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Public Relations

Learn about public relations and aspects of this job.

Public relations professionals present information to the public on behalf of companies. [©Jupiter Images, 2010]
©Jupiter Images, 2010
Public relations professionals present information to the public on behalf of companies.

Public relations specialists, also called communications specialists or media specialists, are advocates for businesses and organizations. They help these companies create and maintain a positive relationship with the public. Public relations specialists may help improve the public perception of the following types of organizations:

  • Corporations
  • Nonprofit associations
  • Universities
  • Hospitals
  • Politicians
  • Entertainers
  • Sports teams

The Public Relations Field

The field of public relations is wide. At its most basic level, public relations involves managing the public's perception of clients. However, public relations specialists cover such a wide range of tasks that the field is open to people with many different strengths.

For example, many public relations specialists spend their days drafting press releases, making contacts in the media and creating enough buzz about their clients to get the media interested enough to report on them. However, public relations firms also monitor how often (and how favorably) their clients are mentioned in the press. If a crisis occurs, the public relations firm jumps in to help the client maintain its public image.

Public relations professionals may also set up and orchestrate programs to promote contact between their clients and the public. They may write speeches, arrange speaking engagements, represent clients at community projects or plan conventions.

Types of Public Relations Specialties

Professionals working in government-related public relations are often called press secretaries, information officers, public affairs specialists or communication specialists. They provide the public with ongoing information about the goings-on of the people and agencies they represent.

Large organizations often hire a key public relations executive. This person normally holds a vice-presidential position and is responsible for developing overall plans and policies for the organization. Often, large corporations have an entire public relations department. These staff members write, research, plan, establish and maintain contacts and respond to inquiries for that organization only (as opposed to a public relations firm, which handles many clients).

Public relations specialists who prefer not working with big corporations may find satisfaction in doing public relations work for an individual or a small organization. However, these specialists must often wear many different hats and cover many, if not all, aspects of public relations work, including:

  • Contacting people
  • Planning
  • Researching
  • Preparing materials for distribution
  • Advertising
  • Marketing
  • Sales promotion

Education and Training for Public Relations Professionals

Most entry-level public relations positions require a bachelor's degree in public relations, journalism, advertising or communication. In addition, some firms prefer their applicants to have experience in print or online journalism. Others prefer experience in their area of expertise. For example, an engineering firm may prefer a public relations specialist with a strong background in engineering.

A good college degree program in public relations should include courses in the following subjects:

  • Public relations principles and techniques
  • Management and administration
  • Organizational development
  • Writing (with an emphasis on news releases, proposals, annual reports, scripts and speeches)
  • Visual communication, such as desktop publishing and computer graphics
  • Research, including survey design and implementation

Students wishing to enter the public relations field may also find courses in business, government and advertising helpful. If the student wishes to pursue public relations in a particular field, such as information technology, he or she may wish to declare a minor or double major in that subject.

Schools with top public relations or communication programs often assist students in getting a job by setting them up with internships. Students may also network by joining their local chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), a student version of the professional Public Relations Society of America. A portfolio of published or student work that's relevant to the public relations field is also helpful in landing a job after college.

Corporations and organizations with large public relations departments often have formal, on-the-job training for new hires. New public relations employees at smaller organizations usually have to learn the ropes from more experienced staff members.

Entry-level public relations specialists often begin their careers by creating and maintaining files about client activities, clipping articles and assembling information for packets, brochures and speeches. They also answer phone calls and greet clients. As they gain experience, they may begin working on larger projects such as writing news releases and speeches or carrying out public relations programs. Employees at small firms or organizations tend to be generalists and wear many hats, while those trained at larger organizations often specialize in a specific area of public relations.

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