What is a Public Relations Specialist?

Public relations specialists create and maintain a favourable public image for their employer or client. They write material for media releases, plan and direct public relations programs, and raise funds for their organizations. They work in high-stress environments, often for long hours. Most work full time.

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What does a Public Relations Specialist do?

Public relations specialists typically do the following:

  • Write press releases and prepare information for the media
  • Identify main client groups and audiences and determine the best way to reach them
  • Respond to requests for information from the media or designate an appropriate spokesperson or information source
  • Help clients communicate effectively with the public
  • Develop and maintain their organization's corporate image and identity, using logos and signs
  • Draft speeches and arrange interviews for an organization’s top executives
  • Evaluate advertising and promotion programs to determine whether they are compatible with their organization’s public relations efforts
  • Develop and carry out fundraising strategies for an organization by identifying and contacting potential donors and applying for grants.

Public relations specialists, also called communications specialists or media specialists, handle an organization’s communication with the public, including consumers, investors, reporters, and other media specialists.

In government, public relations specialists may be called press secretaries. They keep the public informed about the activities of government officials and agencies.

Public relations specialists must understand the attitudes and concerns of the groups they interact with to maintain cooperative relationships with them. They 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. For example, a press release might describe a public issue, such as health, energy, or the environment, and what an organization does to advance that issue. In addition to publication through traditional media outlets, releases are increasingly being sent through the Web and social media.

Public relations specialists review and sometimes write press releases. They also sponsor corporate events to help maintain and improve the image and identity of their organization or client. In addition, they help to clarify their organization’s point of view to its main audience through media releases and interviews. They observe social, economic, and political trends that might ultimately affect the organization, and they recommend ways to enhance the firm's image based on those trends. For example, in response to a growing concern about the environment, an oil company may create a public relations campaign to publicize its efforts to develop cleaner fuels.

In large organizations, public relations specialists may supervise a staff. They also work with advertising and marketing staffs to make sure that advertising campaigns are compatible with the image the company or client is trying to portray. For example, if the firm has decided to emphasize its appeal to a certain group, such as younger people, the public relations manager ensures that current advertisements will be well received by that group.

In addition, public relations specialists may handle internal communications, such as company newsletters, and may help financial managers produce an organization’s reports. They may help the organization’s top executives by drafting speeches, arranging interviews, and maintaining other forms of public contact.

Public relations specialists must be able to work well with many types of other workers to accurately report the facts. In some cases, the information they write has legal consequences. They must work with the company's or client's lawyers to be sure that the information they release is both legally accurate and clear to the public.

What does it take to be a Public Relations Specialist?

Public relations specialists typically need a bachelor's degree. They also need related work experience. Employers usually want candidates who have studied public relations, journalism, communications, English, or business.

Public relations specialists typically are trained on the job, either in a formal program or by working closely under more experienced staff members. Entry-level workers often maintain files of material about an organization’s activities, skim newspapers and magazines for appropriate articles to clip, and assemble information for speeches and pamphlets. Training typically lasts between one month and one year. After gaining experience, public relations specialists write news releases, speeches, and articles for publication or plan and carry out public relations programs.

Public relations specialists deal with the public regularly; therefore, they must be open and friendly to build rapport and get good cooperation from their media contacts .

Public relations specialists are often in charge of managing several events at the same time, requiring superior organizational skills.

Public relations specialists sometimes must explain how the company or client is handling sensitive issues. They must use good judgment in what they report and how they report it. They must often do research, including interviewing executives or other experts, to get the information they need.

Public relations specialists regularly speak on behalf of their organization. When doing so, they must be able to explain the organization’s position clearly. Public relations managers and specialists must be able to write well-organized and clear press releases and speeches. They must be able to grasp the key messages they want to get across and write them in a short, succinct way to get the attention of busy readers or listeners.

What is the workplace of a Public Relations Specialist like?

Public relations specialists usually work in offices, but they also deliver speeches, attend meetings and community activities, and travel. They work in fairly high-stress environments, often managing and organizing several events at the same time.

How much does a Public Relations Specialist earn?

The median annual wage of public relations specialists was $52,090 in May 2010. (The median wage is the point at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.) The lowest 10% earned less than $30,560, and the top 10% earned more than$ 95,200.

Most public relations specialists work full time, and some work additional hours. In 2010, almost one-third of public relations specialists worked more than 40 hours per week.

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