The public relations specialist position is about as close as there is to a “default” profession in PR. It’s the main PR listing maintained by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), along with the one for the more managerial public relations and fundraising managers.
A closer look at the PR specialist role
The BLS estimated that there were more than 250,000 PR specialists employed in 2018 and that their total employment would grow 6% from 2018 to 2028, or about as fast as the average for all professions. Their median annual wage in that assessment was over $60,000.
Blending a variety of skills ranging from writing press releases to coordinating business communications campaigns, the PR specialist role is versatile, typically giving professionals exposure to multiple related fields (e.g., advertising and marketing, in addition to PR) and workflows. As a job title, PR specialist is also synonymous with publicist.
But it’s hardly the only career that someone with a bachelor’s degree or higher in PR can pursue. Someone with the flexible skills needed for succeeding as a PR specialist can also excel in other roles, including managing social media strategies and copywriting.
Let’s examine some of the possibilities in more detail. Most of the general roles below are open to entry-level applicants, although educational backgrounds may vary by company and particular job specification, with many PR professionals also having a master’s degree. Programs like the online Master’s in Strategic Public Relations (SPR) from the George Washington University (GW) can provide the advanced expertise necessary for pursuing roles at all levels, from PR specialist to fundraising manager.
1. Social media manager
Modern PR is virtually inseparable from social media. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are integral to multi-channel PR initiatives, if only because an enormous and growing number of people consume news via social networks. One-fifth of Americans frequently got news from social media in 2018, according to Pew Research Center.
A PR professional in this position might:
- Manage multiple accounts, either as part of an in-house social team or a member of an external agency
- Build and maintain an engaged audience across Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn and any other platforms of interest
- Write and post content to these networks as part of a regular schedule or editorial calendar, and gauge and respond to audience feedback on it
- Analyze key performance indicators (KPIs) about social media activity and use them to fine-tune PR strategy
The BLS classifies social media managers as PR specialists, so the same outlook and salary information from above apply.
The PR specialist role is normally writing intensive. In a typical day, a PR professional might draft a press release, send emails to contacts in the media and write the text for various updates that will be posted to social media accounts.
Naturally, such skills are highly transferable to copywriter positions. This job is fairly straightforward. Copywriters produce a potentially wide range of assets, including blog posts, press releases, email newsletters, white papers, e-books, infographics and social media updates. Across all of these deliverables, they also strive to ensure a consistent brand voice.
According to the BLS, writers and authors earned median pay of $62,170 in 2018, or slightly more than the average PR specialist. However, their total employment is expected to remain essentially flat from 2018 to 2028.
3. Event manager or planner
An effective public relations campaign often requires outreach beyond just digital channels. In other words, live events and in-person meetings remain as important in the field as ever.
The wide-ranging PR skill set that professionals develop through programs like the GW SPR can help them set up events either within a PR specialist/publicist role or within a more dedicated event manager or planner capacity. These roles may include:
- Meeting with event holders to understand the intent and scope of their projects
- Gathering bids from vendors and service providers
- Monitoring the event to ensure it meets expectations
- Working on promotional messaging and outreach to build event awareness
- Ensuring that all invoices are sent and payments received
Compared to PR specialists, event managers and planners make slightly less money but have better growth prospects. The BLS estimated that meeting, convention and event planners had median 2018 pay of more than $49,000, while the total number of jobs for them was expected to expand 7% from 2018 to 2028.
4. PR or fundraising manager
While PR specialist openings may be available to candidates with an entry-level education and experience, the PR or fundraising manager position is more senior. Professionals who ascend to these roles are generally expected to have significant experience, and many also have master’s degrees such as the GW SPR.
PR and fundraising managers may have some overlapping responsibilities with PR specialists, including drafting press releases and identifying the key audiences for each campaign. At the same time, they perform additional supervisory and managerial activities, such as:
- Overseeing the organization’s overall image and branding
- Devising and managing PR campaigns from start to finish
- Assigning spokespersons and publicists to specific clients and events
- Relaying information to company executives
- Reviewing the activities and performance of PR staff
- Identifying possible donors and then coordinating meetings with them
- Setting fundraising goals and formulating a strategy for reaching them
These managers earn much more than any of the other roles covered so far. The BLS indicated 2018 median pay of $114,800 per year. Plus, the total employment for PR and fundraising managers was expected to jump 8% from 2018 to 2028, which is faster than average.
5. Sales manager
PR has always been closely linked to the fields of advertising and marketing, despite some important distinctions between them, such as the fact that PR campaigns aren’t normally designed to sell something. Modern PR programs like the GW SPR explore the intersection of PR, media relations, finance and marketing, giving graduates the right background to move into sales-oriented roles if they prefer.
The sales manager occupation has some similar responsibilities to the PR specialist and manager roles. For example, sales managers try to understand their target audiences, devise cohesive campaigns, analyze KPIs and review the activities of their teams.
In 2018, sales managers made a median of $124,220 annually. Expected growth between 2018 and 2028 was an average 5%.
6. Market research analyst
Market research analysts analyze data and trends to understand the effectiveness of past and current campaigns, plus make forecasts about what might work in the future. Such skills fit perfectly into a PR environment, in which initiatives are regularly retooled to ensure they’re connecting with the appropriate audiences.
Analysts typically prefer reports for others in their organization to look at. To do so, they use statistical software and other specialized tools, making the role a bit more math-oriented than some of the other positions discussed here.
The BLS paints a very positive picture of the market research analyst role. Median pay was over $63,000 in 2018, and expected growth was 20% from 2018 to 2028, or much faster than average and any of the five roles listed above.
How to start or advance your career in PR
No matter which of these roles most appeals to you, the GW SPR program can provide the necessary knowledge and hands-on experience to pursue them. The program is 100% online, making it convenient if you need to balance your coursework with other obligations.
3 Unexpected Careers for PR Pros
Careers and sectors that benefit from the SPR degree
Public Relations Specialists
Public Relations and Fundraising Managers
Social media specialist
Meeting, Convention, and Event Planners
Writers and Authors
Market Research Analysts