How to become a public relations specialist

July 18, 2023 · 6 min read · By ASU Online
Get the details on what public relations specialists do, the skills you’ll need to succeed as one, and the online communication and English degrees that can help prepare for the roles.
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What does a public relations specialist do?

Public relations specialists typically cover a range of tasks that require them to adapt to the ever-shifting social landscape. Public relations specialists often work to maintain their employer's favorable public image by developing press kit materials for media outlets that include pitch letters, case studies, trend stories and feature articles. Press resources help solidify an organization's reputation by providing the public with curated information about their operations and work culture.

Additionally, following an incident that may be damaging to the organization, public relations specialists coordinate all external communications in an attempt to lessen the impact of the incident and, possibly, have something positive come out of it. The role of a public relations specialist necessitates a high degree of versatility as tasks align with altering events. Other tasks may include:

  • Arranging promotional events, interviews and press releases.
  • Crafting persuasive marketing collateral for various audiences.
  • Drafting speeches and social media posts for top executives.
  • Evaluating advertising campaigns to ensure they’re compatible with ongoing PR efforts.
  • Gauging public opinion through online platforms, surveys and polls.
  • Responding to information requests from the media and public interest groups.

If working for a for-profit company, a PR specialist may leverage their writing abilities and knowledge of social trends to tailor messaging and brand-related materials to the preferences of targeted consumer groups. While those working for nonprofit organizations spread awareness of their mission and efforts. This is key to persuading the public, stakeholders and donors that their advocacy work is constructive and relevant. In both cases, this role cultivates and maintains productive relationships, often contributing to an institution's long-term success.

 

How to get into public relations

Public relations specialists need more than an aptitude for written and verbal communication. These extra traits help them navigate challenging public relations situations. For example, they’re often aware of subtle language cues that an audience may misinterpret. This allows them to iron out any ambiguities in press releases or online posts.

A public relations specialist has responsibilities beyond the creation of branded messaging. So, it’s important to consider the qualities that contribute to success, such as:

  • Affability: Communicating with the public and media outlets requires a lighthearted disposition and a knack for relationship building. Public relations specialists are an extension of their organizations. Poor interactions could reflect unfavorably on their employers. Professionalism is a must, but a friendly attitude can also help you excel. 
  • Thoroughness: Professionals in this field must be able to adapt to new challenges and work on multiple projects simultaneously. It’s important to build structure in this role in order to prioritize tasks accordingly. In addition, these specialists must coordinate interdepartmental workflows to meet or exceed all PR objectives.
  • Attention to detail: Public relations specialists are responsible for their employer’s public image. This is why a career in public relations is ideal for detail-oriented individuals. All communication and promotional materials must be free of errors to safeguard the brand. 
  • Ingenuity: Navigating sensitive situations requires creative thinking, critical analysis and sound judgment. Public relations specialists generate actionable solutions that must meet the specific needs of their target audiences.

As a PR specialist, you’ll focus on learning your organization's communication style while receiving projects from your manager such as writing press releases or planning events. If you’re promoted to a managerial position, your responsibilities will become overseeing the work of other employees, developing brand principles and handling internal communications with other executives. After years of experience, a director of public relations will maintain relationships with key stakeholders, set company principles, and collaborate with cross-functional teams within the organization to ensure consistent results.

 

Public relations specialist salary and job outlook

Most public relations specialists work full-time within organizations or agencies, but there are also opportunities for independent consulting.

The prevalence of social media has helped drive demand for this profession over the past decade. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of public relations specialists is expected to grow at an above average rate of 8% between 2021 and 2031. The median annual salary for this role is $62,800, with the potential for a salary increase depending on higher education.

Hiring managers often seek candidates with a bachelor’s degree in English, communication or journalism for these roles. Years of relevant experience in the field, plus earning a master’s degree in organizational leadership or project management, can lead to higher positions such as a manager or director.

 

Online degrees that prepare you for a career in public relations

Arizona State University offers a variety of online programs for students interested in becoming a public relations specialist. Available programs include:

This English degree can help you improve your writing proficiencies and develop your knowledge of public outreach, persuasion and cross-culture communication. From crafting content to implementing marketing strategies, you can meet the brand management needs of many organizations. This program also offers study in sociolinguistic studies, rhetoric and audience analysis, which can prepare you for the challenges of a fast-paced career in public relations.

This communication degree explores the role of human communication through theory, workplace environments and interpersonal relationships. You’ll complete courses covering topics of intercultural and global communication, conflict and negotiation, gender and communication, civil communication and more. Upon completing this program you’ll be equipped to pursue professions such as public relations that require proficient oral and written communication abilities.

The Bachelor of Science in communication takes a more analytical approach to the study of communication that focuses on data analysis. This program contains courses that advance a deeper understanding of research, such as quantitative research methods in communication. Upon completing this degree, you’ll have the knowledge and skills necessary for working in public relations within a wide range of industries, such as government, education, human resources and marketing.

This business degree combines a comprehensive understanding of business principles with a concentrated communication curriculum. You’ll develop communication strategies tailored to diverse business scenarios that will prepare you for success across various industries and professions. This program includes the core courses required for all W.P. Carey School of Business majors and specialized communication courses in training and development.

This program explores global mass communication issues from all branches including societal, cultural, historical, political, technological, legal and more. The study of mass communication focuses on how information influences the behavior, attitudes and opinions of individuals within society. Additionally, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the role that media plays in shaping different cultures. This degree is ideal for those interested in the systems that uphold fields such as advertising, marketing, politics and public relations.

Everything you need to know about ASU Online classes and degree programs

We’ve compiled what you need to know about online classes and degree programs at Arizona State University. Read on to learn all about what to expect from the ASU Online learning experience.

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