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Public relations

Leaflet O 07
June 2011

Public relations (PR) work covers all the aspects of establishing good relations between an organisation and its public – whether customers, shareholders, the local community or general public. Most PR staff are graduates.

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The PR industry

PR sometimes has a glamorous image – organising champagne receptions, entertaining important clients at major sporting events and so on. But there is a great deal more to it than that. It's about communicating, influencing people and getting messages across. PR is closely related both to journalism and to advertising. Work in PR may involve:
  • media relations– presenting your organisation to the press, TV, radio etc
  • corporate hospitality– organising special events
  • public affairs– presenting your organisation's ideas and trying to influence the opinions of stakeholders
  • managing reputation– making sure your organisation is well known and has a positive image; this may include crisis management!
  • financial relations– a specialist area of PR to do with attracting investors.

All large organisations – local and national government, political parties, industry and commerce, professional bodies and charities – rely on good PR. Many celebrities and famous sportspeople also use the services of PR professionals to build or maintain a certain public image. Creating, and keeping up, a positive image and reputation is a delicate business, requiring careful forward planning and ongoing effort.

As a PR officer/account executive, you may:
  • conduct research and decide what PR work is required, plan the programme and evaluate its progress
  • advise your organisation or clients on strategies
  • write or edit press releases, brochures, speeches, scripts and features
  • maintain good relations with the media and arrange TV or radio interviews, press conferences etc
  • organise special events, conferences, exhibitions, open days etc to promote the organisation and make presentations.

Some organisations – particularly public bodies – employ a press officer. This is, in effect, a specialist aspect of public relations. Press officers deal with the media. Their duties include handling enquiries from journalists, arranging interviews with the media (e.g. newspapers, radio and TV) and issuing press releases.

In-house and consultancy work

A large organisation will have an in-house PR departmentto provide a positive corporate identity and image to its public and customers. The PR department may be responsible for product promotion, marketing and consumer relations. It may produce company literature and organise events.

A consultancyfirm offers PR services to a number of clients. Some consultancies specialise in dealing with firms in a particular sector, such as finance or healthcare. Staff working with consultancies have to be flexible and be able to juggle work from different organisations.

What it takes

To work in PR you need:
  • to be interested in current affairs and the news
  • good communication, organisation and teamwork skills
  • a high standard of literacy
  • creativity
  • to be flexible and open-minded in your outlook, as the needs of clients will vary
  • to be able to meet deadlines and handle pressure
  • plenty of energy and stamina.

Entry and qualifications

No particular qualifications are required for entry to PR work, although, in practice, most staff are graduates. Any degree subject is likely to be acceptable, especially if relevant to the employer's organisation. Entry is extremely competitive and any relevant experience that you have gained, for example while a student, will be helpful.

Entrants may start on a firm's general management training scheme and then specialise in PR work. Some large consultancies run graduate trainee schemes in PR. Many graduates start at junior executive level. Some staff move into PR having gained experience in a related field such as marketing, journalism or advertising. It's also possible to start on the administrative or secretarial side of a PR firm or department, with the aim of moving into professional work after gaining a general background.
  • There are a number of degree and postgraduate coursesin PR and related subjects – some are recognised by the CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations).
  • The CIPRoffers qualifications in PR through courses run on a part-time basis by various learning providers. These include a Foundation Award, open to anyone who is considering a career in PR, an Advanced Certificate, suitable for graduates who are new to the industry or considering a career in PR and a Diploma, for those already in employment who want to take on a more strategic role.
  • The CAM Foundationoffers relevant qualifications including a Diploma in Marketing Communications and a Diploma in Managing Digital Media.

Pay and prospects

The number of PR jobs in the UK is growing rapidly. In-house staff may progress to PR manager and head of communications. In PR consultancies, a successful account executive may be promoted to account manager and then to director. With the right skills, promotion from junior account executive to senior executive can be rapid.

PR officers and account executives earn around £19-25,000. Account managers and directors earn £30-60,000+.


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For Further Information

CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations)– tel: 020 7631 6900. See website for careers information and a list of CIPR-approved courses:
www.cipr.co.uk

The CAM Foundation (Communication, Advertising and Marketing Education Foundation)– tel: 01628 427120. Part of The CIM (see below).
www.camfoundation.com

The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM)– contact details as above.
www.cim.co.uk

Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA)– tel: 020 7233 6026.
www.prca.org.uk

Click on 'Career Advice' on the PRCA jobs website below to download The FrontLine Guide to a Career in PR.The Guide lists consultancies that offer graduate trainee schemes.
www.prcajobs.org.uk

Working in Marketing, Advertising & PR –published by Babcock Lifeskills, £8.50.
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