It’s been said that perception is reality, and perhaps nowhere is that truer than when it comes to how the public perceives individuals, companies, products and services. Public relations officers play an important role in creating those perceptions by building relationships and keeping the public informed about who their client is. From creating the brand “story” that they want to tell and fielding media inquiries to responding to crisis situations, public relations officers are on the front lines of creating and maintaining public perception and helping businesses reach their goals.
Fostering good public relations is strategic, and public relations officers are heavily involved in developing plans for their employers or clients. These strategic plans focus on establishing goals and objectives for the client, determining the best campaign tactics, and developing timelines and budgets for the projects. Clients expect measurable results, which can vary by client and industry, so PR officers are also charged with determining the best ways to measure their efforts and developing key performance indicators and benchmarks to gauge their progress.
A significant portion of strategic planning involves research, and a public relations officer conducts most of it. Research might include measuring public perception using surveys and other tools, looking at what the competition is doing, learning about public opinions on specific issues, determining the best influencers for specific campaigns, and determining the best positioning and platforms for their clients. Essentially, the PR professional’s job is to find ways to make an employer or client look good and create and implement a plan for doing so.
Working with the media is one of the biggest parts of a public relations officer's job description. Not only do they handle media inquiries, arrange interviews and provide information upon request, but they also are typically involved in media training and preparations. For example, they might work with the company CEO to develop talking points for an upcoming interview and assist with polishing the CEO’s answers and getting them camera-ready. In some industries, such as health care, PR officers are charged with ensuring that all media inquiries are handled in accordance with federal privacy laws or other regulations.
PR officers are also called upon to serve as the company spokesperson in many cases, and they work closely with leadership to develop talking points and a media response strategy. They also work on building reciprocal arrangements with the media, send out media releases, and arrange interviews and press conferences. Depending on the client, the PR officer may also sit in on interviews or negotiate with the media beforehand regarding which topics can be discussed and what is off-limits. The primary goal of the PR officer is to protect the client’s interests and build a positive reputation. Good media relations is a part of that.
Because many public relations officers work directly for the organizations they represent rather than an agency, internal communications often fall under their job description. These duties might include managing company newsletters, planning and promoting employee events, and managing employee communication, in the event of a crisis. Internal public relations is typically focused on building and maintaining morale and ensuring that all employees are up to speed on company policies, initiatives and changes. Within some organizations, the PR department and PR officers manage employee recognition programs, which include tasks ranging from the selection and ordering of awards to overseeing the review of nominations for recognition. PR officers are also responsible for ensuring that all employees are familiar with the company brand and that all communication and collateral produced outside of the PR department adheres to branding standards and aligns with the overall public relations strategy.
Getting publicity is another important part of a PR officer’s job, and despite the adage that “all publicity is good publicity,” many in the field would disagree with that notion. Getting positive coverage is one of the duties off PR officers, and they typically do so by issuing press releases, reaching out to the media, scheduling press conferences, and hosting events to attract media attention. Social media is an important part of publicity and PR efforts, and some PR officers are entirely focused on building buzz via social media platforms. Other tasks within this realm might include writing and designing brochures or advertisements and other collateral, organizing and assembling press kits, writing blogs, updating social media accounts, and reaching out to members of the media to secure coverage.
Some companies conduct public outreach by creating magazines or other publications to inform and educate the public, and often, public relations officers are closely involved in these efforts. They might research and edit articles, provide information about products, services or events, or work with designers to ensure that the finished product adheres to branding standards. They are also involved in the promotion of these products, often sharing content on social media.
Depending on the organization, public relations and branding might be handled by one team or by separate teams working closely together. However, what cannot be understated is the fact that PR and branding go hand in hand. Both are concerned with creating a positive public perception of the company or product, and without a strong brand, creating and protecting your client’s reputation becomes more difficult.
