Public Relations Careers 101

When there is an important announcement, public policy change or special event to advertise, someone needs to be in charge of getting the word out. Public relations specialists are the “go to” representatives for what is happening in the business or government agency. Public relations careers are a great way for outgoing people with excellent communications skills to use their interpersonal skills as a voice for the entity they represent.

Public relations representatives are the people who serve as ambassadors, if you will, to the public. They are the people who help to promote a positive, public image that spurs people on to want to engage the company, school or government agency in an effective manner. Public relations or “PR” specialists serve in an advisory role to their organization or company in helping them to put forth their best image.

Public relations careers are available in a vast number of arenas, including universities, all levels of government and companies of various sizes. All of these entities need representatives who can foster good employee relations as well as with those that the organization serves. Related jobs involve informing others about the organization as well as listening to what their customers and constituents have to say and incorporating the people’s voice into decision and policy making.

People who want to pursue PR careers often serve as media liaisons for the company or organization. These specialists regularly write informative and engaging press releases, so good writing skills are an essential quality for job candidates. The press releases are used in a number of media outlets, including radio, television, print and online media. Social media is a new and innovative arena that an up and coming source of advertising and sharing of information.

Someone who wants to land a position in this highly sought-after career should have at least a bachelor’s degree in public relations or communications, but those with degrees in journalism or advertising are also fitting candidates for the job. Many employers also like to see that candidates have received practical experience through internship opportunities in college or even beyond. Experience coupled with the educational training and background are key assets for PR job candidates.

Some entry-level jobs in public relations careers begin in an administrative capacity as a secretary or office assistant. They may get opportunities to write a press release or speech here and there to demonstrate their skills. Their patience can sometimes pay off as employees can work their way up to a PR position. People who are confident, talented communicators and possess great interpersonal skills have a bright career outlook.

The Important Role Of Public Relations

Public relations is fundamentally the art and science of establishing relationships between an organization and its key audiences. Public relations plays a key role in helping business industries create strong relationships with customers.

Public relations involves supervising and assessing public attitudes, and maintaining mutual relations and understanding between an organization and its public. The function of public relations is to improve channels of communication and to institute new ways of setting up a two-way flow of information and understanding.

Public relations is effective in helping:

* Corporations convey information about their products or services to potential customers

* Corporations reach local government and legislators

* Politicians attract votes and raise money, and craft their public image and legacy

* Non-profit organizations, including schools, hospitals, social service agencies etc. boost support of their programs such as awareness programs, fund-raising programs, and to increase patronage of their services

Public relations in present times employs diverse techniques such as opinion polling and focus groups to evaluate public opinion, combined with a variety of high-tech techniques for distributing information on behalf of their clients, including the internet, satellite feeds, broadcast faxes, and database-driven phone banks.

As public image is important to all organizations and prominent personalities the role of public relations specialist becomes pertinent in crisis situations. Public relations agencies provide important and timely transmission of information that helps save the face of the organization. In the words of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), “Public relations helps an organization and its public adopt mutually to one another.”

Experienced public relations agencies have formulation press releases into which they can plug the company news, as well as a targeted list of publications for their industry. Truly good public relations agencies generally have a good working relationship with key reporters, boosting their chances of getting coverage. Some public relations agencies deal only with large, established clients, while smaller boutique public relations agencies specialize in certain areas.

At present public relations as a career option exists in private companies or government institutions that actively market their product, service and facilities. Public relations training courses are widespread in educational institutions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 122,000 public relations specialists in the United States in 1998 and approximately 485,000 advertising, marketing, and public relations managers working in all industries.

Most public relations practitioners are recruited from the ranks of journalism. Public relations officers are highly trained professionals with expertise and knowledge in many areas, for example shareholder management during a crisis, the evolving role of the in-house public relations professional, account management skills for public relations, an introduction to financial public relations, an introduction to consumer public relations, an introduction to public relations software etc.

