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How to Become a Publicist

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The job of a publicist might conjure up images of the people who stand at the sides of the stars and ward off the paparazzi -- but if you want to become one, you'll need to do much more than simply appear alongside famous people. Becoming a publicist typically requires communication and writing skills and a knack for influencing people, as well as a college background.

What Publicists Do

On a typical day, a publicist might be found scheduling public appearances for clients -- who include actors, musicians, politicians, CEOs and other public figures -- but they do much more than that. Publicists also write press releases and maintain relations with media professionals. They maintain clients' websites and other public profiles, plan and prepare for the inevitable bouts of bad press, and sometimes act as spokespeople for their clients. They might also work closely with advertising professionals who create the images or other materials for a company or celebrity's public advertising campaigns.

Start with Education

As people who communicate with the public, publicists typically start their careers by pursuing a communications-related field in college. Publicists might earn a bachelor's degree in journalism, advertising, communications or even public relations. After college, publicists seek internships or entry-level work in public relations firms, where they might work in a speciality area such as research, speech writing or social media to gain experience. To demonstrate their expertise in the field, some publicists also pursue accreditation through the Public Relations Society of America. To earn accreditation though, publicists must have worked in the field for five years and must pass a certifying exam.

Helpful Skills

Verbal and written communication skills are a must in this profession -- but they're far from the only skills you'll need to succeed. You'll also need to be organized in order to manage clients' schedules, appearances and advertising campaigns. When things go wrong, having problem-solving skills will really come in handy. Also helpful are powers of persuasion and the ability to get along well with many different personalities and types of people. Building relationships is one of the most important parts of the job, reminds Marketing Experts, Inc. CEO Penny C. Sansevieri.

Moving Up in the Career

The typical career path for a publicist is to work in a junior position in a particular specialty, and then slowly take on clients. From there, you might become a public relations director or perhaps even start a firm of your own. To move up from an entry-level position to a management position, you'll tend to need between five and 10 years of experience in the field. If you want to start your own firm, you'll need a solid list of contacts and potential clients before you make the leap. If you're really successful, being a publicist can be a lucrative career. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the lowest 10 percent of PR professionals earned an annual wage of $30,790, while the top 10 percent earned $103,240 as of May 2013.