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Ever dreamed of a career that combines creativity, strategy, and relationship-building? And even the opportunity to travel around the globe? Look no further than public relations, or PR. In a nutshell, this multifaceted field involves managing the public reputation of a client or employer. Public relations specialists work in all kinds of industries, so you can choose an area that suits your interests and expertise. You can also combine public relations with similar lines of work – like advertising, social media, events, and marketing – making it a diverse and dynamic role. Reckon you’ve got what it takes to enter the exciting world of PR? Here’s our guide on how to become a public relations specialist.

What do public relations specialists do?

Public relations specialists are all about building, managing, and influencing public perception. This could be the perception of an individual, group, or organization.

Their goal is to maintain a positive image among the general public. They also manage any public setbacks to restore their client or employer’s standing.

Public relations is such a varied profession. PR specialists often take on lots of different responsibilities, including (but not limited to!):

  • Developing strategies and campaigns to improve or maintain public reputation
  • Building relationships with journalists, influencers, and media outlets
  • Monitoring media coverage
  • Writing press releases to announce things like venue openings, product launches, events, company developments, and research findings. News outlets then use this information in their coverage
  • Organizing interviews between their client or employer and different media outlets
  • Arranging tours, trips, appointments, and other ways for media to engage with their client or employer
  • Managing issues that affect their client's or employer’s public reputation (crisis management)
  • Writing speeches and responses on behalf of their client or employer
  • Maintaining their client's or employer’s image on social media and other platforms
Public relations and advertising often get mixed up, but the two are quite different. Advertising is paid media, whereas public relations is earned media. In advertising, a company might pay for a full-page ad in a magazine. But a public relations specialist will use their relationships and influence with media outlets and encourage journalists to write articles about the company.

What are the skills needed to become a public relations specialist?

To be an effective public relations specialist, you’ll need a mix of hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills are the technical requirements of the job that are specific to the industry. Soft skills are character traits that help you excel in the role.

Some of the core skills and traits needed on the job include:

  • Honesty. Ever heard of PR spin? It’s the selective choosing of facts or presenting a biased view of something to get a particular message across. The best public relations specialists are able to tell the truth about whatever they’re promoting
  • Excellent writing skills and interpersonal communication skills. Writing and talking are two of the most fundamental components of the role. Being an active listener helps PR professionals truly understand their client's or employer’s needs
  • Great time management and organizational skills. PR specialists need to be on top of multiple clients, media outlets, and deadlines
  • The ability to build strong relationships with clients, media, and other stakeholders
  • A solid understanding of the media. This includes the news cycle, media landscape in a particular field, the journalists working in that field, and their target audiences. Being able to pitch a good story to the right publication and contact is essential
  • Good social media knowledge to track a client's or employer’s public image
  • Creative thinking. You'll need to present PR campaigns or announcements in an interesting way to get media attention. A creative mind is a very valuable asset
  • Troubleshooting and problem-solving skills, along with flexibility. Things can change on a dime or not go to plan, and crises do happen. Public relations specialists must have the ability to respond and shift direction, and think on their feet
  • Expert research skills. Some PR specialists require a technical understanding of their industry, such as finance, law, or tech, to talk the talk. But across all PR roles, you'll need in-depth knowledge of the client or employer, market, and industry. This is why excellent research skills and attention to detail are key
  • Teamwork. In many PR departments, there are different levels of seniority. This is why public relations specialists have to work well in a team. The same goes for working with other departments, such as marketing and advertising

Depending on the industry or role, there may be other skill requirements. But you’ll generally find that the above qualities apply to most public relations jobs.

Develop these important public relations specialist skills

Public relations is incredibly people-focused. This is why soft skills, especially interpersonal skills, are so crucial to the job. Having a variety of soft skills will allow you to get a start in the industry and achieve success as a public relations specialist.

F4S can help you gain self-awareness of your motivations around these important skills. After taking the assessment, you can set your own personal skills goals. Coach Marlee will then deliver personalized insights into your aspirations and motivations. You’ll also get feedback on your motivations and some important insight into any blind spots.

Develop yourself and your skills, and excel in your career, by registering for free personal development coaching with F4S.

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How long does it take to become a public relations specialist?

The journey toward becoming a public relations specialist can take up to 5-6 years. This is because many employers prefer candidates with a bachelor’s degree, as well as some on-the-job experience.

