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Public relations specialists

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About the work Training qualifications Job outlook Earnings Related links

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Public relations specialists serve as advocates for businesses, nonprofit associations, universities, hospitals and other organizations and build and maintain positive relationships with the public.

Public relations specialists handle organizational functions such as media, community, consumer and governmental relations; political campaigns; interest-group representation; conflict mediation; or employee and investor relations. Understanding the attitudes and concerns of consumers, employees and various other groups also is a vital part of the job. To improve communications, public relations specialists establish and maintain cooperative relationships with representatives of community, consumer, employee and public interest groups and with representatives from print and broadcast journalism.

Informing the general public, interest groups and stockholders of an organization's policies, activities and accomplishments is an important part of a public relations specialist's job. The work involves keeping management aware of public attitudes and concerns of the many groups and organizations with which they must deal.

Public relations specialists prepare press releases and contact people in the media who might print or broadcast their material. Public relations specialists also arrange and conduct programs to keep up contact between organization representatives and the public. They are responsible for preparing annual reports and writing proposals for various projects.

In government, public relations specialists, who may be called press secretaries, information officers, public affairs specialists or communications specialists, keep the public informed about the activities of government agencies and officials.

In large organizations, the key public relations executive, who often is a vice president, may develop overall plans and policies with other executives. People who handle publicity for an individual or who direct public relations for a small organization may deal with all aspects of the job.

Some public relations specialists work a standard 35- to 40-hour week, but unpaid overtime is common. Schedules often have to be rearranged so that workers can handle crises, meet deadlines, deliver speeches, attend meetings and community activities, or travel.

Training and qualifications

There are no defined standards for entry into a public relations career. A college degree combined with public relations experience, usually gained through an internship, is considered excellent preparation for public relations work. In fact, internships are becoming vital to obtaining employment. The ability to write and speak well is essential. Many entry-level public relations specialists have a college major in public relations, journalism, advertising or communications. Some firms seek college graduates who have worked in electronic or print journalism. Other employers seek applicants with demonstrated communications skills and training or experience in a field related to the firm's business.

A portfolio of published articles, television or radio programs, slide presentations and other work is an asset in finding a job. Writing for a school publication or television or radio station provides valuable experience and material for one's portfolio.

Creativity, initiative, good judgment and the ability to express thoughts clearly and simply are essential. Decision-making, problem-solving and research skills also are important.

People who choose public relations as a career need an outgoing personality, self-confidence, an understanding of human psychology and an enthusiasm for motivating people. They should be competitive, flexible and able to function as part of a team.

Job outlook

The number of qualified applicants is expected to exceed the number of job openings. Many people are attracted to this profession because of the high-profile nature of the work and the relative ease of entry. Opportunities should be best for college graduates who combine a degree in journalism, public relations, advertising or another communications-related field with a public relations internship or other related work experience.

Employment of public relations specialists is expected to increase much faster than the average for all occupations through 2010. The need for good public relations in an increasingly competitive business environment should spur demand for public relations specialists in organizations of all sizes. Employment in public relations firms should grow as firms hire contractors to provide public relations services rather than support full-time staff.


Public relations specialists held about 137,000 jobs in 2000. About 6 out of 10 salaried public relations specialists worked in services industries — management and public relations firms, membership organizations, educational institutions, health care organizations, social service agencies and advertising agencies, for example.

Median annual earnings for salaried public relations specialists were $39,580 in 2000. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of public relations specialists in 2000 were:

Management and public relations $43,690
Local government 40,760
State government 39,560
Colleges and universities 35,080

Related links

For information on accreditation for public relations specialists:

International Association of Business Communicators, One Hallidie Plaza, Suite 600, San Francisco, CA 94102.

Adapted from the Labor Department's Occupational Outlook Handbook.