Hack College Presents: Launching A Career In PR

public relations

There are a multitude of jobs in the PR industry, but many people still have only a vague idea of what these professionals do on a regular basis. Above all, public relations specialists strive to maintain a positive reputation or personal brand for their clients. They are the masterminds behind the public image of a particular individual, company, or organization.

Part I. The PR Industry

Public relations is a competitive, dynamic field that has evolved substantially with the rise of digital communication and social media marketing. Individuals who thrive in this environment tend to have strong interpersonal skills and the ability to work independently. They also enjoy problem-solving, working with media, and flexing a little entrepreneurial muscle.

An Overview of PR Careers

Students interested in a PR career can rest easy knowing they won’t have to pick a job title and stick to it. PR specialists are concerned with developing and maintaining their clients’ public image. They’re tasked with fundraising and press release writing, as well as organizing and leading various events and programs (such as company launch parties). Some PR specialists work for government agencies, while others for private sector corporations or nonprofit organizations. Regardless of the clientele, public relations work is demanding. It not only requires strong people skills, but also a knack for research, web technology, and social media outreach.

Two of the most common career paths in the PR field are:

  • Media Specialists: These professionals often serve as press secretaries who keep the public informed about the affairs of government officials and agencies. They must communicate with media specialists and reporters, customers and the general public, and their ability to succeed largely depends on how familiar they are with the needs and concerns of the groups they represent. On a day-to-day basis, PR specialists might draft press releases, contact media specialists to share the information they want to disseminate, and/or host corporate events to increase public awareness of their client.
  • Public Relations Managers: In addition to the responsibilities of media specialists, managers are pressured to ensure that the personality of their organization is clearly communicated to their audience. They often track trends in the economy and recommend measures to improve the company’s image accordingly. Managers may serve as spokespeople, interacting directly with newspapers and radio stations. As managers, they may supervise public relations specialists on their team. Further responsibilities include corresponding with the internal marketing team to make sure both parties are on board with the public image and brand positioning a particular client hopes to achieve.

Career and Salary Outlook

The increasing reliance on social media as a primary mode of public outreach is having a monumental impact on the roles and responsibilities of PR specialists. From Facebook and Twitter to Pinterest and Yelp!, PR specialists must understand the fundamentals of various social media outlets and promptly respond to user comments and complaints in order to support the client’s reputation. Developments in new media outlets are also creating more work for PR specialists, a positive progression for potential students.

According to 2010 data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), public relations and fundraising managers earned a median salary of $91,810, while public relations managers and specialists earned $57,550; the median annual income for all PR occupations was $33,840.

Part II. Top Online and Offline PR Programs


Mediabistro is an online social media community that strives to provide education, individual workshops, career events, and resume advice. They offer online certificates in several media sectors such as copy editing, digital journalism and ad copywriting.

The Public Relations certificate program is a non-degree course of study designed to sharpen students’ PR skills. Students will learn how to write pitch leaders and press releases; they’ll use online platforms to learn how to reach audiences and develop a client base. The PR certificate is an effective way to prepare yourself for a university program or launch a successful career. Remember: most PR positions require a B.A.

If you’re not sure whether or not you want to study PR at the college level, Mediabistro could be a sound choice. When you graduate from college and ultimately decide to pursue this field, a PR Certificate will look fantastic on your resume.

  • Accreditation: Mediabistro is not a formal university and does not have accreditation.
  • Cost: Fees are $1,650 for the full program if courses are paid individually; tuition is $1500 if paid in full.
  • Financial Aid: There is no financial aid available at this time.

Southern New Hampshire University

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) boasts an affordable program that prepares students for PR jobs in consulting, public relations, and research firms in corporate, government, or nonprofit settings. Required courses for students of this program cover a wide range of related topics, including corporate communications, electronic public relations, PR writing and media campaign management. To earn your B.A. degree in this field you must also complete courses required for communications majors.

SNHU has a strong reputation, making the Fast Company’s 2012 list of the ‘World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies’ alongside Google and LinkedIn. The school has also earned the Best Buy award from GetEducated.com, Best Online Degree and Best M.B.A. awards from Best of Business, and the Military Friendly Schools designation from G.I. Jobs.

  • Accreditation: Southern New Hampshire University is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
  • Cost: $960 per course, $320 per credit hour.
  • Financial Aid: In addition to Federal aid, SNHU offers a number of scholarships.

Walden University

The Public Relations concentration at Walden University teaches students the

foundational elements of PR, including best practices, press release writing, publicity planning, media relations, and crisis management. Students will be asked to dive into the material and look hard at what they know about their own values, dispositions, and communication styles. They will hone their written skills and learn how to adapt for diverse audiences. Increasing ethical and social awareness is another key aspect of the program.

  • Accreditation: The school is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission and is a member of the North Central Association.
  • Cost: Tuition for the program is $52,200. Books and supplies cost $4,100.
  • Financial Aid: Walden offers up to $5,000 in grants, scholarships, and tuition-reduction options.

