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What Does a Public Relations Specialist Do?

Public relations (PR) specialists shape and maintain a positive image for their clients through strategic communication, branding and crisis management. They build relationships with the media, craft messages, organize events and promote products or services, all while anticipating and managing public perception.
A group of public relations specialists discussing what they do while sitting at a conference table

Understanding the Numbers
When reviewing job growth and salary information, it’s important to remember that actual numbers can vary due to many different factors — like years of experience in the role, industry of employment, geographic location, worker skill and economic conditions. Cited projections do not guarantee actual salary or job growth.

From copywriting to crisis management, public relations can make or break an organization. With long-term success heavily reliant on positive public perception, creativity and strategy are at the forefront for public relations specialists.

So, what does a public relations (PR) specialist do? They play an important role in building a brand’s voice, helping the client’s presence rise above the noise.

Whether planning promotional campaigns or writing press releases, PR specialists build and support a positive image for their client. They deliver “strategies, tactics and techniques for sharing organizational news and events while anticipating, analyzing and managing how the public perceives and feels about an individual, company or brand,” said Dr. Karen Wilkinson, associate dean of liberal arts, communication at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).

PR specialists — sometimes referred to as communication specialists or press secretaries — are found in nearly all industries, including advertising, business, politics and education, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Whether in the private, nonprofit or government sector, PR specialists are responsible for a variety of tasks that protect their client’s reputation.

What Is a Typical Day as a Public Relations Specialist?

Public relations encompasses many aspects of brand image, so each day may look a little different.

Tamira Moore with the text Tamira Moore

PR professionals manage various communication channels, such as print and video press, social media, interviews, events and more, according to Tamira Moore ’23G, a graduate of the Master of Arts (MA) in Communication with a concentration in Public Relations at SNHU.

“They develop and implement communication strategies and tactics to promote the organization's brand, products or services, and manage crisis communications when necessary,” Moore said. “Public relations specialists also monitor media coverage, manage social media channels and organize events to create positive publicity for the organization.”

Wilkinson said that strategy often includes using technology to determine desired messaging and target audiences, while implementation could involve writing press releases or speeches, responding to inquiries on social media, answering journalists’ questions and scheduling interviews. They may also coach individuals on communicating with the public, including speaking and crafting online posts, according to the BLS.

Building and maintaining relationships with members of the media is an important aspect of a PR specialist’s responsibilities. These relationships are invaluable in moments of crisis or controversy.

“Public relations efforts are utilized to build relationships with key stakeholders and maintain a positive brand image,” Wilkinson said. “Through the delivery of timely and transparent communications, public relations professionals are able to promote the positive aspects associated with the entity and minimize harm to reputation, should negative fallout occur.”

While public relations professionals work on general brand image daily, they also must be prepared to address unexpected situations on short notice. Maintaining a positive image during these moments is paramount, and a skilled PR specialist will “ensure that public and media-facing responses are accurate and reflect the true brand identity,” Wilkinson shared.

Moore said that PR specialists must remain aware of “current events and (social media) trends.” As such, they might spend part of their day reviewing online articles, videos and social media posts to align their media plan. Having awareness of current events can help PR professionals avoid communication and social media posts that are outdated or potentially insensitive.

Karen Wilkinson with the text Karen Wilkinson

Wilkinson added that “the instantaneous nature of social media messaging and digital platforms can create positive awareness and public understanding or require the need for immediate damage control.”

Public relations professionals may spend their days in a traditional office setting or working remotely, and there may be opportunities to travel with or on behalf of a client, according to the BLS. Due to the nature of crisis communications and social media, they may occasionally work more than 40 hours per week, including work on evenings or weekends.

What Is In-house, Agency and Freelance Work?

In-house. Typically working for a specific company or organization, the PR specialist focuses on the public perception of their employer as a whole or a smaller, specific unit. For example, a PR professional may work at an accounting firm, promoting a positive public image of the entire organization.

They may also work at a large tech company where they represent the company’s artificial intelligence (AI) division. They can build close relationships with internal stakeholders and dive deeper into long-term strategy and branding, according to the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). However, their work may not be as diverse as a PR professional working at an agency or freelancing.

Agency. Often employing several PR specialists, the agency assigns each employee a caseload of external clients to represent. These clients may be on a long-term contract, such as helping build a brand’s online presence, or on a short-term contract, such as handling a specific PR crisis.

