In 2006, I started at $35,000/year at a top global agency in Washington, DC. I believe that the starting salary in this industry hasn't increased much, I've seen $40,000 to $45,000 recently in larger cities like San Francisco and New York City. Starting salary is highly dependent on the size of the agency and the location of the agency. In smaller markets, it can be quite a bit lower. Companies will often have higher starting salaries, but I agree with Michelle, that a candidate's long-term earning potential is higher if they have agency experience. Because the starting salary in PR is fairly low, you should try to ensure that the agency has a clear path for growth and mentorship, that you are working on critical clients , and that you have the ability to constantly gain new sets of skills.
Hi Mel! Great question. One of the best things you can do is make sure you are going to be on an account that is big, healthy, and important to the agency business. At an agency, where there is money, there is generally growth opportunity. You'll also want to make sure that the office you're joining is well run and has a healthy business— there can be wide variations within different offices of one agency. Make sure the hiring manager is able to clearly communicate what a path looks like for a new grad, what training is available, and milestones for growth and success along the way. Find a manager who has successfully risen through the company if you can. She or he will be your best resource, mentor—and hopefully— advocate along the way.