Public Relations: The Fundamental Premise

It seems difficult to believe at the dawn of the 21st Century, that there exists
a major discipline with so many diverse, partial, incomplete and limited interpretations of its mission. Here, just a sampling of professional opinion
on what public relations is all about:

* talking to the media on behalf of a client.

* selling a product, service or idea.

* reputation management.

* engineering of perception

* doing good and getting credit for it.

* attracting credit to an organization for doing good and limiting the downside when it does bad

While there is an element of truth in such definitions, most zero in on only part of what public relations is capable of doing, kind of a halfway fundamental premise. Worse, they fail to answer the question, to what end do they lead? Few even mention the REAL end-game — behavior modification — the goal against which all public relations activity must be held accountable.

Here’s my opinion about the fundamental premise of public relations: People act on their perception of the facts leading to behaviors about which something can be done. When public relations creates, changes or reinforces that opinion by reaching, persuading and moving-to-desired-action those people whose behaviors affect the organization, the public relations mission is accomplished.

Even when we feel certain about the fundamental premise of public relations, maybe we should take another look? Because if we are wrong, at best we miss out on public relation’s enormous benefits. At worst, we can damage ourselves and our organizations.

The fundamental premise suggests that, to help achieve true competitive advantage, management must insure that its public relations investment is committed directly to influencing the organization’s most important audiences. And THEN insure that the tacticians efficiently prepare and communicate messages that will influence those audience perceptions and, thus, behaviors. For non-profits or public sector entities, the emphasis would be on achieving the organization’s primary objectives.

What is the alternative when we see some public relations people managing to go through their entire careers without a firm grasp of the fundamental premise of public relations? Their responses to crises, or to requests for well thought-out solutions to public relations problems, reveal a serious lack of understanding. They confuse the basic function of public relations with any number of tactical parts that make up the whole, such as publicity, crisis management or employee relations. Understandably, they feel unsure in approaching public relations problems, then uncertain about what counsel to give their clients. Many, relying on career-long misconceptions about public relations, forge ahead anyway advising the client ineffectively sometimes with damaging, if not dangerous counsel.

In seeking a solution to this challenge to understanding, we cannot rely solely on tactics or even emulate the artillery training commander who tells his student gunners “point your guns in any direction and fire when you feel like it!”

Instead, just as that artillery commander teaches his newbie gunners to carefully analyze their target and precisely what they must do to reach it, so it is with public relations.

Our best opportunity resides at the get-go where we really can make certain our public relations students CLEARLY understand the basic premise of public relations at the beginning of their careers. AND that they have an equally clear understanding of the organizational context — business, non-profit or public sector — in which they will be expected to apply what they have learned, and in which they must operate successfully.

Bushy-tailed and bright with promise, the new generation of public relations professionals must learn that their employer/client wants us to apply our special skills in a way that helps achieve his or her business objectives. And that no matter what strategic plan we create to solve a problem, no matter what tactical program we put in place, at the end of the day we must modify somebody’s behavior if we are to earn our money.

The best part is, when the behavioral changes become apparent, and meet the program’s original behavior modification goal, three benefits appear.
One, the public relations program is a success. Two, by achieving the behavioral goal we set at the beginning, we are using a dependable and accurate public relations performance measurement. And three, when our “reach, persuade and move-to-desired-action” efforts produce a visible modification in the behaviors of those people we wish to influence, we are using public relations’ special strengths to their very best advantage.

Budding professionals should learn at the beginning of their careers that most employers and clients are not primarily interested in our ability to fraternize with the media, communicate or paint images. Nor are they especially fascinated with our efforts to identify target audiences, set public relations goals and strategies, write persuasive messages, select communications tactics, et al.

What the employer/client invariably DOES want is a change in the behaviors of certain key audiences which leads directly to the achievement of their business objectives. Hence, the emphasis in this article on careful planning for altered key audience perceptions and modified behaviors.

