Public relations specialists promote the interests of organizations by encouraging good interactions with customers and the public. Most people think of public relations specialists in a business context, but these professionals also advocate for nonprofits, universities, and political campaigns, just to name a few. In all of these venues, the job of a public relations specialist is to communicate effectively with people who are interested in or affected by the organization.
The tasks performed by a public relations specialist vary by job. Many public relations specialists spend their days talking on the phone and drafting press releases. Public relations specialists promote positive stories about their organizations to members of the media, and, if something goes wrong, try to put the best face on the problem.
A public relations specialist also develops programs to encourage communication with the public. For instance, a corporate specialist might arrange for employees to perform some volunteer work in the community. Large organizations will often have a team of public relations specialists, each of whom handles a different task. For instance, some public relations specialists spend almost all of their time answering questions for members of the media.
Public relations specialists must obtain a combination of education and experience in order to succeed. Almost all beginning public relation specialists have obtained a bachelor’s degree in public relations, communications, journalism, or marketing. In some cases, however, it is useful for the job seeker to have obtained a degree or at least completed coursework in an area associated with the work of the employer. For instance, many public relations professionals specialize in science, technology, or finance.
While in school, public relations specialists are well advised to complete apprenticeships and internships. The world of public relations is based on networking, so the connections developed during these unpaid or low-paid work experiences are essential to building a career. The public relations departments of universities are a great source of information about these apprenticeships and internships. It is also common for aspiring public relations specialists to work on a school newspaper or television station. This combines experience in the news business with the development of communication skills.
There are a few professional certification programs for public relation specialists, though none of these has acquired universal recognition within the field. The International Association of Business Communicators offers a certification for public relations specialists who have a bachelor’s degree in communications and at least five years’ experience in the field. This certification requires the candidate to pass both written and oral examinations and submit a wide-ranging portfolio. The Universal Accreditation Board awards certification to public relations specialists who pass a readiness review and a special examination. Again, to earn this certification, one must have at least five years of experience in the field of public relations.
After a few years in the business, successful public relations specialists will be given more responsibility and complex assignments. Those who continue to thrive may be put in charge of entire departments. Many public relations specialists eventually go on to begin their own firms.
Public relations specialists on salary make an average annual income of about $51,000. The top 10 percent of earners, however, make more than $100,000 a year. Public relations specialists tend to earn more than average if they are involved in the management of businesses or in advertising. Those who work in academia make a little bit less.
The job prospects for aspiring public relations specialists are excellent. The demand for entry-level professionals in this field should be very high, much greater than the overall average growth of the economy. In particular, there will be a demand for bilingual applicants with experience in specialty areas. Many companies are focusing on social media as a means of communicating with customers, so there are likely to be jobs in this area as well. The sector of public relations that will experience the most growth is advertising. One great way to improve the likelihood of getting a good job is to get a degree in public relations or a related field and take on an internship while in school.