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Public Relations Officer

People working in public relations (PR) look after an organisation's image and reputation. They help to build and maintain good relationships with the media and with the organisation's public such as their customers, suppliers, investors and employees.

PR is part of the marketing and communications mix. It covers areas such as corporate communications, media relations or public affairs. People practising PR might work in-house for an organisation, or as an account executive within a consultancy with numerous clients.

Duties may include:

  • developing communication strategies and planning PR campaigns
  • monitoring and safeguarding their organisations' reputation
  • writing various communications and items of literature, including online blogs, news releases, brochures, speeches and multimedia presentations
  • media relations, preparing statements and acting as a spokesperson
  • arranging events and launches and preparing award entries.

PR officers usually work standard office hours, Monday to Friday, with some flexibility to meet deadlines. The work is office-based, although it usually involves frequent travel to meetings and events.

Salaries range from £16,000 to £22,000 for new entrants, potentially reaching between £60,000 and £100,000 in senior positions.

A public relations officer should have:

  • strong written, spoken and influencing skills
  • the ability to plan, organise and manage different tasks
  • creativity and initiative
  • team working skills
  • an interest in maintaining good working contacts with the media.

Many PR officers have a degree in subjects such as public relations, communications, marketing, journalism, media studies or English. Those without degrees tend to gain experience, progressing from other positions in an organisation. As entry to PR work is competitive it may help to have a postgraduate or professional qualification.

The Diploma in creative and media may be useful.

Professional bodies, including the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) and Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) offer introductory qualifications for entrants who haven't studied the PR discipline.

Entrants will usually develop their skills on the job, shadowing more experienced colleagues. Structured graduate training schemes may be available in large consultancies and employers. Professional qualifications are offered by CIPR and PRCA at various levels.

The typical in-house career path is junior PR officer to PR/media manager, PR director and, possibly, head of corporate affairs. Agency PR staff often start at a junior account executive level, progressing to senior account executive/manager and potentially associate or account director.

What is the work like?

Public relations (PR) plays a vital part in every organisation. It focuses on building and maintaining a positive relationship and reputation with different audiences including consumers, investors and other stakeholders, suppliers and employees. Increasingly, PR encompasses protecting online reputations and corporate and social responsibility (this relates to how an organisation is ethically meeting the environmental and social challenges today).

People practising PR might work in-house for an organisation, or may be an account executive within a consultancy, looking after a number of clients. PR, as part of the marketing and communications mix, covers areas like corporate communications, media relations or public affairs, so job titles and daily activities vary greatly.

Duties could involve some or all of the following:

  • developing communication strategies and planning PR campaigns
  • implementing PR activities and measuring results, including monitoring how the public and media perceive the organisation
  • writing and editing press releases, web blogs, internet and intranet content and other communications, including presentations, speeches, shareholder reports, newsletters and leaflets
  • maintaining good working relations with printed and broadcast media
  • arranging events like press and product launches, news conferences, exhibitions, sponsorship deals and open days
  • collaborating with marketing, brand and communications colleagues to present a united message
  • preparing statements and giving interviews to journalists in all media
  • overseeing the production of advertising, promotional and multi-media resources
  • liaising with film crews and photographers
  • preparing award entries and representing the organisation at ceremonies and other public events.

Most in-house PR professionals work within a larger team, comprising brand managers, marketing and other communication specialists.

Hours and environment

PR officers usually work standard office hours, Monday to Friday, but with some flexibility as they may need to respond to tight deadlines or handle a crisis event. Part-time and flexitime working arrangements may be possible once experienced.

The work is largely office based, although it often involves frequent travel to meetings, conferences and other events, potentially with overnight stays.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • Starting salaries may range from around £16,000 to £22,000 a year.
  • Average in-house PR managers' salaries are around £35,000 a year and between £25,000 and £35,000 for agency account executives.
  • Account directors and heads of corporate affairs can earn up to £60,000, potentially reaching more than £100,000 a year in very large organisations.

Salaries vary widely between industry sectors. Financial, healthcare and business-to-business technology organisations usually pay more.

Skills and personal qualities

Public relations officers need:

  • strong communication and influencing skills
  • excellent writing ability to clearly articulate messages
  • organisational and time management ability
  • creativity and initiative
  • knowledge of different communication channels
  • confidence speaking in public and advising senior management
  • the ability to work well under pressure, to tight deadlines
  • good research and analytical skills, to identify potential PR opportunities
  • attention to detail
  • good team working skills
  • self-assurance, particularly when pitching ideas to others.

Interests

It helps to have an interest in:

  • developing and maintaining good relationships with the media
  • current business trends and developments, in both the domestic and international arena.

