On November 15, 2018, our own J.W. Arnold joined us for lunch to present results of the most recent “State of Indie Business” national survey run by the PRSA Independent Practitioner Alliance (IPA) professional section. You may know J.W. as the 2019 PRSA Sunshine District Chair, but he also was 2018 Immediate Past Chair of IPA and has been an independent practitioner himself since 1999. Over the years, he has helped many people starting out on their own as PR consultants. They have all asked him the same question: “How much should I charge?”
That is one of the key questions that the anonymous State of Indie Business survey sets out to answer in a systematic way every year as it tracks all the relevant trends in the independent practice of PR across the country. In 2018, 162 people completed the survey out of around 250 members in the IPA section, plus PRSA general membership and members of the Solo PR Pros group. Some of the answers continued to describe indie practitioners in the same way as previous years: a majority female group of people in big media markets in the West and Northeast of the country. There were also a few surprises.
Let’s start with the answer to that key question: rates are going down. The average rate in the survey is now $124 per hour, down from the $130s in previous years. Answers were spread between $25 and $300 per hour, denoting a very broad array of working arrangements. Projects in the corporate, SMB and nonprofit business sectors, still the majority, have gone down, while projects in agencies and other organizations have gone up. “Media relations” was the key service provided, followed by the more general “Communications.” 57% of participants are hiring subcontractors. The information left us scratching our heads.
One theory is that, as newsrooms continue to shrink, media relations services become less effective, pushing indie practitioners into new service areas to help their customers retool their communication plans. That could explain why rates are going down while services spread out. One bit of data that matches this theory is that more indie practitioners have talked of using coworking spaces, the typical work environment of the “gig economy.” The resulting innovation should be good for PR. Whether that theory proves true or not, future “State of Indie Business” surveys should help us continue to evolve PRSA offerings to match the upcoming needs of independent practitioners.