A Day in the Life of a Public Relations

A public relations specialist is an image shaper. Their job is to generate positive publicity for their client and enhance their reputation. The client can be a company, an individual or a government. In the government PR people are called press secretaries. They keep the public informed about the activity of government agencies, explain policy, and manage political campaigns. Public relations people working for a company may handle consumer relations, or the relationship between parts of the company such as the managers and employees, or different branch offices. Though the job often involves the dissemination of information, some view this cynically as "spin doctoring." There is an old saying about PR that 'Advertisers lie about the product. Public relations people lie about the company.' Regardless, the successful PR person must be a good communicator-in print, in person and on the phone. They cultivate and maintain contacts with journalists, set up speaking engagements, write executive speeches and annual reports, respond to inquiries and speak directly to the press on behalf of their client. They must keep lines of communication open between the many groups affected by a company's product and policies: consumers, shareholders, employees, and the managing body. Public relations people also write press releases and may be involved in producing sales or marketing material. Public relations is a good career for the generalist. A PR person must keep abreast of current events and be well versed in pop culture to understand what stories will get the publics' attention. It takes a combination of analysis and creative problem solving to get your client in the public eye. The content of the work is constantly changing and unforeseen challenges arise every day. As one public relations person explained, "In addition to the standard duties, a PR person might have to shepherd an alcoholic and half-mad (but brilliant) author through a twenty-city interview tour or try to put a warm 'n fuzzy spin on the company's latest oil-spill."

Paying Your Dues

Though some colleges offer a degree in public relations, most industry professionals agree it's unnecessary. Since public relations requires familiarity with a wide variety of topics, a broad education is the best preparation. Any major that teaches you how to read and write intelligently will lay good foundation for a career in public relations. Or, as one PR person put it "if you can write a thesis on Dante, you should be able to write a press release." Internships are a common way to get some practical experience and break into the field.

Present and Future

The practice of manipulating public opinion has existed as long as there were people and organizations that required it to support their agenda. As Abraham Lincoln said, "Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed." Not surprisingly, governments launched the first public relations campaigns. Back when the United States was being settled, publicity brochures were circulated in England to contradict the rumors of hardship in the plague-ridden, Indian-infested colonies and to promote emigration. One described Jamestown, Virginia as "not unlike Tyrus for colours, Basan for woods, Persia for oils, Arabia for spices, Spain for silks, Narsis for shipping, Netherlands for fish, Pomona for fruit, and tillage, Babylon for corn." These same techniques were used again to encourage westward expansion in the United States in the mid-1800's. The U.S. government marshaled the forces of persuasion again during World War I when they created the U.S. Committee on Public Information to sell war cause to the public. A member of this committee, Edward Bernays, is credited with being the father of modern public relations. The nephew of Sigmund Freud, Bernays was the first person to link a commercial product to a popular social cause when he persuaded people marching for women's rights to hold up Lucky Strike cigarettes as "Torches of Freedom" PR is changing with the advent of new mediums such as the internet. As with many professions, the practice of public relations will probably become more specialized and niche-oriented.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

The first two years of a public relations career are spent doing mainly administrative work such as putting together promotional packages and mailing them out. The value for the beginner is in learning how to construct and wield the tools of the trade: press kits and releases. Equally important is the chance to observe the strategy of PR and develop judgment. In the apprentice phase you begin the important process of making contacts in the media.

FIVE YEARS OUT

After five years the public relations professional has increased responsibility and is doing most of the real work. They are writing the press releases and putting strategic skills to work running a public relations campaign. By this point they should have a stable of contacts in the press and be supervising newcomers.

TEN YEARS OUT

The work of a public relations profession becomes less "hands on" and more managerial towards the ten year mark. There is more strategizing and a focus on courting new clients. Their business judgment should be very well developed at this stage; often senior PR people will act as a spokesperson for large corporations. At this level, the compensation gets very good.