IPA Provides Useful Information about the Advertising and Public Relations Services Industry

Advertising and Public Relations Services


  • California and New York together account for about 1 in 5 firms and more than 1 in 4 workers in the industry.
  • Competition for many jobs will be keen because the glamour of the industry traditionally attracts many more jobseekers than there are job openings.
  • Layoffs are common when accounts are lost, major clients cut budgets or agencies merge.


Firms in the advertising and public relations services industry prepare advertisements for other companies and organizations and design campaigns to promote the interests and image of their clients. This industry also includes media representatives—firms that sell advertising space for publications, radio, television and the Internet; display advertisers—businesses engaged in creating and designing public display ads for use in shopping malls, on billboards or in similar media; and direct mail advertisers. A firm that purchases advertising time (or space) from media outlets, thereafter reselling it to advertising agencies or individual companies directly, is considered a media buying agency. Divisions of companies that produce and place their own advertising are not considered part of this industry.

There are 47,000 advertising and public relations services establishments in the United States. About 4 out of 10 write copy and prepare artwork, graphics, and other creative work, and then place the resulting ads on television, radio or the Internet or in periodicals, newspapers or other advertising media. Within the industry, only these full-service establishments are known as advertising agencies. Almost 1 in 5 are public relations firms. Many of the largest agencies are international, with a substantial proportion of their revenue coming from abroad.

Most advertising firms specialize in a particular market niche. Some companies produce and solicit outdoor advertising, such as billboards and electric displays. Others place ads in buses, subways, taxis, airports and bus terminals. A small number of firms produce aerial advertising, while others distribute circulars, handbills and free samples.

Groups within agencies have been created to serve their clients’ electronic advertising needs on the Internet. Online advertisements link users from one Web site to a company’s or product’s Web site, where information such as new product announcements, contests, and product catalogs appears and from which purchases may be made.

Some firms are not involved in the creation of ads at all; instead, they sell advertising time or space on radio and television stations or in publications. Because these firms do not produce advertising, their staffs are mostly sales workers.

Companies often look to advertising as a way of boosting sales by increasing the public’s exposure to a product. Most companies do not have the staff with the necessary skills or experience to create effective advertisements; furthermore, many advertising campaigns are temporary, so employers would have difficulty maintaining their own advertising staff. Instead, companies commonly solicit bids from ad agencies to develop advertising for them. Next, ad agencies offering their services to the company often make presentations. The real work for ad agencies begins when they win an account. Various departments within an agency—such as creative, production, media and research—work together to meet the client’s goal of increasing sales.

Widespread public relations services firms influence how businesses, governments, and institutions make decisions and, in so doing, affect the lives of all Americans. Often working behind the scenes, these firms have a variety of functions. In general, firms in public relations services advise and implement public exposure strategies. For example, a public relations firm might issue a press release that is printed in newspapers across the country. Firms in public relations services offer one or more resources that clients cannot provide themselves. Usually this resource is expertise—in the form of knowledge, experience, special skills or creativity, but sometimes the resource is time or personnel that the client cannot spare. Clients of public relations firms include all types of businesses, institutions, trades, and public interest groups and even some high-profile individuals. Clients are large and small for-profit firms in the private sector; bodies of State, local or Federal Government; institutions, such as hospitals, universities, unions and trade groups; and foreign governments or businesses.

Public relations firms help secure favorable public exposure for their clients, advise them in the case of a sudden public crisis and design strategies to help them attain a certain public image. Toward these ends, public relations firms analyze public or internal sentiment about clients; establish relationships with the media; write speeches and coach clients for interviews; issue press releases; and organize client-sponsored publicity events, such as contests, concerts, exhibits, symposia and sporting and charity events.

Lobbying firms, a special type of public relations firm, differ somewhat. Instead of attempting to secure favorable public opinion about their clients, they attempt to influence legislators in favor of their clients’ special interests. Lobbyists often work for large businesses, industry trade organizations, unions or public interest groups.

The vast majority of firms in the public relations services segment are small, primarily because new firms, particularly those engaged in consulting and public relations, can easily enter the industry.

In an effort to attract and maintain clients, advertising and public relations services agencies are diversifying their services, offering advertising as well as public relations, sales, marketing and interactive media services. Advertising and public relations services firms have found that highly creative work is particularly suitable for their services, resulting in a better product and increasing their clients' profitability.


Most employees in advertising and public relations services work in comfortable offices operating in a teamwork environment; however, long hours, including evenings and weekends, are common. There are fewer opportunities for part-time work than in many other industries; in 2002, 14.5 percent of advertising and public relations employees worked part time, compared with 15.8 percent of all workers.

Work in advertising and public relations is fast-paced and exciting, but it can also be stressful. Being creative on a tight schedule can be emotionally draining. Some workers, such as lobbyists, consultants and public relations writers, frequently must meet deadlines and consequently may work long hours at times. Workers whose services are billed hourly—such as advertising consultants and public relations specialists—are often under pressure to manage their time carefully. In addition, frequent meetings with clients and media representatives may involve substantial travel.

