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What is Public Relations (PR)?

A PR team of five people who are sitting around a table with laptops and sticky notes.

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.

Public relations (PR) refers to the practice of influencing, engaging and building relationships with key stakeholders to shape and frame the public perception of an organization, according to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). One of the many communication career paths, public relations professionals use a variety of communications tactics, including press releases, social media messaging and special events, to accomplish these goals. They also plan and execute crisis communications.

To get people talking about an organization or brand, PR professionals intentionally plan campaigns that expose audiences to a brand without sales pressure, according to Meltwater, a media measurement company.

While big-brand public relations campaigns often come to mind when you think of PR (for example, Dove's "Real Beauty" and Patagonia's "Don't Buy This Jacket" campaigns), all kinds of organizations rely on public relations to get their messages across to the public. The U.S. government, for instance, worked closely with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to quickly get information about COVID-19 prevention, vaccines and treatment to Americans through televised press conferences, websites and social media.

What is PR in Marketing?

Public relations and marketing are not the same, although professionals in both fields may use similar communication channels. Public relations professionals aim to build a company’s image, whereas marketing staff focus on selling products or services, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Companies have much to gain from including public relations as part of their overall marketing strategy, according to Forbes. For example, PR can help set the stage for sales by increasing brand awareness, forging stronger relationships with customers, or increasing online media presence.

Although they have different objectives, PR and marketing do overlap and should be in alignment. For example, your marketing team will have difficulty boosting sales if your organization has a poor reputation.

Does PR Pay Well?

An infographic piece with the text BLS reports PR specialists earned a median salary of $62,800 in 2021According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for public relations specialists was $62,800 in 2021.* Your salary will vary greatly, depending upon the type and size of organization you work for, where you live and your level of responsibility.

In niche industries, such as wholesaling, public relations specialists earned $125,280, according to BLS.* Geography can also play a role. Public relations specialists in New York earned an average annual salary of $83,460 in 2021, BLS reports.*

If you advance to a public relations management role, you could expect to earn more. For example, BLS reports that public relations managers earned an annual median salary of $125,780 in 2021.*

Is PR a Good Career?

The demand for public relations specialists is expected to grow 8% through 2031 — faster than average for all occupations, according to BLS.* If you enjoy using your communications skills, public relations might be the right career for you.

In order to be successful, you should possess most of the following traits, according to Indeed:

  • Adaptability and crisis management skills
  • Media relations skills and social media acumen
  • Research and analytical skills
  • Strategic thinking and strong ethical values
  • Strong written and verbal communication skills

Humberto Gurmilan in a suit with text: Humberto GurmilanYou can hone these skills in the workplace and also learn them within a communication degree program. To stay competitive in the marketplace, it’s important to stay abreast of advances in the PR, said Humberto Gurmilan, an adjunct instructor of communication at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).

“Like other branches in the field of communication, public relations has had to continue to adapt to the changing trends and technologies in communication, as well as the changes in people's behavior because of these changing trends,” he said.

What Can You Do with a Public Relations Degree?

In addition to public relations, a bachelor’s degree in communication with a concentration in public relations can prepare you for a variety of jobs in communications, marketing, and media. By taking courses such as public speaking, crisis communications and writing for new media, you’ll be equipped to effectively communicate with customers, company leaders and government officials.

Victoria Comis with the text Victoria ComisYou should look for programs that explore traditional communication channels but also expose you to methods such as influencer marketing for PR, corporate social responsibility, social media and reputation management in a digital world. You’ll also benefit from instructors who either practice in the field or who’ve recently spent time working in a PR role.

If you have an associate degree or college credits, you might also consider programs that will give you credit for coursework you’ve already completed. Victoria Comis '21, who earned a bachelor’s degree in communication with a public relations concentration, said SNHU made it easy for her to pick up where she left off.

“I did already have my associate in the same discipline, so I wanted to continue this for my bachelor’s,” she said. “I enjoy this field because it is a chance to help an organization gain a better relationship with its publics.”

