The Sweet Smell of Success

The Sweet Smell of Success

Let’s talk today about power, a special kind of real power in our world.

If I was down to my last dollar,  I'd spend it on public relations.--- Bill Gates

Let’s talk about a very powerful, yet invisible, person. A professional behind the scenes of all our daily lives. A professional who creates opinion, shapes our attitudes, our likes and our dislikes.

In Hollywood, when they help create a star, they are called “Praisers.” They might score “sexiest man in the world” status for their client.

In manipulating political views, they are “spin-doctors.” They might persuade a famous religious leader to pose with their client, in return for other power-producing favors.

If a celebrity has a bad news release, they might change the “bad spin” to “positive spin” with a series of counter-articles, exploiting their connections with popular columnists or TV Shouters.

They are brokers of public opinion. They create an intrinsic quality that some call “the sweet smell of success.”

Popularity makers. Poll pumpers. The politician’s best friend. The builders of corporate image.

Amazing, isn’t it? How can one person wield such power— to make millions of people like or dislike a single person? Make them admire or hate a company? Persuade them to vote for or vote against a political candidate?

Sound impossible? Who are these incredibly influential professionals?

They are Publicists. The academic term is “Public Relations Specialist.”

Some just call them PR’s.

cover of People magazine with Denzel Washington

PR’s create desire and image and brand recognition. A top PR commands millions in fees, but can use their connections to get an actor’s face on the cover of people, or a candidate’s face on a banner on Yahoo.

Their media campaigns have created the world we live in— through media campaigns they shape many of our prides and prejudices. They drive our opinions, who we think is cool, who we don’t, who we want to imitate, what brands we buy, what shows we watch, what clothes we wear.

They create “publics”— targeted groups in focused demographics. A great PR expert can turn a person’s image around, or make fame from obscurity.

An organization’s reputation, profitability, (and even its continued existence) can depend on the degree to which its targeted “publics” support its goals and policies.

PR’s come in many levels of rank and power. From the million-dollar-fee global elites, to the rank and file of local business and politics.

Paris Hilton promoting a shoe

Public relations specialists—also referred to as communications specialists and media specialists, among other titles— promote businesses, nonprofit associations, universities, hospitals, and other organizations, and build and maintain positive relationships with the public. As managers recognize the importance of good public relations to the success of their organizations, they increasingly rely on public relations specialists for advice on the strategy and policy of such programs.

Public relations specialists handle organizational functions such as media, community, consumer, industry, and governmental relations; political campaigns; interest-group representation; conflict mediation; and employee and investor relations. They do more than “tell the organization’s story.” They must understand the attitudes and concerns of community, consumer, employee, and public interest groups and establish and maintain cooperative relationships with them and with representatives from print and broadcast journalism.

Public relations specialists draft press releases and contact people in the media who might print or broadcast their material. Many radio or television special reports, newspaper stories, and magazine articles start at the desks of public relations specialists. Sometimes the subject is an organization and its policies toward its employees or its role in the community. Often the subject is a public issue, such as health, energy, or the environment, and what an organization does to advance that issue.

Public relations specialists also arrange and conduct programs to keep up contact between organization representatives and the public. For example, they set up speaking engagements and often prepare speeches for company officials. These media specialists represent employers at community projects; make film, slide, or other visual presentations at meetings and school assemblies; and plan conventions. In addition, they are responsible for preparing annual reports and writing proposals for various projects.

In government, public relations specialists—who may be called press secretaries, information officers, public affairs specialists, or communication specialists—keep the public informed about the activities of agencies and officials. For example, public affairs specialists in the U.S. Department of State keep the public informed of travel advisories and of U.S. positions on foreign issues. A press secretary for a member of Congress keeps constituents aware of the representative’s accomplishments.

In large organizations, the key public relations executive, who often is a vice president, may develop overall plans and policies with other executives. In addition, public relations departments employ public relations specialists to write, research, prepare materials, maintain contacts, and respond to inquiries.

People who handle publicity for an individual or who direct public relations for a small organization may deal with all aspects of the job. They contact people, plan and research, and prepare materials for distribution. They also may handle advertising or sales promotion work to support marketing efforts.

The typical public relations specialist works in a busy office. The pressures of deadlines and tight work schedules can be stressful.

Some public relations specialists work a standard 35- to 40-hour week, but unpaid overtime is common and work schedules can be irregular and frequently interrupted. Occasionally, they must be at the job or on call around the clock, especially if there is an emergency or crisis. Schedules often have to be rearranged so that workers can meet deadlines, deliver speeches, attend meetings and community activities, and travel.

There are no defined standards for entry into a public relations career. But in such a wild-wild-west business habitat, you need all the help you can get.

A college degree in a communications-related field, combined with public relations experience, is excellent preparation for public relations work.

Many entry-level public relations specialists have a college degree in public relations, journalism, advertising, or communication.

Some firms seek college graduates who have worked in electronic or print journalism.

Other employers seek applicants with demonstrated communication skills and training or experience in a field related to the firm’s business—information technology, health care, science, engineering, sales, or finance, for example.