Most firms encourage employees to attend employer-paid time-management classes. This helps reduce the stress sometimes associated with working under strict time constraints. Also, with today’s hectic lifestyle, many firms in this industry offer or provide health facilities or clubs to help employees maintain good health.

In 2002, workers in the industry averaged 34.2 hours per week, a little above the national average of 33.9.


The advertising and public relations services industry employed 442,000 workers in 2002. An additional 56,000 workers were unincorporated self-employed workers.

Although advertising and public relations services firms are located throughout the country, they are concentrated in the largest States and cities. California and New York together account for about 1 in 5 firms and more than 1 in 4 workers in the industry. Firms vary in size, ranging from one-person shops to international agencies employing thousands of workers. However, more than half of all advertising and public relations establishments employ fewer than 20 employees.

The small size of the average advertising and public relations services firm demonstrates the opportunities for self- employment. It is relatively easy to open a small agency; in fact, many successful agencies began as one- or two-person operations.

Almost three-quarters percent of advertising and public relations employees are 25 to 54 years of age. Very few advertising and public relations services workers are below the age of 20, which reflects the need for postsecondary training or work experience.


Management, business, and financial workers; professionals and related workers; and sales and related workers account for nearly 6 of every 10 jobs in the industry. Employees have varied responsibilities in agencies with only a few workers and the specific job duties of each worker often are difficult to distinguish. Workers in relatively large firms specialize more, so the distinctions among occupations are more apparent.

Within advertising and public relations, the account management department links the agency and the client. It represents the agency to the client, as well as the client to the agency. Account management brings business to the agency and ultimately is responsible for the quality of the advertisement or public relations campaign. Account management workers carefully monitor the activities of the other areas to ensure that everything runs smoothly. Account managers and their assistants analyze competitive activity and consumer trends, report client billing, forecast agency income, and combine the talents of the creative, media and research areas. The creative director oversees the copy chief, art director and their respective staffs. The media director oversees planning groups that select the communication media—for example, radio, television, newspapers, magazines, Internet or outdoor signs—to be used to promote the organization, issue, or product.

In public relations firms, public relations managers direct publicity programs to a targeted public. They often specialize in a specific area, such as crisis management—or in a specific industry, such as healthcare. They use every available communication medium in their effort to maintain the support of the specific group upon whom their organization’s success depends, such as consumers, stockholders or the general public. For example, public relations managers may clarify or justify the firm’s point of view on health or environmental issues to community or special interest groups. Public relations specialists handle organizational functions such as media, community, consumer and governmental relations; political campaigns; interest-group representation; conflict mediation; or employee and investor relations. They prepare press releases and contact people in the media who might print or broadcast their material. Many radio or television special reports, newspaper stories and magazine articles start on the desks of public relations specialists.

Working with an idea that account management obtains from the client, the creative department brings the idea to life. For example, an ad agency’s staff works together to transform a blank piece of paper into an advertisement. As the idea takes shape, copywriters and their assistants write the words of ads—both the written part of print ads as well as the scripts of radio and television spots. Art directors and their assistants develop the visual concepts and designs of advertisements. They prepare pasteups and layouts for print ads and television storyboards, cartoon-style summaries of how an advertisement will appear. They also oversee the filming of television commercials and photo sessions. Graphic designers use a variety of print, electronic and film media to create designs that meet clients’ commercial needs. Using computer software, they develop the overall layout and design of print ads for magazines, newspapers, journals, corporate reports and other publications. They also may produce promotional displays and marketing brochures for products and services, design distinctive company logos for products and businesses and develop signs and environmental graphics—aesthetically pleasing signs that deliver a message, such as a sunset to advertise a beach resort. An increasing number of graphic designers develop material to appear on the Internet.

Workers in the research department try to understand the desires, motivations, and ideals of consumers, in order to produce and place the most effective advertising or public relations campaign in the most effective media. Research executives compile data, monitor the progress of internal and external research, develop research tools, and interpret and provide explanations of the data gathered. Research executives often specialize in specific research areas and perform supervisory duties. Market research analysts are concerned with the potential sales of a product or service. They analyze statistical data on past sales to predict future sales. They provide a company’s management with information needed to make decisions on the promotion, distribution, design and pricing of products or services.

Media planners gather information on the public’s viewing and reading habits, and evaluate editorial content and programming to determine the potential use of media such as newspapers, magazines, radio, television or the Internet. The media staff calculates the numbers and types of people reached by different media, and how often they are reached. Media buyers track the media space and times available for purchase, negotiate and purchase time and space for ads and make sure ads appear exactly as scheduled. Additionally, they calculate rates, usage and budgets. Advertising sales agents sell air time on radio and television and page space in print media. They generally work in firms representing radio stations, television stations, and publications. Demonstrators promote sales of a product to consumers, while product promoters try to induce retail stores to sell particular products and market them effectively. Product demonstration is an effective technique used by both to introduce new products or promote sales of old products because it allows face-to-face interaction with potential customers.