Education requirements for public relations specialists

As far as degrees go, many colleges and universities offer a bachelor’s degree in public relations. Or, you could study communications, media, journalism, commerce, marketing, or advertising. Keen to work in a particular industry? You can also include a minor in a specialist field, like computer science, environmental studies, or fashion.

But that’s not to say a degree is a necessity. Unlike medicine or law, public relations doesn’t need a formal qualification. In fact, many public relations specialists get into the industry after working in fields like marketing, advertising, or journalism.

There are also plenty of diploma programs and short courses in media relations, advertising, marketing, and more. These can help build the necessary skills to thrive in the PR world.

What licenses, certifications, and registrations do you need?

You don’t need a license, certification, or registration to work in PR, but you can get one.

Public relations associations often deliver courses, professional development, and mentorship programs. Many also offer accreditation. Membership with these associations won’t affect your ability to work in the industry, but it will showcase your skills and experience. This can be a massive boost when you’re looking for a job.

Examples of global public relations associations include the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) and the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). In the US, look to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

Australia and New Zealand are home to the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) and the Public Relations Institute of New Zealand Te Pūtahi Whakakakau Tūmatanui o Aotearoa (PRINZ). You'll also find the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) in the UK.

What on-job public relations internships are typically undertaken?

If you want to gain industry experience before you graduate, consider an internship. The industry can be competitive, and even entry-level PR roles sometimes need hands-on experience. An internship can give you the necessary edge when applying for jobs.

Many degrees include an internship component. But, you can also reach out to public relations agencies or internal PR departments to see if they take on interns.

An internship lets you try different aspects of the job. You could be writing press releases and creating media databases and lists. Or, you could submit strategy or campaign ideas and manage social media accounts. Some internships may also allow you to attend client meetings.

What advancement or specialization opportunities are there?

Those public relations associations we mentioned earlier? Along with the training they provide, they’re also a valuable tool for building a professional network. Many host regular social events and conferences for in-person networking. Some have digital channels that allow you to interact with others in the industry online.

You can also undertake postgraduate study – such as a master's degree – to deepen your knowledge of public relations.

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What are the career opportunities and outlook for public relations specialists?

There are lots of interesting public relations specialist jobs. These include:

  • Account director, account manager, account coordinator. These roles work together in an agency environment and often manage many clients at once
  • Communications manager. A communications manager works within an organization to send internal and/or external messages
  • Corporate affairs manager. Corporate affairs managers engage in a lot of stakeholder management. They tend to operate at high levels of companies, working with upper management and acting as an advisor to senior staff
  • Media advisor. This role provides training and advice if a client or organization needs to front the media
  • Spokesperson. The spokesperson is the public face of a group or organization
  • Press secretary. This is the term for public relations specialists who work in government or politics
  • Publicist. This term is interchangeable with ‘public relations specialist’. It's used to describe PR professionals who represent celebrities, books, and films
  • Social media manager. This role oversees a client's or employer’s social media activity and monitors their public image on different social media platforms
  • Community manager. Like a social media manager, a community manager manages online communities. Their goal is to boost relationships between organizations and their audience
  • Content creator. Content creators develop materials for different platforms, including social media and digital channels
  • Marketing manager. A marketing manager oversees all marketing activity for an organization. Their role often encompasses public relations

When it comes to job prospects, the future looks bright for public relations specialists.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment is forecast to grow 8 percent between 2021 and 2031 – faster than the average for all jobs.1 In the UK, there’s a job growth forecast of about 5.7 percent between 2021 and 2027.2 And in Australia and New Zealand, demand is likely to remain steady in the coming years.34

Where can public relations specialists work?

Where to begin? There are lots of options for public relations specialists. This means you can adapt your professional path to suit your interests and career goals.

Public relations specialists are in both the public and private sectors. They also work across a huge variety of industries. You can pursue anything from finance to food, travel to tech, and consumer goods to construction.

You could join local government, promoting the work that your council has done in the community. You could be the publicist for a celebrity or politician, managing their public appearances and media interviews. You could work for a tech start-up, helping the business get publicity during its launch phase. Or, you could be part of a travel brand and promote particular destinations, hotels, or airlines. Yep, this kind of PR involves quite a bit of travel – which can be a major perk!

