A Public Relations Degree: What You Want to Know About PR Degrees & Careers
Are you thinking about earning a public relations degree or obtaining similar training? Doing so could lead you to exciting career opportunities. You may not realize it, but you are likely influenced by the work of public relations professionals on a daily basis. They have a way of grabbing your attention and winning you over, whether they are selling a new product or promoting a controversial development in your neighborhood.
Successful PR professionals have a knack for changing public attitudes and behaviors. Just think of anti-bullying or breast cancer awareness campaigns. You can bet that they were developed with the help of skilled public relations specialists. They have a way with words and possess a natural ability to put a positive spin on just about anything. They can tell stories in ways that engage and captivate audiences. And they love interacting and communicating with all types of people by using many different forms of media.
As you consider getting onto this career path, you may have questions regarding things like whether you need a public relations degree to enter the field, what the job responsibilities entail, and what you could expect for a salary. Keep reading to discover the answers to these questions and more!
What Is a Public Relations Specialist?
Public relations specialists can have many different job titles, some of which include publicist, communications specialist, or media relations specialist. Overall, they help organizations create and maintain a positive public image. They can work in-house for one specific business, or they can work for agencies where they handle public relations for several clients at one time.
PR specialists can take care of all aspects of an organization's communications, both internally and with the public. They can be responsible for everything from developing PR programs and preparing media releases to writing speeches and planning events. They also work closely with advertising, marketing, sales, and other public-focused departments to ensure that their messages are in line with the organization's overall public relations strategy.
Do I Need a Public Relations Degree to Enter the Field?
There are no industry-standard training requirements, so earning a public relations degree isn't always necessary to enter the field. However, according to 2014 survey data, 92 percent of respondents who worked as public relations specialists or in similar positions held bachelor's degrees.* So earning a degree can certainly enhance your job prospects and help you stand out from other potential candidates.
Along with a public relations degree, you could also consider earning a degree in communications, journalism, English, advertising, or marketing. These areas of study can also help you develop skills that are considered essential in a public relations role.
Many employers cite the ability to think critically and independently as key skills that they look for when hiring a public relations specialist. So an education in areas like philosophy or the social sciences can help you get noticed as well. And since PR professionals are needed in all sectors, from finance to healthcare, experience in your chosen industry can also help you progress your career. Additionally, you could choose to open up more job possibilities through an advanced education, such as by enrolling in one of the public relations graduate programs in your area.
Ultimately, a combination of education and experience in fields that highlight your writing and communication abilities can lead you to a PR career. And earning a public relations degree could help you get there a little faster.
What Might I Learn While Earning a PR Degree?
Whether you pursue a public relations degree, diploma, or certificate, your program will likely help prepare you for a variety of PR roles, including those found within agencies, corporations, government departments, or non-profit organizations. You might learn about everything from media, government, and investor relations to brand management and marketing communications. You may also learn about all of the pieces that go into crafting and executing effective public relations policies, strategies, and campaigns. And your program might cover important topics related to communications, advertising, marketing, and consumer and organizational behavior.
Depending on the type and length of your training, here are some of the topics that your program may cover:
- Public relations tools and resources
- Public speaking
- Media writing and editing
- Media law and ethics
- Media formats and tools
- Promotional writing
- Multimedia communication
- Digital and social media strategies
- Reputation management strategies
- Brand management
- Advertising management
- Social media metrics
- Digital advertising communication
- Marketing strategy
- Marketing research
- Consumer behavior
- Workplace culture
- Crisis management
- Change management
- Argumentation and advocacy
- Conflict and negotiation
- Business communications
- Cross-cultural communications
- Technical writing
- Project management
What Can I Expect in Regard to Working Environment & Job Responsibilities?
Since PR professionals work across all industries, you will find a wide range of workplaces. Job data from 2014 shows that the following sectors have the highest rates of employment of public relations specialists:**
- Professional, scientific, and technical services—Top employers include companies that offer services related to advertising and PR, scientific and research development, consulting, and computer systems design.
- Other services, excluding government—Top employers include business, professional, labor, political, social advocacy, grant-making and giving, civil and social, and religious organizations.
- Educational services—Top employers include colleges, universities, and professional schools, elementary and secondary schools, and junior colleges.
