If you love networking and are skilled at seizing opportunities to spread your message, a career as a public relations account executive may be for you
In your role as a public relations (PR) account executive, you'll manage the information between organisations (business-to-business or B2B), or individuals and the general public. You'll do this by promoting your clients to their intended audiences through news items, press releases and product placements.
You'll work within a wider team, aiming to influence public opinion or behaviour without the use of paid advertising.
By generating positive news coverage, achieving product placement without payment in broadcast, print and new media, and placing spokespeople as commentators, a PR account executive works to proactively promote the profile and reputation of their clients.
As a PR account executive, you'll need to:
- liaise on a daily basis with clients and the media, often via telephone and email
- build strong relationships and networks with colleagues, clients and the media
- monitor the media, including newspapers, magazines, journals, broadcasts, newswires, social media sites and blogs, for opportunities for clients
- work as part of an account team to develop client proposals and implement the PR activity
- prepare regular client reports and attend client meetings
- research, write and distribute press releases to targeted media
- promote news stories and features to the media, known as 'selling in'
- collate, analyse and evaluate media coverage
- manage events, including press conferences and promotional events
- attend and promote client events to the media
- assist with the production of client publications, such as in-house magazines
- commission market research
- coordinate studio or location photography
- undertake research for new business proposals and present them to potential new clients
- manage the PR aspect of a possible crisis situation.
- Starting salaries for PR account executives are in the region of £18,000 to £24,000.
- Senior account executives usually earn around £25,000, while account managers may expect to earn £30,000 upwards.
- PR salaries at more senior levels vary from £40,000 for a senior account manager, £45,000 for an account director, £60,000 for a creative director, £80,000 for a director and £100,000+ for a CEO.
Salaries vary depending on the area of PR and geographical location, but are usually higher in London. Financial and business-to-business (B2B) PR often pays higher salaries than beauty or fashion PR.
Some companies offer additional benefits, including medical insurance, gym membership and bonuses. You may be provided with a laptop and mobile phone.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours are generally 9am to 5.30pm, but often increase depending on workload. As client deadlines are all-important, you will have to work until outstanding jobs have been completed. Press launches, crisis management and pitches can all result in long hours. Some agencies have a much more ingrained long-hours culture than others.
Flexibility is important. PR professionals are often expected to network and socialise with clients, the media and colleagues to build and maintain relationships. The boundaries between your social and working life may become somewhat blurred.
Career breaks and secondments are possible. Some PR agencies offer opportunities for unpaid sabbaticals.
What to expect
- Paid overtime is rare, although some consultancies offer time off in lieu for time worked at weekends.
- The job is generally office based, but you may have to attend networking and media events and exhibitions, as well as meetings with clients.
- Self-employment or freelance work is possible, although this is more common for experienced PR professionals.
- Women are well represented in PR but are underrepresented in senior positions.
- PR consultancies exist in main commercial centres in the UK; however, the majority are based in and around London.
- Dress is usually smart when meeting clients. Some consumer agencies or agencies specialising in youth communications often have a more relaxed dress code.
- The work can be stressful, for example when meeting tight deadlines, juggling various projects or working on a new business proposal, but it can also be very rewarding.
- Travel within a working day can be frequent. Absence from home overnight may be required, as is international travel.
Some institutions offer degree courses specific to public relations and these can be helpful in providing the skills that employers rate highly for this field. Studying a specific PR course is by no means essential for entry into job roles but can demonstrate an interest in the industry.
Employers often require candidates to have a degree, but tend to judge you more on your skills and attributes. Although entry to the profession is generally open to all graduates, the following degree or HND subjects may improve your chances:
- communication and media studies
- English and creative writing
- social sciences.
Many agencies are open to graduates with a vast range of degrees. Some specialist agencies, one for ethical healthcare for example, may prefer a relevant scientific degree. A postgraduate qualification may improve your chances of securing a PR position. Search for postgraduate courses in PR.
You will need:
- interpersonal skills, good presentation skills and confidence
- excellent written communication skills
- flexibility, determination, enthusiasm and the ability to cope well under pressure
- good teamwork and negotiation skills
- the ability to think strategically and good analytical skills
- business awareness and a good knowledge of current affairs
- excellent organisational skills, with the ability to work on more than one project at a time
- creativity and imagination
Relevant pre-entry work experience is useful and can include vacation work, work placements, shadowing or volunteering. Careers services often have details of placements available, but you may need to contact PR agencies directly.
