Public Relations Professions
Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated December 2010
Account management - public relations
Working directly with the client, this role involves writing press releases, planning events, tracking trends for media coverage opportunities, representing the client/company at press conferences, writing speeches for the company’s CEO, and submitting client products for industry awards. Generally, a bachelor’s degree will lead to more opportunities, as will internship experience and of course practice in the field.
For years, corporate PR was considered to be exclusively for damage control during events like the Exxon Valdez or the Tylenol cyanide scare. Whenever a CEO had problems with the press, the white knights of corporate PR came to the rescue to help avert a worse catastrophe. Corporate PR groups still perform this function. However, the work of corporate PR groups is much broader than just handling crisis management. Corporate PR groups now manage corporate spokespersons, serve as experts on media training and public appearances and coach CEOs as they prepare for media appearances and event marketing. The corporate PR group is also known for initiating major press coverage in industry and business trade publications, as well as corporate-focused articles in general interest magazines like Time, Newsweek or Vanity Fair. PR professionals also develop relationships with government officials and lobbying groups that may have influence over legislation affecting the company’s growth and development. Often, this group works with outside public relations agencies like Edelman Worldwide, Bozell or Hill & Knowlton.
Someone who works in media relations is invested in keeping the public informed of an organizations policies, mission, etc, in a manner that keeps the organization in a positive light. Working in media relations means coordinating with those involved in producing news segments and mass media features. The ultimate goal of media relations is getting lots of positive coverage without having to pay for ads.
Public relations - other
Can you think analytically? Do you work well under pressure? Does imagination and creativity ooze from your every pore? Combine these traits with great communication skills, self-confidence, diplomacy and superb organizational and planning skills and you just might have what it takes to be a public relations professional. PR reps understand public perception and can structure their efforts to address whatever type of audience they’re addressing, whether it’s a minority group, disgruntled shareholders, or parents concerned about Product X’s sugar content. Public relations firms have a larger purpose than publicity agencies, and often manage all the communication efforts - both external and internal - of a client company. This entails trumpeting successes, releasing news and figures, softening scandals and spinning failures or disappointments to maintain a positive company image.
It’s also important for a PR professional to build relationships with tech and new media reporters. Doing so will keep them on top of current events, especially those concerning Internet-based companies where industry trends change often and with little warning. The up-and-coming next-best-thing online increasingly turns to a public relations firm to manage its "brand," both before and after attracting investors. Some PR firms deal solely with Internet-based companies, applying the usual skills to promote an online service or a site.
An agency can specialize in one or more disciplines such as consumer relations, corporate communications, brand marketing, crisis management, event marketing, media relations, product placement, or reputation management. A PR firm may also specialize by industry, working with companies in financial services, health care, high tech and the Internet, or sports. Working conditions Long hours, including evenings and weekends, are common. In 2006 the U.S. Department of Labor reported that more than 65 percent of advertising, marketing, and public relations managers worked upwards of 40 hours a week, so be prepared to put in the time. Substantial travel may also come with the territory; for example, you may need to be present at meetings sponsored by clients or their industry groups, or fly to meet with special interest associations or government officials in times of crisis.
Many colleges and universities have established public relations degree programs. Graduating with an English or communications degree can also be useful. You can contact a local or campus chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) to latch onto further information about working in this field. It’s also a good way to locate internships and personal contacts that may be helpful in a future job search. The Public Relations Student Society of America and the International Association of Business Communicators are other fine sources. The PRSA offers an accreditation program for specialists who have at least five years of field experience and have passed a comprehensive six-hour evaluation. Most employers look highly on candidates that hold the merit badge of a PRSA certificate which signifies a degree of professional seriousness. For other information online, try About.com or Chief Marketer.
A big part of your job will be writing press releases, reviewing published articles (to make sure your company is accurately portrayed in the media), pitching story ideas to reporters, fielding requests from writers, setting up interviews and creating and distributing media kits to the press. Better established PR firms have honed their methods over many years, and have developed structured learning opportunities and a clearly-defined career path. Grab bag PR is a very hot industry right now, especially for technology and Web-based firms. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the PR field will grow faster than average, by 18 percent through 2016, in part due to the increasingly competitive business environment. The number of applicants for entry-level positions is expected to continue to outpace the job supply, making those with education or experience more valuable commodities.