- Local, state, and federal government—Highest employment levels are in state government, followed by local and then federal.
- Healthcare and social assistance—Top employers include individual and family social service agencies, hospitals, ambulatory healthcare centers, and nursing and residential care facilities.
- Information—Top employers include radio and TV broadcasters, software publishers, telecommunications companies, and newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers.
- Arts, entertainment, and recreation—Top employers include amusement, gambling, and recreation companies as well as museums and historical sites, performing arts and sports promoters, spectator sports organizations, and performing arts companies.
You can easily see the variance that could exist between the different settings. For example, working in a hospital would provide a much different environment than that of a sports arena. However, in general, a PR position is considered an office job, even though you may not spend that much time sitting at your desk. On any given day, you could be attending meetings and events, giving speeches, and getting involved with community activities, just to provide a few examples of the many responsibilities that would make up your role.
Typically, the work of a public relations specialist is fast-paced. You may be responsible for meeting tight deadlines while managing several tasks at one time. Some of your daily responsibilities could include:
- Writing press releases and marketing material
- Creating promotional material for the organization
- Identifying target audiences and determining the best way to reach them
- Analyzing PR performance metrics and acting on the collected information
- Building relationships with local media outlets and tracking media coverage
- Creating press kits
- Responding to media requests and other public inquiries
- Developing public relations strategies and campaigns
- Creating and posting content on social media platforms
- Maintaining an organization's image and identity
- Preparing speeches
- Developing fundraising strategies and planning events
- Applying for grants
- Responding to negative press
- Keeping current on economic, political, and social concerns and trends that may affect the organization
- Assisting with internal communications, such as helping prepare reports or newsletters
- Determining public opinions and developing campaigns to reshape them as required
How Much Are Publicists Paid?
Public relations specialists earn an average annual salary of $66,540, according to 2016 job data. And the top earners in the field are bringing in $110,560 or higher. Furthermore, individuals who work for firms that specialize in offering advertising and PR services earn an average of $74,230 per year, which is substantially higher than the national average. Certain manufacturing sectors also offer higher wages. In some cases, the average salary exceeds $93,000 a year.**
You may also want to consider the location where you begin building your career. There are regions and states across the country that offer higher-than-average salaries. For example, check out the average annual salaries in these locations:**
- The District of Columbia—$95,750
- Rhode Island—$75,170
So you can see that, along with your level of education and experience, the type of organization, industry, and location can make a big difference to your expected earnings.
Are Good Job Opportunities Available?
With an increasingly competitive business landscape and the growing use of the Internet and social media, public relations specialists can expect to have decent job opportunities. More companies are recognizing the importance of gaining recognition within their communities and enhancing customer relations and engagement. They also want to be able to have their organizations viewed in a positive light while reducing the impact of negative publicity. And all of these things can be achieved much more easily with the assistance of a PR professional.
It is projected that the number of jobs available to public relations specialists will grow by six percent between 2014 and 2024. However, there are specific industries that are expecting even higher job growth numbers during the same period. Check out the projected rates of employment growth for the sectors below that are expecting an optimistic job outlook for public relations specialists:***
- Non-store retailers (online, direct sales, etc.)—31.2 percent
- Management, scientific, and technical consulting services—27.5 percent
- Software publishing—27 percent
- Healthcare and social assistance—17.8 percent
- Heavy and civil engineering construction—16.7 percent
- Motion picture, video, and sound recording—12.9 percent
- Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction—12 percent
- Retail trade—11.2 percent
- Finance and insurance—10.6 percent
Is Career Advancement Possible?
Yes. PR specialists often have numerous opportunities for advancement throughout their careers. Since a lot of the knowledge and skills you develop in your PR career are valued in many other types of jobs, you could easily transition into other business-related careers. And if you want to advance in the areas of public relations, communications, advertising, or marketing, here are three solid options you might consider:
Public relations manager—This position is quite similar to that of a public relations specialist. There can be many overlapping job duties and responsibilities, but the PR manager typically takes on more of a leadership role. You would likely oversee an entire PR department and work more directly with developing strategies as well as managing PR and communications staff.
- Average annual salary—$123,360
- Top-end salary—$205,110 or higher
- Estimated job growth—Seven percent
Advertising and promotions manager—This job requires you to lead a company's advertising and promotions department. You could be responsible for planning, executing, and managing a variety of advertising policies and programs designed to increase sales for products and/or services.
