What is a public relations specialist?
Public relations specialists work for public relations agencies, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and companies in almost every industry where they develop and maintain a favorable public image for the company they work for or represent. They handle an organization’s communication with the public, which includes consumers, investors, reporters, and other media specialists.
In government, they are typically called press secretaries who keep the public informed about the activities of government officials and agencies. They typically create media releases and design social media programs to positively influence public perception of the company, increase awareness, and expand the company’s reach.
Public relations specialists communicate with the public verbally, through press releases, or other means. These professionals have a good understanding of the public’s concerns and interact with them to maintain a strong relationship. They draft press releases and contact journalists, broadcasters, reporters, and other people in the media who might print or broadcast their material to ensure they are painted in a positive light. They sometimes have to repair the company image due to product failures or to combat negative press.
Public relations specialists plan and sponsor corporate events to help improve the image of their company or client. They analyze social, economic, and political trends that might affect the organization and suggest ways to turn those trends around and improve the company’s image.
They also handle communications internally, ensuring that relations between leadership and employees are strong, and work to improve those relations. They handle company newsletters, send out internal emails, and draft speeches for company leaders and executives.
Qualifications and eligibility
To become a public relations specialist, there are no formal educational requirements beyond a high school diploma or a GED. However, many employers prefer candidates who have completed a bachelor’s degree. Some common majors for these individuals include public relations, marketing, journalism, communications, business, and advertising.
Employers are looking for people who have experience, so it’s a good idea to gain some experience while in school. You can do this through volunteer work with a public relations firm, an internship, or by working in the school communications department. Showing you have experience on your resume can put you a step ahead of your competition.
Public relations specialists must have exceptional verbal communication skills. They often communicate to the public, media, or other stakeholders, and must be able to do it effectively. They also need good listening skills to understand what others are saying so they can respond appropriately.
Many public relations specialists write press releases and speeches, so they need to have strong writing skills. These professionals should have solid interpersonal skills and the ability to build good relationships with clients and the public. They need good persuasion ability and be good at negotiation. Organizational skills and problem-solving skills are also essential.
Public relations specialists typically work in office settings where they interact with other marketing or PR team members, meet with company management, or talk to clients. They generally sit in front of computers, develop plans, write press releases, and send out internal and external emails and documents. Some individuals have to travel to client locations and may have to deliver presentations on behalf of the employer or client.
The job can be fast-paced and stressful. Public relations specialists usually work on multiple projects at the same time. They may have to work on deadlines, which can add pressure to the job.
Typical work hours
Public relations specialists typically work a regular 40-hour week during normal business hours. They may work overtime, including nights and weekends when dealing with issues and working on tight deadlines.
Types of public relations specialists
Public relations encompasses a broad range of jobs that create, manage, and distribute information from an organization to the public. The goal is to develop a positive relationship between the public and the company. Some of the common types include:
A media relations specialist develops strong relationships with journalists, bloggers, broadcasters, and other platforms to boost the company’s image, get more media coverage, and strengthen the company’s connection with the public and stakeholders. They do this through paid and earned media coverage campaigns.
A community relations specialist builds a positive relationship between a local community and an organization by using different campaigns that appeal to the public. This puts the company in a better light and helps ensure that the company is aligned with the needs of the public.
Public affairs specialists lobby government officials to enact certain policies or pass legislation that will benefit the company or that the company has an interest in. They build relationships with politicians to help get their interests pushed through.
Crisis communication specialists help companies escape unfavorable situations that result in a negative public image. This could be due to a faulty product or a scandal within the company. They work to improve the public’s confidence in the company.
Online and social media communication
Because social media is so widespread these days, social media communication specialists use these platforms to increase company outreach and attract new customers. They use popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to promote products and services, new release updates, and brand awareness to generate and increase interest among the public.
Internal communications specialists create a positive relationship between the company and its employees and ensure that the employees’ interests align with those of the company. They strive to improve productivity and efficiency through internal communications.
Strategic communications specialists send out messages to the public about company direction and strategy to ensure employees, customers, and media are getting a consistent message. They help companies reach both short-term and long-term goals.
The earning potential for a public relations specialist can vary greatly depending on geographic location, education, experience, and acquired skills.
- According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for public relations specialists was $62,800 in May 2021. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $37,020, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $124,620. In May 2021, the top industries for public relations specialists were:
- Advertising, public relations, and related services – $69,170
- Government – $67,270
- Business, professional, labor, political, and similar organizations – $64,430
- Educational services; state, local, and private – $61,860
- The bottom 10% earned about $39,000, and the top 10% earned about $75,000.
- Salaries for public relations specialists by the level of experience, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Compensation Survey, are:
- Entry-level (less than 1 year) – $36,042
- Early career (1 to 4 years) – $45,467
- Mid-career (5 to 9 years) – $59,265
- Experienced (10 to 19 years) – $76,198
- Late career (20+ years) – $105,497
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the overall employment of public relations specialists will grow 8% from 2021 to 2031, faster than the average for all occupations. About 27,400 openings are projected each year, on average, over the decade.
As companies continue to highlight community outreach and customer relations to maintain and improve their reputation and visibility, opportunities for public relations specialists will continue to grow. Social media also is expected to create more opportunities for these individuals, who can help clients use social media effectively.
