Choosing your career path is arguably the most important decision of your life. But how do you know what a job is actually like if you’ve never had any experience working it?
If you landed on this blog post, you’re probably considering a career in public relations. The work definitely appeals to you, but you’re not entirely sure it’s the right choice. What if you realize it’s not actually your passion?
To help you answer these tough questions, we created this public relations career guide that’ll describe what exactly public relations is, the different career paths you can pursue, the industry’s salaries, internships, and the disciplines a public relations degree will cover.
Read on to find out if a career in public relations is right for you.
What is Public Relations?
Public Relations can be boiled down into two main responsibilities: promoting a brand and protecting it. On the promotional side of PR, professionals help businesses or individuals develop a positive reputation with the public through various unpaid or earned forms of communication, like placements in traditional media, social media, and blogs. On the protective side of PR, they help their company or clients maintain their public reputation or defend it during crises.
PR is unique because it allows brands to build a relationship with an audience through credible sources, like trusted news outlets.
But free publicity isn’t easy to get. Since journalists need to write stories that resonate with their own audiences, public relations professionals have to account for the interests of news outlets when they develop their PR strategy.
Another challenge in public relations is protecting a company or client’s reputation in the digital age. Humans have a negativity bias, which helps us be more aware of threats, so, naturally, negative news grabs and holds our attention better than positive news. It also fuels the virality of bad news on social media and Google, so it’s crucial for PR professionals to quickly react to any negative claims about their brand and mitigate the damage.
Careers in Public Relations
Promotional Side of Public Relations
On the promotional side of PR, your main job is to convince the media to write a positive story about you through press releases, story pitches, and press conferences. You can also manage your online and local community relations, handle investor relations, and even be your brand’s spokesperson.
Here are some roles you can pursue on the promotional side of PR:
The content creation team usually crafts positive stories about their brand that the media relations team pitches to journalists. These stories can also pique journalists’ interest on their own, like a press release about a major company merger. A member of this team writes press materials, bylined articles for news outlets, and can even make brand awareness videos.
The media relations team develop and maintain relationships with journalists, so they can pitch stories to them and seek out interview opportunities for their executive team. They also track all their press, social, and blog placements and measure and report their PR campaign’s effectiveness.
Social Media Community
The social media community team tracks and manages their company or client’s image on social media. They use social listening tools to gauge the company’s public reputation, and to bolster it, they interact with their social media following, make company announcements on social media, and find social media influencers to promote their brand.
The community relations team makes sure their company or client lives up to their potential as a socially responsible corporation. They do this by finding ways to associate their company or client with positive community events, like sponsoring an event, donating money to an organization, or working a philanthropy event. The brand’s impact on the community gives journalists positive stories to write, which increases their number of press placements and strengthens their public reputation.
At public companies, the financial communications team forges relationships with analysts and investors to improve their financial reputation. They do this by fielding all analyst, media, and investor inquiries at shareholder meetings, press conferences, and private meetings. They also write earnings reports and the investor section on their website.
A spokesperson is the face of their company’s brand. They speak to the general public on behalf of their company during press conferences, make T.V. appearances, and respond to any criticism the company might face.
Protective Side of PR
The protective side of PR is smaller than the promotional side but is just as important. You can usually pursue two career paths on this side of PR: managing a brand’s reputation or managing a company crisis.
The reputation management team gauges their company or client’s public reputation by monitoring brand sentiment on social media, review sites, their ratings and reviews section on Facebook, their own online communities, and the news. This information helps them identify any complaints about their brand and quickly address them through social media and other communication channels online.
The crisis management team help clients or their own company deal with major catastrophes caused by human error, intervention, or even malicious intent. They mitigate the damage by releasing statements that take responsibility for the issue, crafting company-wide responses to backlash, and spreading awareness for their plan to solve their problems through paid, earned, and owned marketing channels. They also appoint an official spokesperson to respond to any criticism on behalf of their brand at press conferences and interviews.
Public Relations Salaries
Listed below are the average salaries in Public Relations. We collected this data from Glassdoor’s anonymous salary submissions, which doesn’t account for the employees’ industry, company size, or years of experience.
Public Relations Assistant - $36,576
Public Relations Coordinator - $42,663
Public Relations Associate - $44,222
Public Relations Specialist - $53,241
Public Relations Manager - $71,468
Public Relations Director - $83,343
Public Relations Internships
With over 5,000 public relations internships listed on Glassdoor right now, public relations interns are high in demand. If you land a PR internship, you’ll likely work with multiple teams and take on a broad set of responsibilities like coordinating speaking engagements and media outreach, fielding incoming media requests, drafting press releases and media lists, maintaining social media pages, analyzing media coverage and PR campaign performance, updating reporter databases, and compiling press kits and media collateral.
Public Relations Degree
If you major in public relations during college, your degree will cover three main disciplines:
1. Communications and Media: you’ll study the birth of mass media, track its historical trends, and learn how media institutions have affected society.
2. Public Relations Theory and Application: you’ll learn the fundamentals and strategic concepts of PR, and at some universities, like Boston University, you can put your knowledge to use by running PR for an actual business or organization.
3. Writing for Mass Communication: you’ll learn how to write press releases, pitch emails, and speeches. You’ll also learn how to master the AP style of writing.
In addition to these core competencies, most PR programs require you to take classes in media ethics and law, multimedia storytelling, public speaking, journalism, advertising, marketing, American history, statistics, and business writing.
If you’re not a public relations major or you want to study something else, most PR departments and firms happily hire marketing, advertising, and journalism majors.
If you go to a liberal arts school, majoring in communications or english will give you the best shot of landing a job in public relations. These disciplines will teach you how to communicate clearly and think critically, which are the skills PR professionals need -- their work is both creative and analytical.
Originally published May 11, 2018 8:00:00 AM, updated May 13 2019