While the work can be fast-paced, interesting and varied, the PR specialist may not have a say in who their clients are and must be prepared to work with industries they have no prior experience with, according to the PRSSA. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) stated that client-facing PR professionals should expect to spend 70-90% of their workweek directly serving clients.

Freelance. From deciding your workload and clients to working remotely from a location of your choosing, freelancing can provide freedom and flexibility.

This allows the PR professional to choose a wide variety of clients or to specialize in a niche market. They can create their own schedule and reduce their clientele should they be interested in pursuing other endeavors. Searching for new clients, marketing oneself and managing finances and taxes are necessary for freelancing work, according to Indeed.

What Skills Are Needed To Be a Public Relations Specialist?

With the image and reputation of their clients at stake, PR specialists need to have a wide array of skills.

Relationship building and communication. PR specialists must keep information flowing with external stakeholders and build trust with clients. Strong written and verbal communication skills help deliver the right message in the right channel. “PR professionals use these skills to create speeches, provide social media content and offer press releases to media teams,” said Wilkinson.

Creativity and strategic thinking. PR specialists combine creative and strategic thinking skills to solve problems and make incremental progress toward goals. With this skillset, a PR professional can determine their target audience, craft the appropriate message and track short- and long-term public opinion. 

According to Moore, PR specialists should “be prepared for a fast-paced and demanding environment that requires creativity, flexibility and the ability to handle high-pressure situations.”

Problem solving. As revenue is often tied to public perception and favorability, a strong sense of judgement and professionalism is important for long-term success. Media moves quickly, and crisis situations require acting quickly with appropriate responses. According to the BLS, solid problem-solving skills can help a PR specialist handle sensitive issues.

Project management. PR specialists often use organizational skills to balance several schedules, interviews, events, marketing plans and more, the BLS noted. According to Moore, PR professionals must be able to “work efficiently under deadlines and prioritize tasks effectively.”

How Do You Become a Public Relations Specialist and What Is a Typical Salary?

There are many paths to becoming a public relations specialist; however, earning a bachelor’s degree in communication or public relations is a common qualification. Employers may also look for related degrees, such as English, creative writing or marketing.

Completing an experiential learning opportunity can provide relevant career experience, helping you stand out to recruiters. “My advice for someone considering a career in PR would be to gain experience through internships or volunteer work, network with professionals in the field and develop strong communication and writing skills,” said Moore.

An infographic piece with the text BLS reports PR specialists earned a median salary of $62,800 in 2021

According to BLS, the average salary for a PR specialist was $62,800 in 2021. With a faster-than-average projected growth rate of 8% through 2031, there will be an increasing demand for PR professionals. Wilkinson noted that “PR professionals are highly sought after as they assist entities in their strategic efforts to establish a respectable brand image and ensure positive reputations and relationships.”

With increasing responsibility and experience, PR specialists may advance to a role as a public relations manager. In 2021, the average salary for a PR manager was $125,780 with a projected growth rate of 8% through 2031, the BLS reported. Earning a master’s degree in communication or public relations can be helpful for future career growth.

Is a Public Relations Specialist the Same as a Publicist?

Public relations specialists and publicists share many of the same responsibilities. In fact, some people and organizations use the terms interchangeably. From strategizing messaging to writing external communications, both careers focus on getting their clients in the media.

However, while many of the day-to-day skills and duties are the same, there are some key differences between public relations and publicity, according to Indeed. Public relations focuses on creating a positive public opinion of a client and building relationships with stakeholders and media representatives.

Publicists promote their client’s image — whether positive or negative — to the public, typically through paid media. PR specialists often have a broader focus, such as the public opinion of an entire organization, while publicists often have a narrower focus on individuals.

What Does the Future Hold for the Field of Public Relations?

An infographic piece with the text BLS reports PR specialists jobs are projected to grow 8% from 2021 to 2031With AI and continuously evolving technology, PR professionals will need to be flexible and adapt, Moore said. The channels used to communicate with the public will continue to grow and change, so PR professionals will need to find new ways to research public opinion, strategize plans and communicate messaging. Understanding search engine optimization (SEO) will be helpful in building messaging that reaches a wider audience.

How individuals interpret information is changing, as well. “The increasing focus on transparency and authenticity will also play a significant role in shaping the future of PR,” Moore said, adding that “the rise of social media influencers and micro-influencers will continue to impact the industry, creating new opportunities and challenges for PR professionals to navigate.”

Discover more about SNHU's public relations degree: Find out what courses you'll take, skills you'll learn and how to request information about the program.

Steven White is a copywriter and adjunct instructor at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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