Although employment is projected to grow faster than average,
keen competition is expected for entry-level jobs.
Opportunities should be best for college graduates who combine
a degree in public relations, journalism, or another communications-related
field with a public relations internship or other related work
Creativity, initiative, and the ability to communicate effectively
Nature of the Work
An organization’s reputation, profitability, and even its
continued existence can depend on the degree to which its
targeted “publics” support its goals and policies. Public
relations specialists—also referred to as communications
specialists and media specialists, among other
titles—serve as advocates for businesses, nonprofit associations,
universities, hospitals, and other organizations, and build
and maintain positive relationships with the public. As managers
recognize the importance of good public relations to the success
of their organizations, they increasingly rely on public relations
specialists for advice on the strategy and policy of such
Public relations specialists handle organizational functions
such as media, community, consumer, industry, and governmental
relations; political campaigns; interest-group representation;
conflict mediation; and employee and investor relations. They
do more than “tell the organization’s story.” They must understand
the attitudes and concerns of community, consumer, employee,
and public interest groups and establish and maintain cooperative
relationships with them and with representatives from print
and broadcast journalism.
Public relations specialists draft press releases and contact
people in the media who might print or broadcast their material.
Many radio or television special reports, newspaper stories,
and magazine articles start at the desks of public relations
specialists. Sometimes the subject is an organization and
its policies toward its employees or its role in the community.
Often the subject is a public issue, such as health, energy,
or the environment, and what an organization does to advance
Public relations specialists also arrange and conduct programs
to keep up contact between organization representatives and
the public. For example, they set up speaking engagements
and often prepare speeches for company officials. These media
specialists represent employers at community projects; make
film, slide, or other visual presentations at meetings and
school assemblies; and plan conventions. In addition, they
are responsible for preparing annual reports and writing proposals
for various projects.
In government, public relations specialists—who may be called
press secretaries, information officers, public affairs specialists,
or communication specialists—keep the public informed about
the activities of agencies and officials. For example, public
affairs specialists in the U.S. Department of State keep the
public informed of travel advisories and of U.S. positions
on foreign issues. A press secretary for a member of Congress
keeps constituents aware of the representative’s accomplishments.
In large organizations, the key public relations executive,
who often is a vice president, may develop overall plans and
policies with other executives. In addition, public relations
departments employ public relations specialists to write,
research, prepare materials, maintain contacts, and respond
People who handle publicity for an individual or who direct
public relations for a small organization may deal with all
aspects of the job. They contact people, plan and research,
and prepare materials for distribution. They also may handle
advertising or sales promotion work to support marketing efforts.
Some public relations specialists work a standard 35- to
40-hour week, but unpaid overtime is common. Occasionally,
they must be at the job or on call around the clock, especially
if there is an emergency or crisis. Public relations offices
are busy places; work schedules can be irregular and frequently
interrupted. Schedules often have to be rearranged so that
workers can meet deadlines, deliver speeches, attend meetings
and community activities, and travel.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
There are no defined standards for entry into a public relations
career. A college degree combined with public relations experience,
usually gained through an internship, is considered excellent
preparation for public relations work; in fact, internships
are becoming vital to obtaining employment. The ability to
communicate effectively is essential. Many entry-level public
relations specialists have a college major in public relations,
journalism, advertising, or communication. Some firms seek
college graduates who have worked in electronic or print journalism.
Other employers seek applicants with demonstrated communication
skills and training or experience in a field related to the
firm’s business—information technology, health, science, engineering,
sales, or finance, for example.
Many colleges and universities offer bachelor’s and postsecondary
degrees in public relations, usually in a journalism or communications
department. In addition, many other colleges offer at least
one course in this field. A common public relations sequence
includes courses in public relations principles and techniques;
public relations management and administration, including
organizational development; writing, emphasizing news releases,
proposals, annual reports, scripts, speeches, and related
items; visual communications, including desktop publishing
and computer graphics; and research, emphasizing social science
research and survey design and implementation. Courses in
advertising, journalism, business administration, finance,
political science, psychology, sociology, and creative writing
also are helpful. Specialties are offered in public relations
for business, government, and nonprofit organizations.
Many colleges help students gain part-time internships in
public relations that provide valuable experience and training.
Membership in local chapters of the Public Relations Student
Society of America (affiliated with the Public Relations Society
of America) or in student chapters of the International Association
of Business Communicators provides an opportunity for students
to exchange views with public relations specialists and to
make professional contacts that may help them find a job in
the field. A portfolio of published articles, television or
radio programs, slide presentations, and other work is an
asset in finding a job. Writing for a school publication or
television or radio station provides valuable experience and
material for one’s portfolio.
Creativity, initiative, good judgment, and the ability to
communicate thoughts clearly and simply are essential in this
occupation. Decision-making, problem-solving, and research
skills also are important. People who choose public relations
as a career need an outgoing personality, self-confidence,
an understanding of human psychology, and an enthusiasm for
motivating people. They should be competitive, yet able to
function as part of a team and open to new ideas.