According a former executive at Ogilvy PR Worldwide (New York), a typical day goes something like this: 7:00 a.m. Scan/watch the national morning shows and read WSJ and NYT - 9:00 a.m. Check and respond to mega-amount of emails from the following night - 9:30 a.m. Conference call with Client #1 and team re: project and budget updates - 10:00 a.m. Attend a creative "brainstorm" for a new business opportunity - 11:00 a.m. Budget meeting with team leader for a new project for Client #2 - 12:00 p.m. Meet with marketing group management regarding staffing and billable hours - 12:30 p.m. Lunch with a health and nutrition reporter from a leading consumer magazine - 1:30 p.m. Respond to new business inquiries and investigate opportunities - 2:00 p.m. Client #3 meeting to discuss messaging and strategy for new product launch - 4:00 p.m. Check mega-emails again before the end of the day - 4:30 p.m. Respond to Client #4 regarding alternative media strategy for their launch - 5:00 p.m. Review new business target list and allocate action items for next day - 6:00 p.m. Think about dinner - 6:30 p.m. Dent expense reports for the past month - 7:30 p.m. Finally leave the office to eat - check email one last time.
People considering the field of public relations can expect: 40-60 hour work weeks, a median salary for public relations specialists of $47,350 or a mean annual salary for public relations managers of $92,250 with top earners garnering $145,600 and above. Skills required of the job are: excellent writing and speaking skills, creative thinking, and strong research skills
Publicists are the cheerleaders for obscure personalities and the spokespeople for high-profile clients. They must generate press coverage for their clients to get them maximum exposure. They also must maintain positive relationships with journalists to ensure that the media will be receptive to their pitches. Radio and television special reports and magazine feature articles can often be traced back to an independent publicist or public relations firm. Specialists also plan events and programs such as speaking engagements, and may be called upon to write speeches for politicians and business executives.
Hobnobbing with celebrities is one of the draws of being a publicist, but most entry-level workers soon find out that before they can enjoy such perks they have to endure long hours of grunt work. Though the pay is not high compared to other industries, they find the fast pace and interesting work stimulating. Good publicists are courted by the press and by potential clients, and the pros enjoy a degree of celebrity themselves.
One of the most popular ways for a publicist to break into the business is to work in a public relations firm. (PR firms are broader in scope than publicity agencies, and are often charged with juggling a firm’s entire communication profile, relating to both the public and its own workers.) Most major firms have departments that serve different industries, and smaller firms often specialize in several related businesses. Public relations firms tend to pay pretty well - more than book publishers or nonprofit companies - and usually offer structured learning and a clearly-defined career path. If you know you’re interested in a specific company, you can work for its in-house corporate communications, investor relations or publicity department. You get a different kind of satisfaction working from inside the company you are promoting. For instance, working in publicity for a publishing house is a perfect job for people who love books and reading. Book publicists schedule book tours, work to get authors’ books reviewed and think up ways to get writers and their work featured in as many media outlets as possible.
In larger corporations or decent-sized public relations firms there are formal training programs for new hires. In smaller firms, the newbies will work closely with a supervisor or as part of an experienced team. Each environment has its advantages: Publicists in smaller firms generally get a broader career education while specialists who work for multi-million dollar organizations receive deep training in one highly-specific area. Anywhere one starts, the tasks at first are largely simple ones (maintain company activity files, scan printed and Web-based accounts for appropriate articles, compile facts for speeches and brochures); later on, after gaining some experience, recent hires may write news releases and articles, or assist in various ways on more involved campaigns. After years building their reputation and amassing industry and client contacts, many publicists start their own agencies. Compensation is said to be better for publicists working in educational institutions than at an average company or non-profit. The median salary for publicists is higher in Los Angeles - and higher still in San Francisco - than in New York City.
“Basically, in agencies, we work in teams,” explains an account executive in a high-tech PR firm, “so there are people from every level, from account coordinator to VP. It really helps you learn about the business and understand how your work fits into the big picture.” Responsibilities might include writing press releases, preparing for product launches, and setting up conferences. “To do well in this business,” adds another agency contact, “you have to be very detail-oriented. You have to catch things before the client does, and you have to keep track of a lot of administrative things. You have to document every phone call, remember everything you said to everyone, and remember what they said to you. PR manages communications and deals with crises - so you can’t be the ones making the mistakes.” PR professionals also have to be sensitive and relationship-oriented, not only with clients, but with the media. “You have to respect journalists,” warns a contact. “Some journalists hate PR people. They even have journalists come in during our training program to discuss their pet peeves about the process.” Another thing you need to work in PR is a sense of humility. “You are always behind the scenes,” says a book publicist. “You need to be comfortable with that.”
People considering becoming publicists can expect 50-hour work weeks, an average entry-level salary of $32,000 and $52,800 after 5 years. Required skills are an English or communications degree, superb writing skills, and an aptitude for creative thinking.
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