Have you ever thought about why people trust certain product brands? Or how companies manage their public image? Or how certain Hollywood movie stars seem to appear in the press over and over again? The one thing they all have in common is effective public relations.
Public relations specialists (also referred to as media representatives and communications officers) serve as advocates for businesses, nonprofit associations, hospitals, universities, and other organizations. They build and maintain positive relationships with the press and the public. Media reps not only manage the day-to-day business of a company’s image, but they may also be called upon to repair the damage done by a corporate misstep or other crisis.
Jobs in public relations have traditionally been concentrated in large cities, where many businesses and trade associations have their headquarters, and press services and other communications facilities are readily available. Many public relations consulting firms, for example, are in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC. However, because of the internet, in recent years corporate communications jobs are increasingly found nearly anywhere.
How do public relations specialists manage an organization’s message? Primarily by cultivating relationships with the press, and then providing the press with positive news stories. Communications managers draft press releases and send them to reporters in the media who might print or broadcast their material. You might be surprised to know that many newspaper stories, magazine articles, and radio or television special reports begin as press releases from media specialists.
Crisis management can be important. If a supermarket chain is accused of selling tainted meat, for example, the supermarket must immediately take action to correct the problem. The next task may involve counteracting the negative impression that has been created in the minds of customers. People may switch to a competitor because of stories circulating about bad meat at the supermarket. It’s the task of the public relations team at the supermarket to make sure that the community knows that the problem has been fixed and that the chain can be trusted to sell healthy food.
In government, information officers and press secretaries keep the public informed about the activities of agencies and officials. A U.S. senator may employ a team of press officers to keep the senator’s constituents informed and monitor what the press is saying about their boss. If a negative story appears, the press officers will try to respond with something positive. During an election campaign, public relations officers are key members of the campaign team because they must constantly evaluate their candidate’s standing in the polls and image in the press.
Education and training: A college degree in public relations, advertising, journalism, or communications is often required even for entry-level positions. Some organizations seek college graduates who have worked in electronic or print journalism, those who have communication skills and training, or who have experience in a field related to the firm’s business.
Many colleges and universities offer associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees in communications. A public relations program may include courses in media relations principles and techniques, communications management and administration, writing, visual communications, and research. Advertising, business administration, finance, journalism, political science, psychology, sociology, and creative writing may also be part of a program.
Job growth could be impressive. According to the U.S. Government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, during the current decade 2008-2018 employment of public relations specialists is expected to grow 24 percent, much faster than the average for all occupations.
In an increasingly competitive business environment, the need for effective media relations should create a need for these workers in organizations of all types and sizes. People with foreign language capabilities also are in great demand. Employment in public relations firms should grow as firms outsource to provide public relations services rather than hire in-house staff.
Perhaps you could be the person who shapes public opinion for a company, a product, or a candidate. With the right training and opportunities, a career in public relations could be yours.
But how do you begin to get the training you need? A good way is to log onto a reputable online career college search engine and directory. You’ll be able to search for schools in your area that offer the degree you need, or find an online degree program. You can compare programs and even learn about flexible schedules and financial aid. Then you can request free information from the schools that interest you, visit a few, and make your decision. In less time than you think, you could be trained for a new rewarding career as a public relations specialist.
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