At its core, public relations is about cultivating, influencing, engaging and maintaining a relationship with key stakeholders to contribute to the way an organization is perceived.
There are as many different definitions of public relations as there are public relations professionals. No two public relations jobs are the same. According to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), job descriptions can include responsibilities such as media relations, marketing communications, social media, community relations, special events, crisis management, research, and employee communications.
On a daily basis, the PR professional will typically engage in dialogue and interact with both internal business leaders and executives as well as the broader constituents affected by a company’s product and policies: consumers, shareholders, employees and the media.
A typical day may involve keeping the public informed about the activities of the organization, fielding press inquiries regarding a specific issue, pitching the media about a specific corporate initiative or disseminating information and news releases externally on behalf of the company. In a government agency, public relations may fall under the area of public affairs whereas the role will involve explaining policies, managing campaigns and navigating via political channels. Regardless, the successful PR person will spend a large majority of their day being an effective communicator—in print, in person, on the phone and via social media and digital channels.
The content of the work is fluid and there isn’t necessarily a routine day for a PR practitioner. Unforeseen challenges may arise whereby a significant issue, organizational change, material news development or crisis communications will take precedence over existing daily tasks—monitoring for news, maintaining contacts with journalists, setting up speaking engagements, producing talking points and messaging, responding to inquiries and speaking directly to the press on behalf of a client.
A PR person must be keenly aware of current events, industry trends and influences, both geopolitically and economically, upon the news cycle to understand how and when to pitch to media and the quality of stories that will garner the public’s attention. It takes a combination of analysis and strategy to get your client’s message and name in the public eye. With the proliferation of technology, increase in social media and sophistication of digital tools, communications initiatives are more directly measured and tied to business outcomes—creating more opportunity for the public relations professional to collaborate with areas of marketing and advertising as well as expand their traditional responsibilities.
Paying Your Dues
Colleges and universities offer varied degrees in public relations, communications and journalism. A solid liberal arts and/or English degree also can provide a great background to enter into the public relations field. A desirable candidate will ultimately need to be a good writer and effective communicator.