A public relations officer is likely to be involved in branding discussions, especially if the company is new or in the process of rebranding. If the brand is already well established, the PR person is expected to know the brand inside and out and incorporate key messages and branding standards into all communications. Everything a PR officer does needs to align with the established brand to maintain consistency and the desired customer perception and experience.
PR officers are often put to the test when a crisis occurs that could potentially tarnish the image of their employer. Whether it’s a major disaster that causes damage or death (like the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010), a scandal involving a top executive, or negative press spurred by a disgruntled customer, PR officers must be ready to spring into action to change the narrative and protect their employer’s reputation. In some cases, corporate PR officers conduct risk assessments and develop crisis communication strategies well before the worst happens. Responding to a crisis often means long hours, though, as officers are busy writing and distributing press releases, holding press conferences, managing social media, coaching spokespeople and monitoring public perception and response to measure the success of their efforts and determine whether additional tactics are necessary.
Becoming a Public Relations Officer
Most employers require entry-level public relations officers, sometimes called PR specialists or communications specialists, or in the case of agency work, account managers, to have at least a bachelor’s degree in communication, journalism, English, business or another related subject. Employers typically prefer candidates who have experience in communications, such as working on student newspapers or have held internships in PR firms, PR departments, the media. Advanced positions in PR may require several years of experience and a master’s degree in public relations, communication or a specialized area, such as crisis communication.
Although licensing isn’t required, some PR specialists opt to seek accreditation in public relations. The Accredited in Public Relations credential, commonly referred to as the APR, is awarded to individuals who have at least five years of public relations experience and successfully pass both a panel presentation and a computerized exam. During the panel presentation, candidates must answer specific questions to demonstrate their knowledge of PR and present a portfolio that contains a sample public relations plan. The credentialing process is challenging, but earning the APR designation can increase job opportunities and earning potential.
How Much Does a Public Relations Manager Make?
The median pay for a public relations specialist is $59,300, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This means that half of PR professionals earned more, and have earned less. The top 10 percent of earners in this field take home more than $112,000 per year, while the lowest paid 10 percent earn less than $32,000 per year. The highest paid workers in this field are those in the government, who earn about $63,000 per year, followed by those who work for agencies, who earn about $62,000 per year.
Job prospects in this field are good, as the BLS predicts a 9 percent increase in jobs in this field by 2026. Much of this growth is attributable to the internet and changes in how people get information. Thanks to 24-hour news cycles and the fact that news – both good and bad – spreads quickly online, PR officers are required to be constantly vigilant and ready to respond to protect their clients’ interests and reputations. In addition, the growth of social media as a PR and marketing tool is increasing the need for individuals who understand the platforms and can use them effectively.
Succeeding in Public Relations
Public relations can be a challenging field, and competition for jobs is fierce. However, developing certain skills can make your job easier and increase your chances of success.
- Writing: Being able to write well is one of the most important skills for any PR professional. Knowing exactly which words to use, what terminology will resonate with your audience, and how to explain challenging concepts will take you far. Develop your skills in all types of writing, including memos, blogs, press releases, white papers and social updates, to increase your value.
- Research: Knowing where and how to find information is vital to developing solid PR plans.
- Tech savviness: PR officers often need to use more than just basic software in the course of their work, especially when it comes to web media. Knowledge of photo and video editing software, content management systems and graphics programs is vital when you’re creating presentations, video content and collateral pieces.
Another important quality for success in PR is integrity. Often, PR officers are accused of “spin” and attempting to deceive the public by using specific language or false explanations or by taking things out of context to create new narratives. In today’s environment of “fake news” and overall media distrust, it’s important for PR professionals to maintain accountability and have integrity in everything they do. There may be times when it’s difficult to mitigate the impact on a client’s reputation, but honesty and integrity are always the best policy. Pay close attention to details and correct errors or misconceptions, remembering that it’s your personal reputation on the line as well as your client’s. By remaining ethical and honest in all dealings, your PR career is more likely to be long and successful.