Public relations officers manage reputation, gaining understanding and support for their clients, as well as trying to influence opinion and behaviour

A career in public relations (PR) involves using all forms of media and communication to build, maintain and manage the reputation of your clients. These range from public bodies or services, to businesses and voluntary organisations.

You'll 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.

As a PR officer, you'll monitor publicity and conduct research to find out the concerns and expectations of your client organisation's stakeholders. You'll then report and explain the findings to its management.

Responsibilities

As a public relations officer, you'll need to:

  • plan, develop and implement PR strategies
  • communicate with colleagues and key spokespeople
  • liaise with, and answer enquiries from, media individuals and other organisations
  • research, write and distribute press releases to targeted media
  • collate and analyse media coverage
  • write and edit in-house magazines, case studies, speeches, articles and annual reports
  • prepare and supervise the production of publicity brochures, handouts, direct mail leaflets, promotional videos, photographs, films and multimedia programmes
  • devise and coordinate photo opportunities
  • organise events, including press conferences, exhibitions, open days and press tours
  • maintain and update information on the organisation's website
  • manage and update information and engage with users on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook
  • source and manage speaking and sponsorship opportunities
  • commission market research
  • foster community relations through events such as open days and through involvement in community initiatives
  • manage the PR aspect of a potential crisis situation.

Salary

  • Average starting salaries for PR officers can range from £22,000 to £28,000. You may need to start in an assistant role, which will likely mean an initial entry-level salary of around £18,000.
  • Average starting salaries for PR officers can range from £22,000 to £28,000.
  • With a few years' experience, salaries can increase to more than £40,000.
  • Senior management positions, such as PR director or head of corporate affairs, offer salaries from £40,000 to more than £100,000.

Salaries in PR vary depending on the setting and the region. For example, pay is typically higher in the private sector. Apart from the public sector, there are generally no set salary scales, and initial starting salaries can be modest.

Salaries are usually higher in London and the South East.

Some organisations operate bonus schemes, while others may offer other incentives such as private health insurance or a company car. You may also be provided with a laptop and/or mobile phone.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are full time, usually 9am to 5.30pm, but this can often increase with the demands of your workload. There will be some unsocial hours when you need to attend events in the evening or be on call at weekends in order to deal quickly with the PR aspect of a crisis.

Working in a self-employed or freelance capacity is possible, although this is more common for experienced PR professionals. Career breaks and part-time work are possible as well.

What to expect

  • PR officers are generally office-based, working in-house in private, public or not-for-profit organisations (such as utility and media companies and charities). Some PR officers may be based in consultancies.
  • It's likely you'll be required to attend networking and media events as well as meetings with clients, suppliers and partner organisations. Your social and working life may become slightly intertwined.
  • Competition for jobs is fierce and, although PR has a glamorous image, you should be aware of the pressures as well as the rewards of a career in this field.
  • The PR industry has a wide geographical spread throughout the main commercial centres in the UK, with openings often occurring in all regions. However, there is a heavy concentration in and around London.
  • It's likely that you will have to travel during the working day, including occasionally staying away from home overnight. The role may require international travel, depending on the organisation.

Qualifications

There are no set qualifications to becoming a PR officer, but most entrants tend to have a degree or an HND.

There are few specific PR degree courses available, and entry to the profession is generally open to all graduates. However, as PR is one of the most popular career choices for graduates in the UK, the following degree and HND subjects may be particularly helpful:

  • business or management
  • communication and media studies
  • English and creative writing
  • marketing
  • politics
  • social sciences.

Taking a postgraduate qualification in PR may improve your chances of securing a position, although they will not replace the personal qualities and experience that employers are looking for. To see what's available, search postgraduate courses in public relations.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • excellent communication, interpersonal and writing skills
  • drive, competence, flexibility and a willingness to learn
  • excellent organisational and time management skills with the ability to multitask
  • the ability to cope with pressure
  • creativity, imagination and initiative
  • good teamwork, analytical and problem-solving skills
  • business awareness and a good knowledge of current affairs.

Work experience

Pre-entry experience in PR, communications, marketing and media is highly desirable as this is a competitive career. However, 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. Keep a record or copy of anything you organise or write. Employers also like graduates with experience of writing for student magazines or who have been involved with student radio or university societies.

Your university careers service may have details of available PR work placements. You can also find out about work placements and graduate training schemes by joining the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). Student membership is offered at a reduced rate. Membership will also enable you to access details of courses and training, including the qualifications leading to Chartered Public Relations Practitioner status.

Employers

PR practitioners work across a range of industries and may work in any of the following settings:

  • business-to-business (B2B)
  • consumer
  • corporate
  • financial
  • internal communications
  • local government
  • not-for-profit organisations and charities
  • public affairs
  • trade and technical.

Vacancies for PR officers exist in-house and in consultancies:

  • An in-house department works exclusively for one company or organisation, which may be public, commercial or not-for-profit. As an in-house PR professional, you'll need to acquire specialist knowledge of the particular area in which you're working to enable you to design and implement a specific PR programme to meet the organisation's requirements.
  • PR consultancies provide an independent service to several client organisations, often working within very different market sectors. Consultancies vary in size, from large international firms with offices throughout the world to small local firms who may specialise in a specific area such as fashion, music, healthcare or finance. Larger consultancies are likely to have a wider client base, ranging from law firms to builders' merchants.

In some cases, in-house PR professionals may work cooperatively with PR consultancies on certain projects.

Look for job vacancies at:

Specialist recruitment agencies such as PR Futures handle PR vacancies but these are often for experienced practitioners.

A speculative approach can be fruitful. PRCA has a Member Directory list of PR consultancies and in-house teams and LinkedIn is also a good resource.

Joining a consultancy or in-house PR department in a junior role, such as a PR assistant, may be a good starting point.

Another route into PR is via an apprenticeship, such as those run by the Public Relations and Communications Agency (PRCA).

Professional development

Your training will vary depending on the organisation. Some larger firms offer graduate training schemes, which provide you with a structured programme of work experience and skills development. However, the majority of your training will be on the job working with more experienced colleagues, with your responsibility being extended gradually as your ability improves and opportunities arise.

Many organisations encourage new employees to go on short, external courses that are designed for PR professionals. For example, a range of short courses specifically tailored for PR professionals is run by the CIPR and the Henshall Centre.

There's 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:

  • Professional PR certificate - aimed at graduates interested in pursuing a career in PR or people who have been working in the business at fairly junior levels for at least two years. It is designed to provide knowledge and understanding of the theory and practice of PR as well as the strategic roles and functions of the PR practitioner, in preparation for the diploma.
  • Professional PR diploma - helps PR practitioners to develop as effective and efficient professionals with leadership potential.

A range of relevant professional courses is also provided by The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM).

Continuing professional development (CPD) will form an important part of your career development and by continually developing and enhancing your skills, you can increase your chances of progression. CIPR runs a CPD scheme designed specifically for public relations professionals.

Career prospects

PR departments and consultancies do not always adhere to traditional patterns of career progression but, if you demonstrate outstanding ability, promotion can be rapid.

As a new graduate, you can 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's possible to move between in-house and consultancy roles.

Self-employment is an option later in your career if you've built up a good network of contacts and wish to operate as a freelance consultant or set up your own firm.

Find out how Beth became a music PR manager at BBC Bitesize.

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