Some organizations, particularly those with large public
relations staffs, have formal training programs for new employees.
In smaller organizations, new employees work under the guidance
of experienced staff members. Beginners often maintain files
of material about company activities, scan newspapers and
magazines for appropriate articles to clip, and assemble information
for speeches and pamphlets. They also may answer calls from
the press and the public, work on invitation lists and details
for press conferences, or escort visitors and clients. After
gaining experience, they write news releases, speeches, and
articles for publication or plan and carry out public relations
programs. Public relations specialists in smaller firms usually
get all-around experience, whereas those in larger firms tend
to be more specialized.
The Universal Accreditation Board accredits public relations
specialists who are members of the Public Relations Society
of America and who participate in the Examination for Accreditation
in Public Relations process. This process includes both a
readiness review and an examination, which are designed for
candidates who have at least 5 years of full-time work or
teaching experience in public relations and who have earned
a bachelor’s degree in a communications-related field. The
readiness review includes a written submission by each candidate,
a portfolio review, and dialogue between the candidate and
a three-member panel. Candidates who successfully advance
through readiness review and pass the computer-based examination
earn the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) designation.
The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC)
also has an accreditation program for professionals in the
communications field, including public relations specialists.
Those who meet all the requirements of the program earn the
Accredited Business Communicator (ABC) designation. Candidates
must have at least 5 years of experience and a bachelor’s
degree in a communications field and must pass written and
oral examinations. They also must submit a portfolio of work
samples demonstrating involvement in a range of communications
projects and a thorough understanding of communications planning.
Employers may consider professional recognition through accreditation
as a sign of competence in this field, which could be especially
helpful in a competitive job market.
Promotion to supervisory jobs may come to public relations
specialists who show that they can handle more demanding assignments.
In public relations firms, a beginner might be hired as a
research assistant or account coordinator and be promoted
to account executive, senior account executive, account manager,
and eventually vice president. A similar career path is followed
in corporate public relations, although the titles may differ.
Some experienced public relations specialists start their
own consulting firms.
Public relations specialists held about 188,000 jobs in 2004.
Public relations specialists are concentrated in service-providing
industries such as advertising and related services; health
care and social assistance; educational services; and government.
Others worked for communications firms, financial institutions,
and government agencies.
Public relations specialists are concentrated in large cities,
where press services and other communications facilities are
readily available and many businesses and trade associations
have their headquarters. Many public relations consulting
firms, for example, are in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco,
Chicago, and Washington, DC. There is a trend, however, for
public relations jobs to be dispersed throughout the Nation,
closer to clients.
Keen competition likely will continue for entry-level public
relations jobs, as the number of qualified applicants is expected
to exceed the number of job openings. Many people are attracted
to this profession because of the high profile nature of the
work. Opportunities should be best for college graduates who
combine a degree in journalism, public relations, advertising,
or another communications-related field with a public relations
internship or other related work experience. Applicants without
the appropriate educational background or work experience
will face the toughest obstacles.
Employment of public relations specialists is expected to
grow faster than average for all occupations through 2014.
The need for good public relations in an increasingly competitive
business environment should spur demand for public relations
specialists in organizations of all types and sizes. The value
of a company is measured not just by its balance sheet, but
also by the strength of its relationships with those on whom
it depends for its success. With the increasing demand for
corporate accountability, more emphasis will be placed on
improving the image of the client, as well as on building
Employment in public relations firms should grow as firms
hire contractors to provide public relations services rather
than support full-time staff. In addition to those arising
from employment growth, job opportunities should result from
the need to replace public relations specialists who leave
Median annual earnings for salaried public relations specialists
were $43,830 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between
$32,970 and $59,360; the lowest 10 percent earned less than
$25,750, and the top 10 percent earned more than $81,120.
Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest
numbers of public relations specialists in May 2004 were:
Advertising and related services
Management of companies and enterprises
Business, professional, labor, political,
and similar organizations
Colleges, universities, and professional
Public relations specialists create favorable attitudes among
various organizations, interest groups, and the public through
effective communication. Other workers with similar jobs include
advertising, marketing, promotions, public relations, and
sales managers; demonstrators, product promoters, and models;
news analysts, reporters, and correspondents; lawyers; market
and survey researchers; sales representatives, wholesale and
manufacturing; and police and detectives involved in community
Sources of Additional Information
A comprehensive directory of schools offering degree programs,
a sequence of study in public relations, a brochure on careers
in public relations, and a $5 brochure entitled Where Shall
I Go to Study Advertising and Public Relations are available
Public Relations Society of America, Inc., 33 Maiden Lane,
New York, NY 10038-5150. Internet: http://www.prsa.org/
For information on accreditation for public relations professionals
and the IABC Student Web site, contact:
International Association of Business Communicators, One
Hallidie Plaza, Suite 600, San Francisco, CA
Source: Bureau of
Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,