Going Rates for Communications Pros in the Kalamazoo Region

Where do you stand?

For example, what’s your level of experience? Are you just starting out? Or do you offer decades of expertise in your field? Do you have experience in a particular niche like sales support, the medical device industry, the food industry, grant writing, etc.? What’s your track record?

What services do you provide? A service like copywriting/freelance writing, photography or graphic design may not garner the same fee per hour as someone who can provide all three. Turnkey services save clients time and should command a higher fee per hour. This is one reason full service agencies are able to charge more.

What level of consultation do you provide? Some clients need a task completed. Others need help and guidance about the best way to approach a challenge, develop a strategy or implement an entire campaign.

Can you expand your reach?

Don’t forget that your ability to work digitally is another factor. Southwest Michigan offers enormous talent that’s often on par with some of the top marketing and communication firms nationally. Yet our cost of living can make us highly competitive compared to other markets. You must consider this when setting fees for projects outside our region. And if you’re not already working outside the region, you should think about expanding your market nationally or globally, if the services you provide enable you to do so.

Health of the industry

It’s also helpful to know your competition and what’s happening within your particular market. The publishing industry, for example, is fiercely competitive in Southwest Michigan and it puts pressure on publishers to keep costs low, which drives down wages for writers, photographers and designers who depend on this industry. This is also an industry that tends to set its fees for service, as opposed to corporate clients that rely on the service provider to establish a cost per hour or cost per project. And it’s an industry that has seen major disruption in the past decade from the introduction of digital technologies and the recession. Writers were hit especially hard. This is another reason to consider your market as being greater than Southwest Michigan, especially for writers. Not every community has such a deep writing bench and it’s an easily portable skill.

So, let’s do the numbers

Variables aside, I realize my colleagues are looking for specific recommendations. Following is what I know about some of the ranges of rates I’ve encountered throughout my career.

Fresh out of college in the mid ˜80s I was hoping to supplement my income as a freelance writer while looking for fulltime work in marketing communications. I interviewed folks at Grand Rapids’ budding The Wordsmiths, which was a new concept at the time. They provide a single-stop resource for commercial writing to the West Michigan market. I was told then that they charged $45 an hour. This was in 1985.

A decade later, during my career in corporate communications for a couple of local manufacturing companies, I worked with several freelance designers and writers and at least two large agencies. I left to start my own firm in 2003, but was paying $125/hour then for an agency that provided a full range of services that included everything from help with strategy and planning to web design, graphic art and copywriting. (Enticed back into fulltime employment in 2004 for a brief time, I hired a copywriter for $65/hour. That same writer is now charging just under $100/hour with a break for nonprofits. On the other hand, I’ve spoken with folks who charge $25/hour and others who charge $150/hour for the same service.)

Employers’ perspective

Here’s some additional data from the client side of the desk. Southwest Michigan First ” the economic development agency for the greater Kalamazoo region ” provides wage estimates to prospective business that may be considering locating in the nine county region of Southwest Michigan. For the category of communications/public relations/advertising, Southwest Michigan First’s wage survey shows that folks working within companies ” as opposed to contract or freelance talent ” with titles drawn from these specialties make an average of $95,284/year. This is based on 53 companies that responded to their questionnaire for this category. The salary average breaks down to an hourly rate of $45.81 with a high of $87.22/hour and a low of $15.22/hour. Keep in mind these wages don’t include benefits, which are typically estimated at an additional 33% of salary above and beyond wages. Find the full survey here.

Relationships: The ultimate value

As you can see, there’s no easy answer or typical fee. My best advice is to find a rate that’s in the ballpark of what I’ve provided. This is what the market is or has borne for the region. The variances are based, I’m sure, on experience, expertise and perhaps most critically the relationship each communications professional has developed with his or her client. At their best, those relationships derive from satisfaction, profit and growth.


Gretchen Johnson is President/CEO of WordPlay Marketing Communications, which specializes in helping individuals and organizations develop messages and tell powerful stories. A common thread among clients is their desire to reach higher ” and connect with and engage their stakeholders ” for the purpose of creating lasting and positive change.