Which explains why quality preparation and the degree of behavioral change it produces, defines success or failure for a public relations program. Done correctly, when public relations results in modified behaviors among groups of people vitally important to any organization, we could be talking about nothing less than its survival.

But why, young people, do we feel so strongly about the fundamental premise of public relations? Because some of us have learned from leaders in the field, from mentors and from long years of experience that there are only three ways a public relations effort can impact behavior: create opinion where it doesn’t exist, reinforce existing opinion or change that opinion. No surprise that the process by which those goals are realized is known as public relations. While behavior is the goal, and a host of communications tactics are the tools, our strategy is the leverage provided by public opinion.

We also learned the hard way that when your employer/client starts looking for a return on his or her public relations investment, it becomes clear in a hurry that the goal MUST be the kind of change in the behaviors of key stakeholders that leads directly to achieving business objectives.

I also believe that we should advise our newcomers that if their employers/clients ever say they’re not getting the behavior changes they paid for, they’re probably wasting the money they’re spending on public relations.

Here’s why I say that. Once again, we know that people act on their perception of the facts, that those perceptions lead to certain behaviors, and that something can be done about those perceptions and behaviors that leads to achieving the employer/client’s business objectives.

Which means s/he really CAN establish the desired behavior change up front, then insist on getting that result before pronouncing the public relations effort a success.

In other words, the way to increase their comfort level about their public relations investment, is to make certain that investment produces the behavior modification they said they wanted at the beginning of the program,

That way, they KNOW they’re getting their money’s worth.

I would be remiss here if I omitted reference to the difficulties those new to the field will encounter in attempting to evaluate public relations performance. Often, they will find themselves using highly-subjective, very limited and only partially applicable performance judgments. Among them, inquiry generation, story content analysis, gross impressions and even advertising value equivalent to the publicity space obtained.

The main reason for this sorry state of affairs is the lack of affordable public opinion survey products that could demonstrate conclusively that the public relations perception and behavioral goal set at the beginning of the program was, in fact, achieved. Usually, opinion surveys adequate to the job of establishing beyond doubt that a behavioral goal was achieved, are cost-prohibitive, often far in excess of the overall cost of the public relations program itself!

However, young people, all is not lost. Obviously, some behavioral changes are immediately visible, such as customers returning to showrooms, environmental activists abandoning plant gate protests or a rapidly improving job retention rate. We follow less obvious behavioral change by monitoring indicators that directly impact behavior such as comments in community meetings and business speeches, local newspaper, radio and TV editorials, emails from target audience members and thought-leaders, and public statements by political figures and local celebrities.

We even shadow our own communications tactics trying to monitor their impact on audience perception — tactics such as face-to-face meetings, Internet ezines and email, hand-placed newspaper and magazine feature articles and broadcast appearances, special consumer briefings, news releases, announcement luncheons, onsite media interviews, facility tours, brochures and even special events like promotional contests, financial road shows, awards ceremonies, trade conventions, celebrity appearances and open houses — each designed to impact individual perception and behavior.

And it does work — we ARE able to demonstrate an impact on perception and behavior for the employer/client. But affordable professional opinion/behavioral surveys would be the best solution. Clearly, solving this problem remains a major challenge for both the public relations and survey disciplines.

One more piece of advice for the soon-to-be public relations professional. As we begin to achieve proficiency in public relations, an action pathway to success also begins to appear:

* identify the problem

* identify target audiences

* set the public relations goal

* set the public relations strategy

* prepare persuasive messages

* select and implement key communications tactics

* monitor progress

* and the end game? Meet the behavior modification goal.

I hope these remarks contribute to a broadened understanding of the fundamental function of public relations in our organizations, especially among our entry-level colleagues. In particular, how it can strengthen relationships with those important groups of people — those target audiences, those “publics” whose perceptions and behaviors can help or hinder the achievement of our employer/client’s business objectives.