Brigham Young University Department of Communications

Brigham Young University is a highly competitive and well-regarded private school affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. BYU is ranked 68th in the 2013 edition of Best Colleges and National Universities, according to U.S. News & World Report. BYU’s PR program equips students with skills related to media relations, strategic program planning, and critical writing. Students edit and publish the campus newspaper, Daily Universe (both print and online), and produce television newscasts on local cable stations.

  • Accreditation: The university is fully accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
  • Cost: Its tuition and fees are $4,710 (2012-13); room and board is $7,200 (2012-13).
  • Financial Aid: BYU offers scholarships based on academic excellence. Federal aid is also available.

University of Florida (UF) College of Journalism and Communications, B.A. in Public Relations (Gainesville, FL)

The University of Florida was ranked 54th in the 2013 edition of Best Colleges and National Universities, according to U.S. News & World Report. The school’s undergraduate PR program encourages students to analyze and participate in social and public issues, and to involve themselves in a variety of academic activities and disciplines, like fundraising, public health education and new media technologies. Moreover, the program is designed to help students discover what issues are important to them and how to approach these issues as professionals in a complex industry.

  • Accreditation: UF is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
  • Cost: 2011-2012 tuition is $5,656 for in-state students, $27,933 for out-of-state.
  • Financial Aid: The university offers a number of scholarships, but most students receive federal financial aid.

Kent State University School of Journalism and Mass Communications, B.A. in Public Relations (Kent, OH)

Kent State has a rigorous public relations program that requires students to complete professional internships. Before they get to that level, students will be introduced to strategic management of communication methodologies and the nature of relationships between organizations and their public representatives. The curriculum focuses on oral, written, and online communication. As students advance, they will participate in PR campaigns and actually research and create a public relations plan for a real client.

  • Accreditation: The university is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission and the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.
  • Cost: 2012-13 tuition is $9,672 for in-state students, and $17,632 for out-of-state.
  • Financial Aid: Financial assistance is available through scholarships and Federal aid.

Part III. Breaking Into the PR Field

As media and technology evolve and stand to impact the entire industry, tracking down your first job might be tricky. It depends a bit on luck, a lot on how you present yourself, and, most of all, your professional network. In the PR business, connections are everything.

Prospective students are encouraged to check out the official website for the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). You don’t need to be a member in order to poke around and find great information like resume and cover letter tips or tutorials for building a porfolio. The PRSA is a professional network, and exploring it can help you gain a sense of what other professionals are doing to succeed in the PR field.

There is no end to the number of quality job boards on the Internet these days. InternMatch.com features features a national internship database that includes paid, for-credit, and voluntary positions. PRSA JobCenter is another solid resource; this site exclusively features vacancies and employment opportunities in the PR field, as well as resume-building tips, undergraduate program information, and outlets for networking with other professionals.

Advice from Professional PR Insiders

  1. When you use a news distribution service such as PR Newswire or PRWeb to issue a press release, you typically see a large number of tweets that feature your press release headline once your news hits the wire. Writing your release headline with “tweetability” in mind can impact the number of tweets and retweets of your release. This is not only a great opportunity to get your company, product or client’s name out to the social community, but also to drive views of your release. – Leyl Master Black, Mashable
  2. Recruiters need to know what businesses and industries a candidate has worked in — not just the name of the PR agency. If you have extensive experience working with blogs, I want to see that on your resume. Alternatively, if we’re looking for an internal communications professional or someone with more consumer marketing in his/her background, I need to see that communicated. – Kim Isaacs, Monster.com Resume Expert
  3. At some point in your career, particularly if you’re on the agency side, a boss will tell you part of your career growth includes business development. PR professionals,are not trained salespeople. Networking will save you. Suddenly the people you consider friends because you serve on boards with them (get involved with PRSA or IABC) will become your biggest allies in finding new business. – Gini Dietrich, PR Daily

It’s Time to Get Started

If you’re interested in pursuing a PR career, conduct a little research to prepare yourself for college-level studies. Write down a list of your favorite brands, companies, and nonprofit organizations. Choose one and find out who exactly is behind the company’s image. Look in newspapers, blogs, or wherever the company you’re researching has been publicized, and you will find evidence of PR Specialists at work. In addition, actively read PR blogs and websites like Marketwire and PR Week, as well as the numerous articles and books on the subject, to learn the ins and outs of this extensive industry.

Even with all the available information about the PR industry and its various sub-sectors, and educational opportunities for aspiring PR specialists, it’s still tough to just throw yourself into the proverbial fire. If sitting down to fill out a college application doesn’t feel quite right at the moment, jot down some ideas on how to experiment with the numerous tasks and responsibilities you’ll face as a PR Specialist. You could start your own blog, for example, or take a stab at writing a formal press release for a company or product you like. Once you’ve created a specific brand, see if you can increase visibility and improve brand image over the months that follow. By taking a series of determined steps, you’ll greatly increase your chances of launching a successful PR career.