Getting in

Approximately 48,000 people work in PR. Opportunities are available throughout England. Employers include consultancies, commercial and industrial organisations, retailers, manufacturers, advertising/marketing agencies, central and local government, charities, the National Health Service, educational establishments and trade unions.

Vacancies are advertised by university careers services and recruitment agencies, in national media editions of newspapers and specialist publications including Press Gazette, Profile and PR Week. The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) has a PR Jobshop, www.ciprjobs.co.uk. CIPR also publishes lists of voluntary charity-based placements and salaried graduate training schemes.

The Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) Yearbook and Hollis UK Public Relations Annual offer useful contact information for networking and speculative applications. See the PRCA website and their jobs board www.prcajobs.org.uk for details.

Entry routes

There is no one route into PR. Due to high competition for jobs, many entrants have a degree and increasingly postgraduate qualifications. These could be in PR, but other subjects such as media studies, advertising or marketing and communications, English, sociology, politics, business and journalism are common. Large companies may offer graduate programmes, some specialising entirely in PR.

Degree courses usually last three years. Some programmes last four years and include a year's work placement. Postgraduate courses in PR and marketing are also available. There are relevant BTEC Higher National Certificates/Diplomas (HNCs/HNDs) in marketing and advertising, and foundation degrees in business and marketing, often including PR modules. The Diploma in creative and media may also be relevant for this area of work.

  • Entry to a degree is usually with a minimum of five GCSEs (A*-C), including maths and English and two or three A levels, or equivalent.
  • Applicants for HNC/HND courses and foundation degrees usually need a minimum of one A level and three to four GCSEs (A*-C), or equivalent.

Candidates should check with individual colleges and universities for specific entry requirements. See the CIPR website for a list of approved PR degrees and postgraduate courses. Some of these can be studied online or via distance learning.

Practical experience, business awareness and creativity are highly valued by employers. Some entrants join as a marketing or PR assistant from school/college and then progress into more senior positions. Taking this route may involve doing CIPR or PRCA professional qualifications. Previous experience in journalism, advertising, marketing or fundraising can be useful.

It may be useful for entrants with no prior experience of PR to complete an introductory qualification such as:

  • CIPR Foundation Award or Advanced Certificate
  • PRCA Foundation Course, Advanced Certificate or Advanced Diploma
  • CAM Diploma in Marketing Communications or CIM Introductory Certificate in Marketing, which include modules on PR.

Doing unpaid work experience or an internship is good for networking and may increase chances of employment. The CIPR and PRCA websites give advice on sourcing placements.

Training

Entrants will usually develop their skills on the job, shadowing more experienced colleagues. Structured graduate training schemes may be available in large consultancies and employers.

The CIPR offers well-recognised professional qualifications, short courses, as well as a continuing professional development (CPD) scheme.

  • CIPR Advanced Certificate - aimed at people with a few years' PR experience or graduates that haven't studied PR. Applicants need either the CIPR Foundation Award or any UK degree or two years' relevant PR employment with five GCSEs (A*-C), including English.
  • CIPR Diploma - for more experienced PR practitioners aiming for strategic management PR positions.

See CIPR website for entry requirements. Both CIPR courses are available to study online.

The PRCA offers face-to-face and online training for their professional qualifications, including:

  • PRCA Foundation Course - aimed at recent entrants or people interested in entering PR.
  • PRCA Advanced Certificate - designed to help practitioners develop the strategic skills necessary to become highly effective.

CIPR, PRCA and Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) run seminars, short courses and training events that can enhance knowledge.

Getting on

In-house PR officers with the suitable level of experience and qualities could be promoted to PR/media relations manager and possibly even PR director or head of corporate affairs. Agency PR staff often start at a junior account executive level, progressing to senior account executive/manager and potentially associate or account director.

Movement between employers may be necessary to gain promotion. Many successful PR professionals become self-employed, providing consultancy services on a freelance basis. The skills acquired in PR are useful to related roles, including advertising, marketing, internal communications or brand management.

Further information

Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), Moor Hall, Cookham, Maidenhead, Berkshire SL6 9QH. 01628 427120. Websites: www.cim.co.uk and www.getin2marketing.com

Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), 52-53 Russell Square, London WC1B 4HP. 020 7631 6900. Website: www.cipr.co.uk

Communication Advertising and Marketing Education Foundation (CAM Foundation), Moor Hall, Cookham, Maidenhead SL6 9QH. 01628 427120. Website: www.camfoundation.com

Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA), Willow House, 17-23 Willow Place, London SW1P 1JH. 020 7233 6026. Website: www.prca.org.uk

 

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

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