PR Jobs and Careers
A public relations (PR) officer or executive is primarily concerned with the media and ensuring a brand has a positive media presence. Working for and solely on behalf of a company, or within an agency with multiple clients, the PR executive works on managing the organisation's reputation, building support and client loyalty by creating a positive image. This role is important in all sectors, as the majority of organisations wish to project a consistently positive public image.
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This profession is generally perceived as being glamorous and job opportunities are fiercely contested. What is less understood is the level of skill and hard work required to do the PR job well. What does it take to carve out a successful career in public relations?
Nature of PR Work
There has never been more diversity in the media production of the western world, with digitisation leading to an explosion in terrestrial, satellite and online television and radio broadcasting, not to mention the social media explosion. An organisation's reputation in the media can soar or collapse within an astonishingly short period of time. This can affect not only reputation, but profitability and its future.
Organisations, including businesses, academic institutions, public bodies of all descriptions, governments and others, therefore employ PR specialists, either in-house or via an advertising agency, to advise on strategies for projecting a positive image, as well as doing the work itself. The PR representatives work on promoting events and products, policies and executive decisions, campaigns, etc.
Handling the media is only part of the work. PR specialists are involved in developing positive relationships with members of local residents, consumers, interest groups and any community that may have an interest in or be affected by the operations of the organisation. These professionals, working individually as members of the marketing team or in PR teams, undertake various duties in the course of achieving this.
- Formulating a strategy for the organisation's public relations stance, from establishing what the 'public line to take' is going to be, to which areas of activity are to be positively promoted to external audiences.
- Researching, writing and issuing press releases to members of the media who might print or broadcast the story. Press releases are often the start of stories, articles and special reports.
- Arranging events that bring the public into contact with the organisation, such as speaking events, seminars, workshops, etc.
- Responding to incoming queries from members of the press and broadcast media, providing information while remaining in line with the organisation's public stance. This may involve damage limitation in the event of negative stories emerging.
- Liaising with other people in the organisation to research stories and establish opinions and quotes to be used in press material.
- Respond to incoming queries from other individuals and organisations.
- Organising sponsorship of events or other organisations whose values mirror the values of the business.
- Researching and preparing information material that is to be distributed in newsletters or in response to enquiries.
- In smaller organisations, PR staff may also be responsible for handling advertising and other aspects of the marketing function.
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Would a Career in PR Suit You?
PR is a varied profession in which subsequent days can be vastly different. Nearly every task is self-started, so it's important to recognise the qualities you need for PR work in order to be effective in this role.
- The ability to see the bigger picture while understanding how external agencies and individuals view the employing organisation. You need to be aware of current trends and issues.
- A commercial awareness is essential. You need to be able to think strategically and contribute to marketing plans that will help move an organisation forwards.
- An understanding of how the press and media work, particularly what will constitute a story of general or specialist interest (depending on the targeted media).
- Sufficient creativity to produce interesting news or special interest stories out of situations where others might not perceive any points of interest. You need to be an ideas person.
- Advanced communication skills, as most of your work is going to involve writing stories and information, while following up with phone calls. You must be confident talking to a wide range of people.
- Strong interpersonal skills are important, coupled with the ability to be persuasive, as you need to establish relationships that you must make work in your favour.
- A high energy approach, combined with a strategic outlook. You need to be a self starter who knows which ideas justify the input needed to get them off the ground.
- A degree of extroversion and tenacity - the days when the media contact you are good days, on other days you have to take a story to people who may not be interested. This may mean making a lot of phone calls that lead to no result.
- You need to understand all areas of marketing, even if you're not directly handling them all. It's vital to understand how PR actions and marketing actions fit together.
- The ability to work accurately and to high standards under time pressure is essential, while remaining flexible and adaptable enough to respond to short-term needs.
- A combination of motivation, commitment and responsibility are vital. You'll be constantly working to deadlines, while responding to emerging stories or enquiries. This means long hours may be involved at times when it isn't possible to leave tasks until another day.
There isn't a clear route into this profession and therefore no standard educational requirements. Generally speaking, those with university degrees and some basic experience will find it easier to find PR jobs. While there may be no formal requirements, but degrees with marketing, PR, communications or journalism options are obviously advantageous.
A work placement or voluntary experience counts for an enormous amount. Much can be gained by helping out in a PR or marketing office, simply by picking up how everything works. Demonstrating that you are able to communicate clearly with media personnel is important - nobody can learn that, as it's a personal quality that's either you do or don't have. A work placement will also show an awareness of the realities of working in a marketing team.
Different PR positions have different focuses, reflecting the diversification of the media. Therefore, it is now possible to take responsibility for social media as part of a major company's PR effort. Technical and IT skills are also part of the mix. Those who start out in an assistant's role may find themselves with such responsibilities.
Additionally, experience or knowledge of the employer's industry and/or areas of activity are distinctly advantageous. Therefore experience relating to business and commerce, finance or engineering will help when it comes to securing a PR position in those industries. Given the level of competition for good PR jobs, a dedicated media or communications degree may not be taken seriously in specialist sectors.
Another option is to take a postgraduate course in marketing or communications, while some employers offer graduate training schemes in the marketing department. It's certainly worth considering a course with the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) in the UK. This training is widely recognised as being the industry standard, so studying in your own time can help you attain a marketing position. CIPR also provide continuing professional development training for those who already work in PR and who wish to develop new specialisms.
PR Jobs Sites
- PR jobs' site - simplymarketingjobs.co.uk
- PR recruitment agency - www.medianrecruit.co.uk
- The Guardian Newspaper's online job board advertises PR jobs - jobs.theguardian.com