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Public relations professionals are often the butt of many jokes – told by reporters and PR pros themselves. There are multiple BuzzFeed memes and plenty of self-deprecating blogs written by employees of PR firms detailing the perils and joys of working in the field. One of the most common threads in all these posts is the question, “what do people in public relations do?” Do you read CNN all day? Party with clients at trade shows? Write witty blog posts? Jet set across the globe for sit-down meetings with important journalists?
While the reality is much less glamorous, many in the industry, including PR and communications veterans, find it to be a rewarding career. And it’s a growing profession. Demand for entry-level to mid-career candidates for public relations specialists (requiring less experience than more senior PR manager or director positions) is projected to increase by more than 9 percent by 2026, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics.
If you are in college now or are a recent graduate thinking about a career in public relations, here’s what it’s really like to work in the field, according to pros who have weathered more than their share of client crises and successes.
What’s the biggest misconception about working in PR?
There are a lot! They range from a belief that PR people distort the truth to a notion that with the right contacts, it’s easy to make any old video or blog post go viral.
When it comes to partying, that myth seems to live on beyond the belief of the people who work in the industry. “A common misconception about PR is that we are all going to parties," said Mark W. McClennan, a 20-plus-year PR veteran and senior vice president of MSL Group. "If we are at an event we are probably working hard and working the room for our client."
Forget about the idea of slick glamour and even slicker lipstick perpetrated by years of Kim Cattrall’s character of Samantha Jones on Sex and the City. “PR is not glamorous, and it is rarely about calling in a favor," Ronjini Joshua – principal and founder of The Silver Telegram Agency – said. "The work we do can be quite tedious at times, and the hustle is constant."
What does a typical day look like?
“No two days are ever alike, and they are hard to predict. That’s the one constant,” said Brianne Miers, principal of Kind Communications with nearly 20 years’ experience in PR.
There are, however, repeating trends that play out week after week.
“My day start starts early and ends late and includes a lot of media pitching, emails and client management in the morning and content writing, planning and other writing projects in the afternoon,” Joshua said.
What skills do you need to be successful in PR?
While many who majored in public relations in college focus on drafting press releases and cultivating contacts, understanding a typical news cycle and how journalists work is critical. These often differ depending on the area of practice. High technology journalists don’t care much about free products, they want to interview tech giants, whereas retailer or luxury good writers need fast access to products for round-up stories and best of lists. Here are a few other things to keep in mind.
“You need to be an excellent writer," McClennan said. "It’s a skill that is more essential now than ever, and you need to master all forms of writing – from press releases and pitches to tweets and blog posts, to strategic plans and short-form video scripts."
Read the news, advises Miers.
“To establish a career in PR, understand news and what makes a news story, versus what might make a better company blog post," she said. "It’s also critical to understand how to help reporters and editors do their jobs. Of course, you need to be able to write well and express yourself concisely, too.”
Most unexpected skill to hone? McClennan urges those interested in PR to “become comfortable with math because it’s the language of business. If you are going to advise the CEO of a major company, you need to be able to understand basic math, which includes reading a balance sheet and translating PR results into quantifiable impact for the business.”
Want to learn more?
“Shadow someone before getting into PR," Joshua said. "It will give you a lot of insight into the industry and regular workflow."
Kristin Amico is a career and business writer who spent more than a decade managing creative teams at digital agencies. She has written for The Muse, The Independent and USA Today.