Details of work placements and other industry information are available through the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), which students can join at a reduced rate. Membership also provides opportunities to network with employers.
Consider PR experience you can gain while undertaking extracurricular activities, for example promoting a club night or writing a press release for the local media about the success of a sports team.
Public relations is one of the most popular career choices for graduates in the UK. Consequently, it is highly competitive and trainee account executive posts are rare. Some of the larger, established consultancies may offer such opportunities, but this depends on the economic climate.
Read job adverts in the trade press and request vacancy details to help you get a feel for the combination of skills and industry knowledge that a PR account executive needs.
Consider related jobs (e.g. journalism or marketing) for work experience, as employers often find the skills and experience gained in these roles transferable to PR.
You will find the majority of positions in PR consultancies, which provide independent services to their clients.
Consultancies vary in size from three or four people to hundreds of staff members, although larger consultancies are often split into specialist divisions.
Consultancies specialise in either one industry sector or cover several, for example:
- business-to-business (B2B)
- government and public affairs
Some of the larger full-service marketing consultancies have a department dedicated to PR (just as they may have a design and/or advertising department). Opportunities for PR professionals in full-service marketing agencies require account executives to work closely with other departments to deliver integrated marketing campaigns to their clients, as well as developing their knowledge of other elements of marketing.
Opportunities also exist within in-house PR departments, working exclusively for that particular organisation. As an in-house PR professional, you may deal with the entire organisation's PR and communication matters or work cooperatively with PR consultancies on certain projects.
In-house positions often require previous experience in PR and you will be expected to acquire specialist knowledge about the organisation and the market in which it operates.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR)
- The Drum
- PR Moment
- PR Week
- Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA)
There are specialist recruitment agencies that handle vacancies but these are invariably for experienced candidates.
Your training will vary depending on the consultancy or organisation. Some larger firms have structured initial training and continuing professional development (CPD) courses. These often focus on media relations, writing practice and consultancy skills, and larger agencies will occasionally bring in outside trainers to teach graduates as a group.
The majority of training, however, is on the job, working with more experienced colleagues on a number of accounts.
Some smaller agencies may not offer a structured training programme but may give more access to senior members of staff for advice, and provide exposure to a more varied workload than a larger agency.
A variety of short, external courses are available, which are specifically designed for PR professionals. A range of courses, workshops and webinars are offered by the CIPR. Many organisations actively encourage their employees undertake such courses as part of their CPD.
A variety of training courses, specifically tailored for PR professionals are provided by both the:
Some of these are evening courses which last for several weeks or shorter, intensive day courses.
Some organisations encourage employees to study towards the more formal qualifications offered by the CIPR and may offer financial support, provide study leave, or both. CIPR qualifications, which usually take one year to complete, include the Advanced Certificate in Public Relations, aimed at graduates or junior PR professionals and the Diploma in Public Relations, which is targeted towards more experienced PR professionals.
Most new graduates begin their PR career as a junior account executive or assistant account executive.
Your promotion to account executive will depend on the amount of experience you had prior to starting the role, as well as the flair you show for the job.
Depending on the client and size of the consultancy, PR executives may play a key strategic role on accounts very quickly and are often able to take on varied tasks from the start.
If you are a good PR account executive, you may expect to be promoted to senior account executive or account manager in two to three years. As account executives gain more experience they are often asked to take on more responsibility, such as taking part in new business pitches or being a key contact for clients on some smaller accounts.
After a further two to three years at this level, many PR professionals often have enough experience to seek promotion to account director, where they have responsibility for higher-profile clients and all staff working on the account teams, including account managers.
The next step is generally to PR director, taking responsibility for all client accounts and PR staff, but taking less of a role in the day-to-day activity.
Within ten years, talented PR practitioners may expect to be asked to sit at board level and in some instances will have the drive, contacts and ability to set up their own agency.
Career progression is generally the individual's own responsibility, with consultancies rewarding those who show professional ability, initiative and commitment. Some PR professionals may find it advantageous to move to other consultancies or organisations in order to progress their career.
Professional qualifications may also assist with career development.