Should you pursue a career as a media relations director?

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Managing the flow of information between an organization and the media has never been easy, but it has grown much more challenging throughout the 2010s. The rising number of engagement channels, the decline of newspapers and traditional newsrooms, and the increasing salience of politics to brand image and reputation have dramatically reshaped media relations. For today’s media relations directors, the media they’re actually relating to ― sprawled across social networks and real-time interactions ― would have been almost unrecognizable only 10 years ago.

A media relations director consults with her team.

The media relations director role at a glance: Key competencies and responsibilities

Given the challenges at hand, working as a media relations director can be overwhelming. You may have the capabilities and tools you need, but there’s still a lot of work to do, as well as the challenge of trying to stay on top of everything. Indeed, a media relations director oversees a vast number of operations, including but not limited to:

  • Writing and/or approving press releases and other PR collateral
  • Tracking media coverage across an omnichannel strategy
  • Drawing up and implementing strategic communication plans
  • Managing communications during a crisis
  • Setting up press conferences and media sessions

Effectively performing these tasks requires a deep, diverse set of skills. To rise to the occasion, directors of media relations must be communications experts, with proven abilities as writers, researchers and masters of outreach.

How directors of media relations foster awareness and reach influencers

In some organizations, the director of media relations is a mid-level internal role, supervising PR specialists while reporting to vice presidents of marketing or communications. In other cases, it’s an externally contracted job performed by an agency professional. Either way, the core mission is the same: to manage the information the firm shares with its audiences and connect with pivotal influencers.

The difference between a passable and a great media relations strategy is profound. According to a Nielsen-inPowered study, earned media ― the part of the PESO (paid, earned, shared, owned) model most closely associated with PR ― is more effective than paid content like advertising at all stages of the purchase funnel. In other words, building a holistic image that resonates with your audience, whether as the go-to provider of a specific product or service, or as the most trustworthy authority on a subject, is often superior to outright advertising.

A media relations director contacts a reporter.

Media relations directors earn results for their organization and clients through many PR strategies and tactics. Let’s look at a few examples:

Orchestrating a content marketing strategy
An Edelman survey found that thought leadership pieces, which are components of many content marketing initiatives, consistently increased trust in organizations creating them, which is a classic PR goal. Content marketing as a whole is like a bridge between PR and marketing, since it can help improve a company’s image and drive conversions, depending on the exact form it takes and where it’s ultimately posted. A director of media relations may be involved in the blog posts, white papers, ebooks, podcasts and other materials that commonly support content marketing campaigns.

Ensuring proper rapid response in high-stakes scenarios
This tactic is essential in securing coverage and establishing key contacts whenever news breaks. A media relations director might set up, train and guide a team that scans for relevant events and announcements that might merit media placement. They could also set guidelines on how to interact with the media, such as excluding any marketing messages or product placement when reaching out during a tragic situation. Rapid response infrastructure is also invaluable when responding to a crisis like a boycott related to a political stance ― something 57 percent of consumers said they were willing to do in a Brands in Politics surveys.

Diving deep into data analytics
Landing coverage in a newspaper or periodical is no longer enough to gain sufficient visibility for a specific organization or cause. At the same time, selecting the best outlets for coverage can be challenging due to the sheer volume and variety of available channels targeted under the PESO model. This is where a strong command of popular tools like Google Analytics, Cision and Salesforce can make a big difference. Being fluent in these technologies gives media relations director an advantage in assessing the performance of campaigns across different platforms and connecting with key influencers.

Contribute to social media management
Social media is a fixture of any modern PR and media relations strategy. Directors may play a pivotal role in shaping how their organizations approach social media, beyond just determining what gets posted. For example, they might work on pulling the right metrics from specific platforms and zeroing in on a few key performance indicators (KPIs). Networks like Facebook and LinkedIn provide an overwhelming amount of data on site performance, so it’s crucial to have an experienced hand who can determine which KPIs are relevant to the company’s current PR goals.

Becoming a media relations director

Directors of media relations typically have at least a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field such as PR, communications or journalism. However, the exact credential a candidate possesses is less important than the experience and contacts they bring with them.

With that in mind, the breadth of experience provided by a program like the Master’s in Strategic Public Relations (SPR) from the George Washington University (GW) can be an important differentiator. Students completing the SPR program can emerge as experts with a background spanning PR, marketing, communications and public affairs. The SPR track is a great opportunity to add to your academic resume while also building the extensive professional network that’s crucial to succeeding in media relations.

To learn more about how to apply and what courses you’ll take, visit the program overview page. There, you can also answer a few quick questions to receive a free copy of our program brochure containing additional information.

Recommended Readings:
How Social Media Changed PR
Build Your PR Playbook: Exciting Careers For PR Professionals

What Does a Media Relations Director Do?
Why Public Relations And Media Relations Don’t Mean The Same Thing Anymore

What Does a PR Professional Do Anyway?