PR, not lobbying, increasingly choice of influence in DC

WASHINGTON — There has been a major shift in the business of public policy influencing in Washington in recent years, and public relations now leads the pack.

PRUnderground, an online news release distribution service, points to explosive wage and employment growth in public relations in Washington. It notes in 1999, there were more than twice as many lobbyists than PR professionals in D.C., but that ratio has now inverted.

In the last 17 years, the number of public relations jobs in Washington has increased by an astounding 325 percent, compared to 58 percent on the national level. Washington also leads for new job creation in the PR business since the financial crisis, up 65 percent from 2008 to 2016.

The growth in public relations versus lobbying is being driven by new thinking about the most efficient ways to get the message out in D.C.

“Companies and trade organizations are going straight to the public through big TV campaigns and online campaigns, versus just focusing on influencing legislators through lobbying firms,” Brian Scully, owner of PRUnderground, told WTOP.

It is also a one-two punch, since advertising and marketing in the Washington market not only reaches the public, but also still reaches legislative influence leaders.

“You get more bang for your buck. You get the public and the legislators instead of just going to the legislators,” Scully said.

The pay for public relations work in Washington has also grown, even for lower-level public relations positions.

“A PR specialist, which is more of a nonmanagement position, had an average salary of $93,700 in D.C. in 2016. Nationally, it is just $58,000 for the same role,” Scully said.

A D.C. PR manager makes an average $162,000 versus about $107,000 nationally.

D.C. has the highest concentration of PR jobs, the most well-paid ones, and the highest growth, but Maryland secures the second spot for public relations job growth, up 257 percent since 1999, according to PRUnderground.

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