A final thought for those entering or planning to enter the field of public relations — you’ll know you’ve arrived at each public relations end game when the changes in behaviors become truly apparent through feedback such as increased numbers of positive media reports, encouraging supplier and thought-leader comment, and increasingly upbeat employee and community chatter.

In other words, sound strategy combined with effective tactics leads directly to the bottom line — altered perceptions, modified behaviors, and a public relations homerun.

Please feel free to publish this article and resource box
in your ezine, newsletter, offline publication or website.
A copy would be appreciated at [email protected].

Robert A. Kelly © 2005.

The Difference Between the “Three P’s” – Public Relations, Publicity and Press Releases

It’s commonly assumed that PR means “press release” but this is misleading and frankly, not true. “PR does not = Press Release” although, press releases are directly related to PR. Often people are unsure of what PR, publicity and press releases really are. They are all related but each is different and has its own function which works symbiotically with the others.

PR is actually an abbreviation for public relations. Press releases are a part of public relations and they generate publicity but they are not PR (they are a part of PR). At the same time, press releases may generate good public relations.

Are you getting confused yet? Let’s simplify this by taking a quick look at the definitions of each provided by the Wictionary (a great, open source dictionary) and Websters Dictionary (my hard copy favorite).

By definition, Public Relations is communication by a person or an organization with the purpose of creating a favorable public image; commonly referred to as PR.

So, in essence, Public Relations are really the strategies surrounding your overall business presence and message. PR is the foundation that allows you to be ready for publicity when it comes your way it’s your core message, business values and image. While any form of communication can be considered public relations including newsletters, ezines, letters, blog posts and yes, press releases, they must all be a part of a much bigger PR strategy.).

Publicity is what is generated by public relations. By definition, Publicity is an act or device designed to attract public interest, specifically information with news value issues as a means of gaining public attention or support.

When you create public relations (communications) it can generate publicity (public attention). Generally the goal of publicity is to gain UNPAID media exposure including ink (print exposure) and air (broadcast mentions), increase word of mouth and get more clients. Publicity is golden to your business because third party endorsements are more believable than paid ads.

By definition a Press Release is an official written statement that is sent to the media so that it can be publicized (although press releases are not crafted just for the media anymore).

Press releases are often referred to as news releases. They are essentially one in the same. However, the term “News release” can be used when the release is not intended solely for media distribution. For example: Online distribution of your news is a no-cost to low-cost way to establish credibility, help customers find you online and increase your online search engine rankings. So, the goal may not be mainstream media attention when you submit online and it would be appropriate to use the term “news release” instead. Either way is perfectly acceptable.

Basically press releases are both a public relations and publicity tool depending on your overall strategy.

Does your business have the three P’s (public relations, publicity and press releases) covered?

1) Do you have an overall Public Relations Strategy that defines your brand, how you want people to perceive you and what you want to accomplish in the way of publicity?

2) Do you create public relations materials to earn publicity based on a specific overall strategy?

3) Do you share your news via press releases, strategically in accordance to your overall PR plan?

If not, it may be time to start focusing on your P’s

P.S. When writing this article I was looking for a great example to share from an article I had once seen in Readers Digest- thanks to Shannon Cherry ( a fellow PR pro) for posting this excerpt on her blog.

“If the circus is coming to town and you paint a sign saying “Circus Coming to the Fairground Saturday'” that’s advertising. If you put the sign on the back of an elephant and walk it into town, that’s promotion. If the elephant walks through the mayor’s flower bed, that’s publicity. And if you get the mayor to laugh about it, that’s public relations.

If the town’s citizens go the circus, you show them the many entertainment booths, explain how much fun they’ll have spending money at the booths, answer their questions and ultimately, they spend a lot at the circus, that’s sales.”

– Reader’s Digest, “Promoting Issues and Ideas” by M. Booth and Associates, Inc.

What are your favorite PR strategies? Do you have a PR plan?