Public relations specialists have a number of opportunities for advancement in their careers. Because they are expert communicators and writers, they can use those skills in other areas. Some are promoted to management positions in public relations as public relations managers or advertising managers. Another option is to pursue further education and become a lawyer. Some career path opportunities include:
Public relations manager
Public relations managers oversee the public relations department.
Advertising managers lead the advertising department where they develop strategies and advertising campaigns to create interest among consumers to buy a product or service.
Relationship managers build and maintain good business relationships between the company, its vendors, and its clients.
Lawyers research and interpret state and federal laws on behalf of their clients. Because they make both oral and written arguments and prepare legal documents, the skills developed as public relations specialists are very beneficial.
Other career opportunities for public relations specialists include:
- Direct marketing spokesperson
- Media buyer
- Investor relations
- Account executive
- Public information officer
- Production coordinator
- Political consultant
- Media planner
- Special events coordinator
- Strategic planner
- Government affairs
- Sales representative
Steps to becoming a public relations specialist
1. Get your bachelor’s degree
A public relations specialist typically needs a bachelor’s degree in public relations, communications, English, journalism, or business. If you are seeking a career as a press secretary, completing a degree in political science can be advantageous. Essential courses you should take include public speaking, advertising, marketing, business administration, and creative writing. The best schools for public relations can be found online at:
- Southern New Hampshire University
- University of Florida
- Public Relations Certificate at Drexel University
2. Get experience
Many students look for internships while still in school. They help you gain industry experience that will be beneficial when applying for a job in public relations. You can also look for opportunities to do volunteer work to gain experience. An internship can also help you gain valuable contacts that you can use as good references when applying for jobs.
3. Decide where in public relations you want to work
Public relation is a broad field, and you have many opportunities to find your niche within the public relations spectrum. You might want to work on the advertising side where you would focus on making sure ad campaigns match the company’s brand and meet the expectations of your target audience. Other opportunities exist in education, government, politics, business, and more.
4. Join professional associations
Joining professional organizations can help public relations specialists network with industry professionals and build relationships, as well as find resources and job opportunities. You can find career development training too. Some of the top professional associations include:
- Public Relations Society of America
- Institute for Public Relations
- International Association of Business Communicators (IABC)
- International Public Relations Association
- Public Affairs Council
- The Association for Women in Communications
- Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communications Management
- National Association of Government Communicators
- Public Relations Student Society of America
5. Get a certification
Although certification isn’t required to work as a public relations specialist, having a certification shows your dedication to the industry, your professional competence, and your expertise, all of which will help separate you from your peers. Many professional public relations organizations offer certifications. Some of the top certifications for public relations specialists are:
Communication Management Professional (CMP)
Offered by the Global Communication Certification Council, the CMP is designed for mid to senior-level professionals with a minimum of 6-8 experience in the field. Topics include ethics, strategy, and analysis.
Accredited in Public Relations (APR)
Offered by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), this credential proves your dedication, passion, and drive to succeed as a public relations specialist. You will be able to demonstrate your mastery of strategic communications practice and ethical standards that can help boost your career.
Certified Public Relations Manager (CPRM)
Administered by the American Institute for Business Management and Communication (AIBMC), this credential demonstrates your knowledge and skills in public relations and your commitment to the AIBMC code of ethics. You must pass an exam to obtain your certification. You will need to recertify every 4 years. Topics covered include communication and the roles of public relations, external public relations sources, working with the media, communication models and theories, and many more.
Certified Public Relations Specialist (CPRS)
The Accredited Certification Institute offers the CPRS for public relations specialists to gain expertise in industry best practices and fundamentals. Students learn from case studies, videos, and coaching to master the skills necessary to attract, retain, and create loyal customers and clients. The 5 main areas covered are business development planning and execution, marketing and sales best practices, client pipeline management and development, authority construction and positioning, and influence and persuasion strategies.
6. Compile your portfolio
Many employers prefer that you submit a portfolio when applying for this type of job. A portfolio should include such things as:
- The value you added to past media assignments
- Projects completed during internships
- Projects completed during on-the-job training
- Projects from any certification courses you have taken
- Projects you have completed through your professional association
- Samples that highlight your skills related to the specific job you’re applying for
- Samples of your work related to the industry you’re applying to
- Your best writing samples
- Your best PR campaigns to date
- Testimonials and awards for your work
Tips for becoming a public relations specialist
If you are planning to become a public relations specialist, there are a few tips that can help start you on your journey. Some tips include:
- Determine whether you have a passion for working with many different companies and/or industries, or whether you would like to become an expert in one specific company or industry. This can help you decide whether you want to work for a public relations agency or in-house for a company in your preferred industry.
- Look for internships that can help you build your skill set and give you hands-on experience working with clients and brands. This will help steer you toward the types of brands or industries that interest you the most.
- Develop your skills. You’ll need strong communications skills and a solid understanding of media and marketing trends as a public relations specialist. Take classes in communications, marketing, and media studies that can help give you the knowledge and skills you need.
- Network with others in public relations and build relationships that can help you land a job as a public relations specialist. A great way to do this is by attending conferences and networking events where you can meet and talk to professionals. Use online platforms as well, such as LinkedIn to network.
Public relations specialist interview questions to expect
- How will SEO go hand in hand with public relations?
- You’ll be pitching a client to different publications. Can you list several ways to effectively pitch a story to a journalist?
- How do you go about monitoring public perception of your company and its brand?
- Can you tell us about a public relations campaign you created and implemented?
- How would you counteract a negative trend in public perception of your company?