Office and administrative support occupations accounted for 3 out of 10 jobs in 2002. Positions ranged from secretaries and administrative assistants to financial clerks. The occupational composition of this group varies widely among agencies. The remaining jobs in the industry were in service, construction and extraction, production, transportation, and installation, maintenance and repair occupations.


Most entry-level professional and managerial positions in advertising and public relations services require a bachelor’s degree, preferably with broad liberal arts exposure.

Beginners in advertising usually enter the industry in the account management or media department. Occasionally, entry-level positions are available in the market research or creative departments of an agency, but these positions usually require some experience. Completing an advertising-related internship while in school provides an advantage when applying for an entry-level position; in fact, internships are becoming a necessary step to obtaining permanent employment. In addition to an internship, courses in marketing, psychology, accounting, statistics and creative design can help prepare potential entrants for careers in this field.

Assistant account executive, the entry-level account management position in most firms, requires a bachelor’s degree in marketing or advertising. At some agencies, a master’s degree in business administration may be required.

Bachelor’s degrees are not required for entry-level positions in the creative department. Assistant art directors usually need at least a 2-year degree from an art or design school. Although assistant copywriters do not need a degree, obtaining one helps to develop the superior communication skills and abilities required for this job.

Assistant media planner or assistant media buyers also are good entry-level positions, but almost always require a bachelor’s degree, preferably with a major in marketing or advertising. Experienced applicants who possess at least a master’s degree usually fill research positions. Often, they have a background in marketing or statistics and years of experience. Requirements for support services and administrative positions depend on the job and vary from firm to firm.

In public relations, employers prefer applicants with degrees in communications, journalism, English, or business. Some 4-year colleges and universities have begun to offer a concentration in public relations. Because there is keen competition for entry-level public relations jobs, workers are encouraged to gain experience through internships, co-op programs or one of the formal public relations programs offered across the country. However, these programs are not available everywhere, so most public relations workers get the bulk of their training on the job. At some firms, this training consists of formal classroom education but, in most cases, workers train under the guidance of senior account executives or other experienced workers, gradually familiarizing themselves with public relations work. Entry-level workers often start as research or account assistants and may be promoted to account executive, account supervisor, vice president and executive vice president.

Voluntary accreditation programs for public relations specialists and management consultants, respectively, are offered by the Public Relations Society of America and the Institute of Management Consultants. Both programs are recognized marks of competency in the profession and require that workers have been employed in the field for several years.

Employees in advertising and public relations services should have good people skills, common sense, creativity, communication skills and problem-solving ability. Foreign language skills have always been important for those wanting to work abroad for domestic firms or to represent foreign firms domestically. However, these skills are increasingly vital to reach linguistic minorities in U.S. cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Houston and Phoenix. New media, such as the Internet, are creating opportunities to market products, but are also increasing the need for additional training for those already employed. Keeping pace with technology is fundamental to success in the industry. Besides staying abreast of new technology, advertisers must keep in tune with the changing values, cultures, and fashions of the Nation.

Success in progressively responsible staff assignments usually leads to advancement to supervisory positions. As workers climb the organizational ladder, broad vision and planning skills become extremely important. Another way to get to the top in this industry is to open one’s own firm. In spite of the difficulty and high failure rate, many find starting their own business to be personally and financially rewarding. Among the self-employed, advancement takes the form of increasing the size and strength of the company.


In 2002, non-supervisory workers in advertising and public relations services averaged $602 a week—significantly higher than the $506 a week for all non-supervisory workers in private industry.

In addition to a straight salary, many workers receive additional compensation, such as profit sharing, stock ownership or performance-based bonuses.

Only 2 percent of workers in advertising and public relations services belong to unions or are covered by union contracts, compared with about 15 percent of workers in all industries combined.


Competition for many jobs will be keen because the glamour of the advertising and public relations services industry traditionally attracts many more jobseekers than there are job openings. Employment in the industry is projected to grow 19 percent over the 2002-12 period, compared with 16 percent for all industries combined. New jobs will be created as an expanding economy generates more products and services to advertise. Increased demand for advertising and public relations services also will stem from growth in the number and types of media outlets used to reach consumers, creating opportunities for people skilled in preparing material for presentation on the Internet.

On the other hand, employment growth may be tempered by the increased use of more efficient nonprint media advertising, such as Internet or radio, which could replace some workers. Employment also may be adversely affected if legislation, aimed at protecting public health and safety, further restricts advertising for specific products such as alcoholic beverages and tobacco. In addition to new jobs created over the 2002-12 period, job openings also will arise as workers transfer to other industries or stop working.

Layoffs are common in advertising and public relations services firms when accounts are lost, major clients cut budgets or agencies merge.

Industry data is republished with permission by the Bureau of Labor Statistics

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