Every business or organization needs a good reputation in order to succeed. That’s why companies, nonprofits, government agencies, hospitals and educational institutions all have a growing demand for public relations specialists. If you enjoy working with people and have a way with words, this could be the career for you.
Public relations specialists build positive relationships between their organization and the public. They write press releases, contact the media, coordinate events and stay up to date on public attitudes and developments in their field.
Careers in public relations typically require a bachelor’s degree, and it’s best to major in communications, journalism or marketing. While in college, internships are one of the most valuable ways to gain experience and network with professionals in the field. They are often the best routes to finding your first real job.
Kristina Tirloni is a media/public relations specialist for TG, a Texas nonprofit that guarantees student loans and helps students plan financially for college. At the University of North Texas (www.unt.edu), she looked for a major that would suit her interest in discovering what makes people tick. She ended up studying journalism, with a focus in public relations and marketing. After graduation, she began an internship with a small company that later hired her as an account executive.
Tirloni recommends doing more than one internship, preferably in diverse industries, in order to find the best match. “Always be willing to try something different,” she says.
Besides internships, there are many opportunities for students to gain real-world experience and start building a writing portfolio. Many local newspapers have junior writer programs in which high school students can submit articles and photographs. Or, try writing for a magazine or website with a young readership.
Another way to learn about the industry is joining the student chapter of a professional association like the Public Relations Society of America or the International Association of Business Communicators.
Job descriptions vary with the size of the company. Within small organizations, one person often handles many or all of the marketing and public relations responsibilities, while employees in larger organizations have more specialized roles. For example, they might promote their company online through social media.
This career involves a great deal of research and writing. Public relations specialists keep informed of new developments by maintaining files of relevant articles from newspapers and magazines. They also write publicity materials and editorials for publication.
In this fast-paced industry, be prepared for long hours, tight deadlines, unpredictable schedules and constant pressure to generate new ideas. Public relations is hectic work that includes juggling several projects at once and traveling to attend events or represent the company at conferences. If a crisis comes up, you may have to work around the clock until it is resolved.
Is it for you?
Public relations specialists must have strong oral and written communication skills. They should have an outgoing personality, confidence, exceptional judgment, creativity and a natural understanding of people’s desires and motivations.
People skills and a willingness to take the initiative are also important. As the public face of your company, be prepared to really put yourself and your company out there.
Tirloni emphasizes, “You’ve got to be willing to pick up the phone and talk to somebody you’ve never met and sell your message. You have to go out on a limb.”
One of the biggest keys to success is flexibility. Be ready to handle unpredictable situations and build relationships with people who have different viewpoints.
“If something doesn’t work out the way you planned, you’ve got to be ready for Plan B,” says Tirloni.
This field offers an opportunity to exercise your creativity, build relationships and play a key role in helping an organization succeed.
- National average salary: $51,000
- Education: Bachelor’s degree in journalism or communications, along with real-world experience through at least one internship.
- Pursue if: You are outgoing, possess excellent written and verbal skills and can think on your feet.