Public relations is a popular and steadily growing profession in the U.S. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has estimated that 14,900 new public relations specialist jobs will be added between 2014 and 2024, bring the nationwide total for the occupation to more than a quarter million.
PR workers earn more than national median wage, although PayScale has estimated that upper-level professionals such PR managers can make close to six figures. They also have access to many possible career options in fields such as marketing, tourism, healthcare, and advocacy, without needing an advanced degree or certificate.
But competition is fierce in the PR world, especially with the proliferation of social media and 24/7 news cycles. Being an effective PR strategist today requires having a broad base of skills across market research, software platforms, and writing.
The Key Ingredients of Public Relations Mastery
PR professionals can be expected to perform a variety of tasks on behalf of their respective clients or organizations, including but not limited to:
- Press agentry.
- Interview coordination.
- Article placement.
- Social media management.
To excel at these particular responsibilities, PR strategists must be adept communicators, whether they are engaging the public through a press release, news conference, or Twitter status update. There are several key ingredients to becoming a well-rounded expert in the PR realm:
1. Clear and compelling writing
A report from The National Commission on Writing, prepared for the College Board, found that human resources departments spend $3.1 billion annually to address writing deficiencies among employees, via remedial trainings. This situation – with many organizations struggling to cultivate skills in-house – creates numerous opportunities for outside PR professionals.
Effective PR writing is not simply about proper grammar and word choice. It is also about projecting a consistent and favorable image for the client/organization in what can be a rapidly changing and unpredictable media environment. Having a background in market research in tandem with experience from internships and educational projects – such as capstones and theses – is a great way to hone PR-specific writing skills.
2. Social media expertise
The emergence of social media in the 2000s was a watershed moment for the PR industry. In 2005, only 5 percent of Americans used a social network, but that share rose to more than half by 2011 and 69 percent by January 2017. Following suit, brands such as Burberry have revamped their PR strategies: for example, the 160 year-old fashion company now spends over 60 percent of its marketing budget on digital, with most of that going toward Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Social media mastery is critical to modern PR because a brand’s image can evolve more quickly than ever across these networks, thanks to trending hashtags and comments from customers and partners. PR managers must be able to promote thought leadership and events, while also controlling potentially damaging conversations as they arise.
3. Multimedia capabilities
A bachelor’s degree in PR, journalism, English, or another humanities concentration is typically enough to get your foot in the door at a PR firm. Beyond that, your career path depends heavily on the particular organization you work for, as well as what skills you can use to differentiate yourself (and by extension, your work) from the pack.
Enter multimedia skills. Basic text and speech are central to PR, but so are video and photography. As the old saying goes: The medium is the message. Experience with Adobe Photoshop is essential in ensuring proper image selection, sizing, and resolution for items such as infographics, that a company might distribute at a conference.
4. An expansive professional network
Productive relationships with publications, news outlets, and social media influencers are the backbone of effective PR. Whether the goal is to raise awareness of a campaign or control the conversation on social platforms, having a well-established professional network pays off in spades by amplifying an organization’s brand and expanding the reach of its PR messages.
By making inroads with a specific publication, your organization may be first in line when a writer is looking for a quote or interview on a related story. This level of reach ensures that your good work does not go unnoticed and that your pitches do not fall on deaf ears.
A Practical Guide to Developing and Mastering These PR Skills
We can broadly see which skills are necessary for standing out in today’s crowded PR landscape. However, what can PR students and professionals do to actually develop these competencies? Let’s look at a few good places to start on the journey to becoming a dominant PR professional.
Enroll in an advanced education program
Obtaining a master’s degree or graduate certificate in strategic public relations can sharpen your PR skills and give you valuable exposure to current research topics, in addition to hands-on experience. Graduate-level programs in PR typically offer:
- Coursework in research methods, legal and ethical standards for PR, business, and finance.
- The opportunity to complete a thesis, capstone project, or comprehensive examination in PR.
- Practicums and internships at actual PR firms, which help build a portfolio of professional-quality PR work.
- Options for specializing in particular areas, such as corporate communications or healthcare PR, and honing specific skills in those realms.
Many such programs are currently available online or in hybrid (i.e., a mix of on-campus and online lessons) formats, making them convenient for students looking for flexible scheduling and reduced total cost of attendance. Graduates can expect to have top-notch PR writing skills, along with experience in the field and a substantial number of contacts for building a robust professional network.
Pursue professional development opportunities
In addition to educational attainment, PR specialists can also improve their command of publicity by investing in other forms of professional development. Examples might include learning how to write/read computer code, using data analytics platforms, or tailoring PR content specifically for mobile device screens.
The coding suggestion is one that many PR professionals, like their peers in other verticals, have taken to heart. Nearly 18,000 individuals graduated from a coding bootcamp – essentially a compressed workshop on computer languages and how to use them in applications – in 2016.
Plus, the technical tools of the PR trade are always evolving. In addition to the normal office productivity suites and standbys such as email, there are now platforms such as Google Analytics and HootSuite that help measure the performance of particular sites and campaigns. Expertise with these programs can make PR work stand out and improve your ability to measure its effectiveness.
Be creative with your content
Today’s PR professionals have more tools at their disposal than just the classic press release. There are a few trends to note here:
- Half of business-to-business professionals now use social ads and promoted posts to distribute their content, according to a benchmark report from the Content Marketing Institute.
- A Millennial Consumer survey once found that 58 percent of millennials expected a brand to have published online content before they actually purchase something from it.
- Cisco has projected that video will account for 80 percent of all global consumer internet traffic by 2020.
YouTube videos, podcast ads, promoted content on aggregators such as TechMeme: The opportunities within the modern PR arena are endless. Thinking beyond the soundbite or press release in reaching and engaging a bigger audience across a greater number of channels will help empower PR professionals in their field.
Obtain certifications and accreditations
Professional recognition for PR skills and work can help further develop these capabilities while also expanding a PR professional’s network. Most notably, the Public Relations Society of America offers the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) distinction, contingent on an exam and a panel presentation.
The APR certification specifically aids in the development of skills such as writing, editing, and speaking for a PR audience. It also helps raise its holder’s profile, potentially increasing reach and influence over PR campaigns. The PRSA offers other certifications for students and military personnel that may be useful for both professional development and network building.
Education and Professional Experience Make the Difference
Success in PR is often the product of education and professional experience. Since PR education varies significantly between institutions, it is important for aspiring PR specialists to identify and invest in a program that aligns with their particular interests.
Professional experience gained from diversifying PR skills (often by supplementing them with new capabilities in areas such as computer language coding and the use of data analytics platforms) is the other key building block of a standout PR career. With the total number of PR specialist positions growing by 6 percent until 2024 – about as fast as average for all professions – PR workers will need to differentiate their skills to succeed. With a wide range of technical capabilities, an extensive educational background to draw upon, and a prime spot within influence networks, you can dominate your PR campaigns.
A Master’s degree in Strategic Public Relations provides the necessary skills, opportunities, and experiences to excel in PR. Learn more by visiting our main online masters in strategic public relations program page.
BLS: Public Relations Specialists
2016 Coding Bootcamp Market Size Study
Cisco Visual Networking Index: Forecast and Methodology, 2016–2021
4 PR Strategies You Should Be Using Right Now
7 PR Trends You Need To Know In 2016
How to Leverage Social Media for Public Relations Success
How Adobe Photoshop Can Benefit a Public Relations Professional
Case Study: Is Burberry’s Social Media Use the Best Amongst Luxury Brands?
Social Media Fact Sheet
Why Social Media Is the Perfect PR Channel