- Average annual salary—$117,810
- Top-end salary—$208,000 or higher
- Estimated job growth—Five percent
Marketing manager—This position could have you managing a marketing department. You would likely oversee other department staff members, create policies and strategies, and direct workflow. Your responsibilities would combine areas of advertising and public relations since the marketing department works to increase sales while creating a positive company and brand image.
- Average annual salary—$144,140
- Top-end salary—$208,000 or higher
- Estimated job growth—Nine percent
(Note that the salary data mentioned above reflects May 2016 job data.** And the estimated job growth cited is for the decade from 2014 to 2024.***)
What Industry Certifications Are Available?
Although there are industry certifications available for public relations professionals, very few companies require them as a condition of your employment. However, obtaining an industry certification can be a great way to highlight your professional skills and credibility. Below are three of the more common certifying agencies:
- Global Communication Certification Council (GCCC)—Offers the Communication Management Professional (CMP) certification, which is administered by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). It is designed for more experienced managers, and you must meet specific education and experience criteria in order to apply and take the exam. However, you can also become a professional member of the IABC by completing an application and paying a yearly membership fee. Doing so gives you access to IABC's international network of communications professionals and resources, including professional development opportunities and job postings.
- Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)—Provides three different levels of membership based upon your experience level. You can submit a membership application with a fee. Once you become a member, you are required to renew and pay annually in order to maintain your membership. As a member, you can receive access to training opportunities, industry publications, job postings, and more.
- Universal Accreditation Board (UAB)—Offers an Accreditation in Public Relations (APR). Upon meeting specific education and experience requirements, you will need to complete a readiness review and apply to take an exam. Upon passing the exam, you must maintain an annual membership and meet continuing education requirements.
How Do I Know If I'm Cut Out for a Career in Public Relations?
Public relations specialists come from all different backgrounds and can possess quite a variety of skill sets. So there isn't just one definitive answer or checklist for what it takes to succeed in public relations. However, there are certain attributes and aspirations that could mean you are well suited for a PR career. See if any of these statements describe you:
- You want a career in which you can make a real, measurable difference. Working in PR can provide you with this opportunity. Public relations specialists have been the brains behind campaigns that have changed public attitudes regarding drinking and driving. They have created campaigns that encourage people to take on healthier lifestyles, raise awareness of public health issues, or advance important causes. It is possible that you could create campaigns that positively influence society.
- You can communicate with anyone about anything. When you work in public relations, you never know where your work could lead you. One day you could be conversing with low-income underserved populations, and the next day could have you working with celebrities.
- You listen as well as you talk. Many people think that PR professionals are just good talkers. But they also must be good listeners. Not only do they need to hear what their clients are saying, they need to hear what the public is saying. Having the ability to listen can lead to targeted and well-received campaigns.
- You "get" people. You understand what makes people tick. You have an innate ability to understand how they think and how they react. This enables you to get across your point of view effectively in order to shape other people's opinions and attitudes.
- You are a quick thinker who can easily come up with creative and innovative approaches. Some of the best PR professionals work at lightning speed and drop ideas that leave others wondering, "How did she even come up with that?"
- You can't stand the thought of being bored in your career. If there is one thing that PR specialists would tell you, it's that the work is varied and interesting. This is especially true if you work for a public relations agency where you are responsible for working with multiple clients running several campaigns at one time.
- You enjoy exciting, fast-paced work environments, and you can manage stress like a champion. In line with the point above, you not only despise boredom, but also feel motivated by deadlines and can roll stress off your shoulders like it's nothing.
- You like keeping up to date on current trends and the news. The best PR professionals have an awareness of what is happening in the world around them and how it may affect their organization or clients.
How Do I Bring My Natural Talents to Fruition?
Do you like the thought of a PR career? Are you ready to achieve your true potential? Then take advantage of this moment and find a school that offers a public relations degree, diploma, or certificate program that can help you get your career started. All you need to do is enter your zip code into the tool below to see which schools are offering programs near you. This is your chance to go after the career that you have been imagining!
* O*NET, website last visited on November 30, 2016.
** Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last visited on September 14, 2017.
*** Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, website last visited on March 24, 2016.