Many public relations specialists work in an agency or public relations firm, where they represent one or several clients. These clients are sometimes in the same industry, but PR specialists often manage diverse accounts.

Others may choose to freelance and hop between contract roles. Freelance PR specialists tend to work on a single campaign before moving on to a new client. The benefit of this is that you have the freedom to work in a capacity that suits you and your lifestyle.

When they enter the industry, public relations specialists start out as assistants or coordinators. They then move up the ranks as their career progresses. They might become a public relations officer or executive, then a public relations manager, and, eventually, a director.

The opportunities really are endless.

How much can public relations specialists earn?

The average salary for PR specialists varies. Pay depends on the region where they work, the industry they’re in, and their experience.

That being said, the median annual salary for public relations specialists in the US was US$62,800 in May 2021. This is quite a bit higher than the median salary for all occupations, which stood at US$45,760.5

In Australia, the average base salary for a public relations specialist is AU$ 70,000 (appx. US$45,000) according to PayScale.6 PRIA lists the average starting salary for an account coordinator at about AU$41,000 (appx US$27,500). This moves up to more than AU$170,000 (appx US$117,000) for a head of communications role.7

The average income for members of PRINZ is NZD$99,000 (appx US$62,536) according to PRINZ’s most recent salary report.8 The report also lists government as the highest-paying sector and non-profits as the lowest-paying.

And in the UK, the average starting salary for public relations specialists is about GBP£17,000 (appx US$21,800). Over time, and with more experience, this increases to an average salary of around GBP£50,000 US$60,700.2

Frequently asked questions

How many credits do you need to become a public relations specialist?

This depends on what and where you study. But, in most public relations programs, you’ll generally need to complete up to 300 credit points across your core studies, major and minor, and electives. These credit points are usually composed of communications, public relations, or journalism studies. But they may also encompass internships or other work experience.

Can I get a PR job without a degree?

Absolutely! Even though many employers prefer candidates to have one, a degree isn’t a prerequisite to working in PR. In fact, ample professional experience can be as valuable as a qualification.

Plus, there are plenty of short courses and professional development programs. These can give you the necessary skills or grow your existing ones.

How much does it cost to gain PR skills?

According to Research.com, a public relations degree can cost between US$10,000 to more than US$40,000 per year. The average cost for an undergraduate degree is US$23,791 per year, while graduate programs average US$19,301 per year.9

Short courses and professional development programs vary in price. The cost depends on the mode of delivery (online or in person), the length of the course, and how in-depth it is.

If you’re keen to build the soft skills required by the job, you can sign up for coaching with F4S. We offer free soft skills coaching to help you gain a competitive edge in the PR industry.

How do I get into PR with no experience?

If you’re yet to gain any professional experience, there are ways to get it. This is where networking is key.

Write down a list of agencies, companies, and people you’re interested in getting to know, then reach out to them. Ask if they ever take on interns, outline why you’d be a great fit, and talk about what interests you about PR. Also, think about any transferable skills you can offer and relevant work experience.

If they’re not taking interns, you could ask to set up an informational interview with someone from the team. This is where you can find out about their role and how they got to where they are today.

How to become a lobbyist and public relations specialist

A lobbyist shares a few of the characteristics of a public relations specialist, but their role is quite different. Instead of working with the media and influencing public opinions, lobbyists try to sway political decisions by acting on behalf of an organization or group.

Some of the similarities between both professions include relationship-building, creating materials to sway or influence, developing strategic plans, researching, and communicating through different mediums. That’s why many employees who work in either industry can easily transfer their skills to the other.

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Show References
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  1. (2021) 'Occupational Outlook Handbook: Public Relations Specialists'. Available at U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  2. (2022) ‘Organizations: Public Relations Professionals’ Available at CareerSmart UK
  3. (N/A) ‘Organizations Profile: Public Relations Professionals’ Available at Labour Market Insights
  4. (N/A) Anon. ‘Public Relations’ Available at AUT AC NZ
  5. (N/A) Anon. ‘Public Relations (PR) Specialist Salary in Australia Available at Payscale
  6. (N/A) Anon. How Much Do You Earn Available at PRIA
  7. (2020) Anon. ‘Salary Insights Report 2020 Research First Available at Research First PRINZ 
  8. (2021) Anon. ‘Public Relations Degree Guide: 2022 Costs, Requirements & Job Opportunities Available At Research 

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