Public relations specialists work with companies and brands to build and uphold a positive image in the public eye. They tend to focus more on mass communications than many other business careers, so candidates with knowledge of media relations and experience in the social sciences are often well-suited to the duties of these positions.
The exact responsibilities of public relations careers tend to vary from job to job and from project to project, but here's a list of a few things that most public relations specialists can expect to do on a day-to-day basis:
- Compose and distribute press releases
- Interface with reporters, editors and station managers
- Draft speeches and suggest talking points
- Develop and coordinate promotional campaigns
- Solicit creative work from advertising and design agencies
Careers in public relations are similar to marketing careers, in that they typically involve communicating with the public en masse to shape attitudes and perceptions. Other titles for public relations careers include communications specialist, media specialist and press secretary.
How Much do Public Relations Specialists Make?
Salary expectations for public relations careers can vary based on a number of factors, including education level, amount of experience on the job, industry of employment and geographical location. Here's a quick list of some industries that paid above the national median of $55,680 for public relations jobs, according to 2014 mean annual salary data provided by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):
- Petroleum and coal products manufacturing: $89,350
- Federal executive branch: $89,290
- Advertising, public relations and related services: $74,140
- Management of companies and enterprises: $69,520
- Business, professional, labor, political and similar organizations: $67,930
Public relations careers earned a 2014 average of $99,830 in Washington, D.C., home of high-powered press secretaries, easily the highest yearly pay in the field by geographic area. Here are the five states that rounded out the top six regions for public relations specialist average salary:
- Virginia: $77,550
- California: $73,060
- New Jersey: $71,390
- Maryland: $67,760
- New York: $67,700
Certain specific metro areas offered salaries well above average as well, such as the Hartford area in Connecticut ($72,040) and the regions around San Jose ($88,580) and San Francisco ($83,530) in California.
Occupational Requirements and Job Types
The BLS lists a bachelor's degree as the minimum educational requirement for public relations careers, and employment statistics seem to back up that claim. Data gathered by the Occupational Information Network, or O*NET, indicates that 92 percent of working public relations specialists in 2014 held a bachelor's degree while the remaining 8 percent had gone on to earn a graduate degree.
Common subjects of undergraduate study for students seeking public relations careers include English, business, communications and journalism. Dedicated degree programs in marketing/advertising and public relations exist at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, as well, and some institutions may offer public relations internships that allow students to gain experience in the working world before setting out on the job search after graduation.
Some skills, knowledge and personality traits may be used more than others in public relations careers. Here's a little detail on some of the most important examples, as reported by O*NET in 2014:
- Communications and media literacy: Knowledge of the methods and techniques of media production and distribution, including both old-media and new-media communication
- English language fluency: Ability to write, read and understand conventional English to an advanced degree and communicate in language that's lively and clear
- Information acquisition: Skill in using research, inference and other techniques to gain useful information
- Interpersonal communication: Ability to interact with peers, superiors and subordinates in an open and constructive manner
- Critical thinking: Use of reasoning and logic to analyze problems, formulate solution strategies and assess the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches
Advertising and PR firms were home to more than 15 percent of the approximately 230,000 public relations careers, according to BLS data, with civic, professional, religious, educational, government and health care agencies each employing a similar but slightly lower percentage. Students hoping to enter into a certain segment of public relations after graduation should look for internship programs that give them direct experience with the particular needs and challenges of their chosen sector.