Sammantha Hoyt with the text Sammantha HoytSammantha Hoyt '21 came to SNHU with previous public relations experience but credited the public relations concentration for helping her build skills she can apply in her professional career.

If you’re looking to advance or switch careers, a master’s degree in communication with a concentration in public relations can help you further develop the communication and leadership skills you’ll need to land managerial roles. By choosing a graduate program that focuses on strategy, new media and campaign measurement, you’ll be prepared to help brands and organizations execute successful campaigns.

Jobs in Public Relations

No matter what industry you work in, it’s likely you’ll find an organization with a public relations role. Beyond public relations or marketing agencies, you can find PR jobs in businesses, hospitals, schools, sports teams and nonprofit organizations.

“Fortunately, the field of PR is wide, and there are many areas and industries that will need a good PR professional,” Gurmilan said. “The key is specializing and having great knowledge of the specific industry you're applying for.”

Here are a few public relations jobs that typically employ individuals with at least a bachelor's degree:

  • Brand manager – A brand manager develops an overall strategy for a brand or product line. In this role, you’d work closely with the marketing, sales and research and development departments to develop strategies and messaging directed to audiences you wish to influence. You could expect to build relationships with social media influencers, write blogs and articles and oversee other marketing team members, according to Indeed.

    Brand managers typically have a bachelor's degree in business, communication, journalism, marketing or a related field. Some employers prefer to hire brand managers who have earned a master's degree in business administration (MBA), Indeed reports.

    Director of public relations
    – A public relations director is charged with developing the overall PR strategy for a product or organization. From planning and measuring campaigns to crafting crisis responses, PR directors assume responsibility for all external communications. In this role, you’d work closely with senior management to create strategies, policies and budgets related to the PR function. You may also oversee junior staff members.

    Individuals in a PR director role typically require a bachelor's degree in communication, journalism, public relations or business – as well as years of experience. Many also hold master's degrees in communications or business.
         
  • Promotions assistant – In this entry-level role, you’ll recommend activities that will enhance the image of your company’s products or services. For example, if you work as a promotions assistant for a sports team, you might plan and run contests or events during games. You’d also be responsible for administrative tasks such as scheduling and compiling reports, according to ZipRecruiter.
         
  • PR coordinator or assistant – This role is usually the first stepping stone toward a PR career. Public relations coordinators or assistants work under the direction of a public relations specialist or manager and assist with the planning and execution of communications strategies. In this job, you’d be responsible for scheduling and coordinating events, sending out press releases and maintaining media lists.
         
  • PR manager – In larger organizations, a PR manager may oversee PR specialists or coordinators. In this role, you could expect to take on more responsibility, including campaign management and measurement. Public relations managers also draft media releases, advise internal or external clients, and review their team’s work.

    Individuals in this role typically hold a bachelor’s degree in public relations, communications or business. BLS reports that some employers prefer to hire candidates who have a master’s degree and work experience.

  • An infographic piece with the text BLS reports PR specialists jobs are projected to grow 8% from 2021 to 2031PR specialist – Also known as media specialists or social media specialists, PR specialists execute communications programs on behalf of their organizations. You could expect to field media requests, draft speeches or talking points, post on social media, or plan special events to obtain media coverage.

    PR specialists typically require a bachelor’s degree in communications, social science or business, according to BLS. Previous media experience or public relations internships can also position you well for this role.

No matter what career you ultimately pursue, a degree in communications with a public relations focus opens up a variety of opportunities, Gurmilan said.

“With a degree in public relations, the sky is the limit, and you can always continue learning,” he said.

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

*Cited job growth projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth. Actual salaries and/or earning potential may be the result of a combination of factors including, but not limited to: years of experience, industry of employment, geographic location, and worker skill.

Krysten Godfrey Maddocks '11 is a writer and marketing/communication professional. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.