you certainly could brush up on your manners because you are now working with professionals.

All of that aside, I suggest you go to your first job with the attitude that you are willing to do anything (within reason, of course). Make cold calls to the media? Can do. Conduct tiresome research on an issue? No problem. Assemble media clips and produce a report? Happy to.

Learn everything you can to build on your academic experience, from pitching a story to writing the organization’s annual report, a speech for your boss or an article for the company newsletter. Be sure to volunteer for tasks within your area of expertise, such as using social media to develop relations with target audiences. In that area alone, you may build up a reputation and a niche that will keep you employed for years to come!



The “PRofessor” is Fred Whiting, APR, 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.

Trivial PRsuit

By Andrea Slesinski, PRSA-NCC PRONet Committee

What do the father of modern public relations, the CEO of BP, and the 1960 Kennedy/Nixon presidential debate have in common? Each topic symbolizes a special stop on a magical trivia tour through PR fundamentals and case studies – new and old – planned for PRSA-NCC’s first-ever PR Trivia Night Wednesday, August 15.

The free event, to be held 5:30 – 8:00 p.m. Wednesday, August 15, at the National Press Club’s posh Reliable Source bar (529 14th Street, NW, Washington) will quiz the trivia faithful on PR fundamentals, Election Year PR, DC history, and other random facts. One lucky team will be crowned PR trivia champions and earn ultimate bragging rights.

Regardless of whether you bring home PR gold, some fabulous prizes await. To start, we’ll be raffling off three pairs of a free season for you and a friend that includes one pass in the Fall recreational sports leagues from our sponsor, United Social Sports. What is this United Social Sports thing, you ask? For starters, it’s not your average Thursday night bowling league: it’s kickball, skeeball, bocce ball, and more, with a backdrop of some of your favorite spots and watering holes across DC, Maryland, and Virginia.

We’ll also be giving away a pair of Nationals tickets and some swag from our friends at, a must-read, tongue-in-cheek take on politics, sports, music, and other happenings inside the beltway that matter most (you know, like the latest food truck to join Food Truck Friday in Farragut Square!).

So dust off that PR 101 college text, re-memorize that AP Stylebook, and download the last 10 podcasts of NPR’s “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!”, you’re going to need all the useful PR knowledge you can get for this clash of the strategic communications titans.

The registration is capped at 50 attendees, so register today. Be there, or be a PR trivia square!

Andrea Slesinski, @aslesinski, PRO-Net Committee member. A confirmed PR nerd (and recent transplant from the Buckeye State), Andrea has been tearing it up on Twitter since 2008, keeps an AP Stylebook next to her computer at all times, and gets a thrill out of finding typos in the newspaper. In the meantime, she’s the Communications Manager for the American Society of Hematology, where she heads up science and policy media relations, social media, Web content, and more.

Overhaul Your Personal Promotion This Summer

August recess is quickly approaching and that means a quiet(er) month for many DC workers. So if you’re about to find yourself with a few less meetings and need help filling your time, consider a revamp of your self-promotion approach.

1. Update Your Resume. You may not be actively looking for a new job, but it’s a good idea to keep your resume up-to-date. Before moving to DC, I had worked at the same agency for 5 years and hadn’t updated my resume in as much time. Take it from me, you don’t want to let that much experience build up and then suddenly have to boil it down to a few key points. Use some of your free time to think of specific, tangible actions you’ve achieved in the last year and add them to your resume. This will help you jump start a job search once you are ready to start looking, or even help you prepare to ask for a raise or promotion with your current employer.

2. Create a Website. Public relations has absorbed a lot of digital responsibilities, so it only makes sense for a PR pro to have their own website. Creating your own site may sound a little intimidating, but don’t fret! WordPress is extremely user-friendly and allows anyone to easily build a site without having to know the difference between a div class and id. If you still need a little help getting started, my friend Jessie has written a free e-book to help guide you through choosing a domain name and the installation. You also need to decide what to do with your site. You can blog, create an extension of your resume, or do both. Add a website link to your resume and potential employers can look at writing samples or campaign case studies before you even get a call to set up an interview.

3. Network! Go to that industry happy hour you keep putting off because of long days or late meetings. You never know when those new connections will pay off, so get out there and meet people. If you need a networking event to get started, look no further than PRONet! We’re having a trivia night on August 15 at The National Press Club. Join us, win prizes and meet new people!

Recess and a calmer DC are around the corner, and you have a roadmap to overhaul your personal promotion tactics. Now it’s time to get started!

By Heather Stegner, @PlumHeather, PRONet Committee. Heather traded Idaho mountains for DC monuments a year ago this month. She is an Idaho Vandal, comic sans hater, dog lover and Story Partners team member.