Public relations officer
Public relations (PR) is about managing reputation. This career field aims to gain understanding and support for clients as well as to influence opinion and behaviour.
PR officers use all forms of media and communication to build, maintain and manage the reputation of their clients. These range from public bodies or services to businesses and voluntary organisations. They communicate key messages, often using third party endorsements, to defined target audiences in order to establish and maintain goodwill and understanding between an organisation and its public.
PR officers monitor publicity and conduct research to find out the concerns and expectations of an organisation's stakeholders. They then report and explain the findings to its management.
A PR officer often works in-house and can be found in both the private and public sectors, from the utility and media sectors to voluntary and not-for-profit organisations. Some PR officers may be based in consultancies.
The role is very varied and will depend on the organisation and sector. Tasks often involve:
Salary figures are intended as a guide only.
No set qualifications are required to become a public relations (PR) officer, but most entrants tend to have a degree or HND. There are few specific PR degree courses available, and entry to the profession is generally open to all graduates. However, as PR ranks as one of the most popular career choices for graduates in the UK, the following degree/HND subjects may be particularly helpful:
Postgraduate qualifications in PR are available and may improve your chances of securing a position. However, it will not guarantee a job or replace the personal qualities and experience that employers are looking for. The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) offers the Foundation Award in Public Relations, an introductory qualification which is taught at A-level standard. This is for those considering PR as a career option, such as students, or for those working in PR in a support role.
Pre-entry experience in PR, communications, marketing and media industries is highly desirable, although relevant paid experience may be difficult to find.
Volunteering is a very useful way of gaining experience. Helping at a local charity can give you exposure to planning events, contacting media outlets and writing press releases and articles. It can be helpful to keep a record of anything you have organised or written. Employers also like graduates with experience of writing for student magazines or who have been involved with student radio or university societies.
It is worth contacting your university careers service, as they may have details of PR work placements available, which will provide valuable experience. Students can also join the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) at a reduced rate. The benefits of becoming a student member of the CIPR include access to details of work placements and opportunities to network with employers. The CIPR will also provide details of graduate training schemes.
Candidates need to show evidence of the following:
Joining a consultancy or in-house PR department in a junior role, such as a PR assistant, may be a good starting point. Since many PR departments and consultancies are small and not rigidly structured, there are likely to be many opportunities for junior staff who demonstrate the right mix of ability and commitment to develop their career from this level. Entry as a secretary or administrator has also been known to lead to professional opportunities.
With the competition that exists for jobs in this field, it is essential to look beyond the surface (the glamorous image) to discover the pressures as well as the satisfactions of a career in PR and decide whether you are suited to it.
For more information, see work experience and internships and search courses and research.
Training will vary depending on the organisation. Some larger firms offer graduate training schemes which provide a structured programme of work experience and skills development for new entrants. However, the majority of training will be on the job, working with more experienced colleagues with responsibility being extended gradually as ability and opportunity allow.
Many organisations encourage new employees to go on short, external courses that are designed for public relations (PR) professionals. For example, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) runs a range of short courses, as does the Henshall Centre , which offers a variety of training courses specifically tailored for PR professionals.
There is an increasing emphasis on gaining professional qualifications in PR. The CIPR offers the following courses, which are available on a part-time and distance-learning basis:
The Communication Advertising and Marketing (CAM) Education Foundation and the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) also offer a range of relevant professional courses.
Public relations (PR) is a buoyant industry, and one which is expanding and offers good career development opportunities. However, competition for jobs at all levels is strong.
PR departments and consultancies do not always adhere to traditional patterns of career progression, but for employees who demonstrate outstanding ability, promotion can be very rapid. New graduates could expect to work as a PR assistant or junior account executive for one or two years before gaining promotion to PR officer or account executive.
Further progression to management-level posts is likely to take a further two to three years and depends heavily on your personal aptitude, performance and motivation. A willingness to move between employers or geographical areas may be necessary in order to broaden your experience or move into a more specialist role.
Consultancy can offer broad experience before specialising. It is possible to move between in-house and consultancy roles.
Professional qualifications may also assist with career development and can be gained through the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) .
There is little standardisation of PR job titles, so these may vary depending on the agency or organisation.
Self-employment may also be an option for those wishing to operate as freelance consultants or set up their own PR firms.
Public relations (PR) practitioners work across a wide range of industries and may work in any of the following settings: corporate; financial; consumer; public affairs; local government; business-to-business (B2B); trade and technical; internal communications; not-for-profit organisations and charities.
Vacancies for PR officers exist in-house and in consultancies:
In some cases, in-house PR professionals may work in tandem with PR consultancies on certain projects.
Vacancies for in-house PR posts are often advertised in the national, regional or local press, as well as the industry press listed above. Consultancy vacancies can also be advertised.
There are specialist PR recruitment agencies, but they invariably deal only with vacancies for experienced practitioners. Search the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) for recruitment agencies that deal with PR.
Recruitment can be very ad-hoc, with some graduates obtaining their first post as a result of a speculative approach. The Hollis UK Public Relations Annual may be useful in identifying contacts for speculative applications.
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