Public Relations Careers 101

When there is an important announcement, public policy change or special event to advertise, someone needs to be in charge of getting the word out. Public relations specialists are the “go to” representatives for what is happening in the business or government agency. Public relations careers are a great way for outgoing people with excellent communications skills to use their interpersonal skills as a voice for the entity they represent.

Public relations representatives are the people who serve as ambassadors, if you will, to the public. They are the people who help to promote a positive, public image that spurs people on to want to engage the company, school or government agency in an effective manner. Public relations or “PR” specialists serve in an advisory role to their organization or company in helping them to put forth their best image.

Public relations careers are available in a vast number of arenas, including universities, all levels of government and companies of various sizes. All of these entities need representatives who can foster good employee relations as well as with those that the organization serves. Related jobs involve informing others about the organization as well as listening to what their customers and constituents have to say and incorporating the people’s voice into decision and policy making.

People who want to pursue PR careers often serve as media liaisons for the company or organization. These specialists regularly write informative and engaging press releases, so good writing skills are an essential quality for job candidates. The press releases are used in a number of media outlets, including radio, television, print and online media. Social media is a new and innovative arena that an up and coming source of advertising and sharing of information.

Someone who wants to land a position in this highly sought-after career should have at least a bachelor’s degree in public relations or communications, but those with degrees in journalism or advertising are also fitting candidates for the job. Many employers also like to see that candidates have received practical experience through internship opportunities in college or even beyond. Experience coupled with the educational training and background are key assets for PR job candidates.

Some entry-level jobs in public relations careers begin in an administrative capacity as a secretary or office assistant. They may get opportunities to write a press release or speech here and there to demonstrate their skills. Their patience can sometimes pay off as employees can work their way up to a PR position. People who are confident, talented communicators and possess great interpersonal skills have a bright career outlook.

Solving the Public Relations Puzzle

You often hear people refer to public relations or PR as something positive or negative that a company received in response to an action. “Wow, they got good PR out of that!” But, what exactly does that mean?

The confusion about what public relations is or what it encompasses is not surprising given that the field is so multi-faceted. Research will show that the term public relations is often grouped under marketing and used synonymously with others such as community relations, media relations, public affairs, image enhancement, publicity, and promotion.

In fact, leading experts in the PR field often disagree, offering numerous definitions for clarification. Rex Harlow, a pioneer in public relations education, complied over 500 definitions from a variety of sources ranging from complex essays to simple descriptions. One of my favorites is, “PR stands for Performance and then Recognition.”

In 1981, the Public Relations Society of America attempted to end the confusion, by forming a task force with the mission of defining public relations once and for all. They landed on this concise definition, “Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to one another. It is an organizations efforts to win the cooperation of groups of people.”

But the real question is, why does this matter? Why should I understand and have a need for public relations in my business? Authors Cutlip, Center, & Broom offer some help to these questions. In the sixth edition of their reference book, Effective Public Relations, They state that public relations is, “the management function that identifies, establishes, and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the various publics on whom it’s success or failure depend.”

This definition is great in that it, first, identifies that public relations does not just happen. It is truly a function that must be created. Second, this definition contains the key phrase, “success or failure.” This is why public relations efforts are so essential. How your company interacts with and represents itself to the world will determine the fate of your company.

We know that the definition of public relations is ever evolving and often disputed. However, there is one clear and common thread that is woven throughout these definitions. They all involve relationships and interactions. Simply put, public relations is all about communication. It is working to produce effective communication designed to influence, provide information, and gain understanding.

Perhaps the most understood public relations action is use of the media to communicate with and promote to target markets. Submitting press releases, gaining exposure, and developing promotional campaigns is something we can sink our teeth into. However, it is important not to confuse advertising and public relations. Advertising is a paid tool that can be used to support public relations efforts. When used effectively together, the two can make a powerful team.

Keep in mind that media relations and publicity are just a few of the many areas of public relations. Effective communications need to occur with all of your “publics” both internal and external. For example, your business cannot function without clear understanding and communication with your bankers, investors, and/or board members. You depend on a relationship with your local community to support your efforts. And, you rely upon your employees to support your image. Public relations involves developing and implementing a successful communication plan to work with and among these groups for the benefit of all.

And, what happens when things don’t turn out as planned? Enter public relations again! Public relations efforts must be pro-active in order to protect the image and reputation of the company. From crisis planning to the simple development of clear responses to community questions, it is in the best interest of the company and their publics to be prepared.

Perhaps the most ironic thing about public relations is that the field itself has a poor image. For some, the term PR tends to conjure up thoughts of deceptive and self-serving rhetoric. They picture obnoxious, celebrity press agents of today who believe that any press is good press. Some picture historical event promoters such as P.T. Barnum, of Barnum & Bailey Circus, who use exaggeration and hype to entertain.

Unfortunately, it is true that not everyone engaging in public relations activities is acting in the best public interest. But it is also important to understand there are wonderful, ethical, and positive public relations actions taking place all around us. In fact, without them, we would be a lost society.

The art of public relations is one that has deep and historical roots. In a sense, it’s as old as communication itself. Government, religion, and business have and always will rely on public relations. Think about it, what would be different in our world if the Catholic Church hadn’t taught its priests to “propagate” the faith? Without communications developed to influence targeted publics, how would we be persuaded to accept the authority of government leaders or to take a position on a public issue? We can even thank event promoters in ancient Athens for building the foundation for special event planning of today. It takes the same basic public relations skills to promote the Olympics then that it does now…now that’s an event!

Public relations efforts are essential to business success and growth. And, opportunities to use public relations activities to better your company and your bottom-line are endless. Ann Landers point out, “Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work, so most people don’t recognize them!” Don’t make this mistake by ignoring the power of public relations. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Public Relations Counselors

The aim of Public Relations is to maximize support and minimize opposition for your enterprise among the various stakeholders and general public. A PR campaign consists of two distinct elements — strategy and execution, i.e. what to do and how to do it.

The role of a Public Relations Counselor is to suggest strategy, i.e. advocate âwhat to doâ. A Public Relations Counselor would typically be involved in defining the PR policy of your enterprise, analyzing problems and opportunities, identifying the stakeholders or publics you need to reach, recommending the key messages for each public, and allocating responsibilities to the team.

Given the criticality of this position, here are some qualities you need to look for in your Public Relations Counselor:

Good Judgment

Good judgment is the single most important quality of a good PR counselor. She needs to correctly interpret the strength and longevity of public opinion, and must know what to react to, and when and how to react. This calls for superior judgment.

Research and analytical capabilities

A responsible public relations program is based on the understanding of its publics. This comes through patient research, quantitative and qualitative measurement and insightful analysis. Without these qualities, a public relations counselor cannot hope to succeed.

Thinking on her feet

PR counselors are invariably called on to deal with crisis situations when hostile publics demand swift and sensitive action. Imagination, quick reactions, and sensitivity to the publics view will help your PR counselor deal effectively and efficiently with these adversities.

Persuasive Communicator

Communication is critical to all public relations functions. Well-planned, effectively handled communication is the key to the success of every PR program. Your PR counselor must also be persuasive in order to gather information and opinions from people, often in times of trouble when most people dont want to talk.

Honesty

Above all, you want a PR counselor who will always be honest with you. Your PR counselor needs to be a mirror of the public opinion, helping you see an honest picture of what the public thinks of your enterprise.