Many colleges and universities offer bachelor’s and postsecondary degrees in public relations, usually in a journalism or communications department. In addition, many other colleges offer at least one course in this field.

A common public relations sequence includes courses in public relations principles and techniques; public relations management and administration, including organizational development; writing, emphasizing news releases, proposals, annual reports, scripts, speeches, and related items; visual communications, including desktop publishing and computer graphics; and research, emphasizing social science research and survey design and implementation.

Courses in advertising, journalism, business administration, finance, political science, psychology, sociology, and creative writing also are helpful. Specialties are offered in public relations for business, government, and nonprofit organizations.

Many colleges help students gain part-time internships in public relations that provide valuable experience and training. Membership in local chapters of the Public Relations Student Society of America (affiliated with the Public Relations Society of America) or in student chapters of the International Association of Business Communicators provides an opportunity for students to exchange views with public relations specialists and to make professional contacts that may help them find a job in the field.

Bono from U2

A portfolio of published articles, television or radio programs, slide presentations, and other work is an asset in finding a job. Writing for a school publication or television or radio station provides valuable experience and material for one’s portfolio.

Some organizations, particularly those with large public relations staffs, have formal training programs for new employees. In smaller organizations, new employees work under the guidance of experienced staff members. Beginners often maintain files of material about company activities, scan newspapers and magazines for appropriate articles to clip, and assemble information for speeches and pamphlets. They also may answer calls from the press and the public, work on invitation lists and details for press conferences, or escort visitors and clients. After gaining experience, they write news releases, speeches, and articles for publication or plan and carry out publicity campaigns.

Public relations specialists must show creativity, initiative, and good judgment and have the ability to communicate thoughts clearly and simply. Decision-making, problem-solving, and research skills also are important. People who choose public relations as a career need an outgoing personality, self-confidence, an understanding of human psychology, and an enthusiasm for motivating people. They should be competitive, yet able to function as part of a team and be open to new ideas.

The Universal Accreditation Board accredits public relations specialists who are members of the Public Relations Society of America and who participate in the Examination for Accreditation in Public Relations process. This process includes both a readiness review and an examination, which are designed for candidates who have at least 5 years of full-time work or teaching experience in public relations and who have earned a bachelor’s degree in a communications-related field. The readiness review includes a written submission by each candidate, a portfolio review, and dialogue between the candidate and a three-member panel. Candidates who successfully advance through readiness review and pass the computer-based examination earn the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) designation.

The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) also has an accreditation program for professionals in the communications field, including public relations specialists. Those who meet all the requirements of the program earn the Accredited Business Communicator (ABC) designation. Candidates must have at least 5 years of experience and a bachelor’s degree in a communications field and must pass written and oral examinations. They also must submit a portfolio of work samples demonstrating involvement in a range of communications projects and a thorough understanding of communications planning.

Public relations specialists held about 243,000 jobs in 2006. They are concentrated in service-providing industries such as advertising and related services; health care and social assistance; educational services; and government. Others work for communications firms, financial institutions, and government agencies.

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix Occupational title SOC Code Employment, 2006 Projected<br />

Public relations specialists are concentrated in large cities, where press services and other communications facilities are readily available and many businesses and trade associations have their headquarters. Many public relations consulting firms are in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington, DC. There is a trend, however, for public relations jobs to be dispersed throughout the Nation, closer to clients.

Very tough competition is expected for entry-level PR jobs. Employment of public relations specialists is expected to grow by 18 percent from 2006 to 2016, faster than average for all occupations. The need for good public relations (in an increasingly competitive business environment) should spur demand for these workers in organizations of all types and sizes. Those with additional language capabilities also are in great demand.

Many people are attracted to this profession because of the high profile nature of the work. Opportunities should be best for college graduates who combine a degree in journalism, public relations, advertising, or another communications-related field with a public relations internship or other related work experience.

Applicants without the appropriate educational background or work experience will face the toughest obstacles.

Median annual earnings for salaried public relations specialists were $47,350 in May 2006.
The middle 50 percent earned between $35,600 and $65,310; the lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,080, and the top 10 percent earned more than $89,220.

Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of public relations specialists in May 2006

Although employment is projected to grow faster than average, incredible competition is expected for entry-level jobs.

Opportunities should be best for college graduates who combine a degree in public relations, journalism, or another communications-related field with a public relations internship or other related work experience.

If you crave real power in our world, the ability to create public opinion is near the very top of the power pyramid.

If the world of PR sounds like a world you are ready to take on, a good communications degree will help kick-start your adventure.

Want to hang out with the power people of our world? Try PR. If it doesn’t eat you alive, you might become the next PR King.

A comprehensive directory of schools offering degree programs, a sequence of study in public relations, a brochure on careers in public relations, and an online brochure entitled Where Shall I Go to Study Advertising and Public Relations?, are available from:

  • Public Relations Society of America, Inc., 33 Maiden Lane, New York, NY 10038-5150

For information on accreditation for public relations professionals and the IABC Student Web site, contact:

  • International Association of Business Communicators, One Hallidie Plaza, Suite 600, San Francisco, CA 94102
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