Public relations (PR) majors engage with practical strategies and theoretical models for managing the public-facing images of individuals, companies, and organizations. The digital age has had a profound impact on the PR industry, creating an entirely new generation of specializations oriented toward digital media. This guide explores the many exciting and challenging career possibilities for a public relations major.
Why Pursue a Career in Public Relations?
Careers in public relations hold strong appeal for ambitious individuals who crave variety in their daily job duties and enjoy helping others leverage and promote their best qualities. Those who succeed in public relations careers typically possess open-mindedness, sociability, a keen eye for detail, and the ability to thrive in high-pressure environments.
PR professionals must spin events and details into cohesive narratives that present clients in a positive light. Thus, they need high levels of persuasiveness and a strong understanding of rhetoric as it relates to spoken and written language.
Public Relations Career Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects demand for qualified PR professionals to keep pace with overall growth in the American job market between 2018-2028. For example, the BLS projects a 6% growth rate for public relations specialists over that period, which is in line with the national average for all occupations.
Public relations professionals often command above-average salaries, especially as they gain experience. The following table highlights typical pay rates at various stages of common PR career paths:
|Public Relations Specialist||$40,280||$45,700||$58,470||$61,370|
|Public Relations Coordinator||$35,850||$40,410||$49,730||$52,220|
|Public Relations Manager||$44,520||$56,290||$70,820||$77,750|
|Public Relations Director||N/A||$53,940||$81,890||$97,190|
Skills Gained with a Public Relations Degree
Students pursuing a public relations degree learn to craft a public relations strategy, align public relations goals with advertising and marketing strategies, and build favorable public images for their organizations. The degree strengthens several key skills that benefit public relations professionals in the workforce, such as written communication and public speaking.
- Interpersonal Skills
Public relations professionals interact with the public and the media on a regular basis to promote a favorable image for their organizations. To succeed in public relations, professionals need strong interpersonal skills. Public relations students develop these skills through group projects, presentations, and internships.
- Organizational Skills
Public relations professionals often manage several client accounts, organize multiple events, and oversee a team of public relations specialists. Students acquire strong organizational skills by completing individual and group projects.
- Public Speaking
A public relations program strengthens students' public speaking skills by requiring in-class presentations. These public speaking skills benefit public relations professionals as they are often tasked with speaking on behalf of their organizations.
Public relations students develop their writing skills through papers and projects. Strong writing skills help public relations professionals write press releases, speeches, and advertising copy. Professionals must be able to clearly communicate ideas through writing.
In many ways, communication sits at the core of public relations. The ability to clearly and concisely deliver a message benefits public relations professionals in every industry, including strategic communications, copywriting, advertising, and marketing. Public relations students strengthen communication skills through papers, presentations, and internships.
Public Relations Career Paths
Students can often specialize their public relations degrees by choosing concentrations that align with their desired career path. A concentration in advertising, for example, provides training in broadcast and print advertising, product placement, and copywriting. Similarly, a media relations concentration includes coursework in strategic communications and methods to shape public perception through media.
These concentrations prepare graduates for specialized public relations careers after graduation. Students should note that concentrations vary by program, so they should be sure to research the concentration offerings at each prospective school. The following list outlines several common career paths for public relations graduates.
Public relations majors who wish to work in advertising study topics like print and broadcast media, effective advertising methods, and communications strategies in advertisement. Students also learn copywriting and persuasive writing skills. The coursework may link advertising to public relations objectives.
- Strategic Communications
Students pursuing this career path study how to align communications with a strategic plan or brand identity. Students learn to promote an organization's brand through communications, maintain a positive brand identity, and deliver effective messages to consumers. The concentration may also emphasize outreach methods and coordinate with marketing and advertising.
- Social Media
A social media concentration prepares public relations professionals to incorporate social media methods into strategic communications, public relations, and marketing. Students examine social media theory, digital communications, and organizational uses of social media for building brand identity. The concentration may also touch on search engine optimization (SEO), digital strategy, and digital analytics.
- Media Relations
Public relations students who concentrate in media relations learn how to build a strong relationship between an organization, agency, or business and the media for the purpose of public relations. Students learn to shape media coverage, interact with media organizations for interviews, and promote a brand through media relations.
How to Start Your Career in Public Relations
PR firms and departments increasingly prefer to hire candidates with specialized degrees. Some overlap exists between PR and fields like marketing, communications, and business administration, but PR professionals particularly benefit from earning a degree in PR.
For some entry-level roles and job paths with limited growth potential, an associate or bachelor's degree may suffice. However, if your career plans include leadership roles, such as a PR manager or director, you likely need at least a master's degree to keep pace with your competition. Some ambitious PR professionals may earn a doctoral degree to further differentiate themselves in the job market.
Associate Degree in Public Relations
With an associate degree in public relations, degree-holders can pursue entry-level opportunities in several industries, including advertising and marketing. Graduates with an interest in strategic or legal communications can pursue opportunities as paralegals, while those interested in marketing or advertising can pursue roles as an advertising sales agent.
Earning an associate degree in public relations also prepares graduates to transfer into a bachelor's in public relations program.
What Can You Do With an Associate in Public Relations?
- Administrative Assistant
Administrative assistants perform clerical and administrative duties for organizations in the business, education, healthcare, legal, nonprofit, and government sectors. They manage databases and filing systems, prepare reports and documents, and prepare invoices and reports. They may also schedule appointments, arrange staff meetings, and support staff at their organizations.
Paralegals maintain and organize legal files, conduct legal research, and draft documents to support lawyers. They examine laws and regulations, gather evidence and legal documents for attorney review, and summarize reports to help lawyers prepare for trial. Paralegals may also assist lawyers during trial. The position requires a certificate in paralegal studies.
- Advertising Sales Agent
Advertising sales agents, also known as advertising sales representatives, sell ad space to businesses or individuals. They make sales presentations, interact with clients, and maintain client accounts. Advertising sales agents also provide estimates for the cost of advertising products or services, deliver sales presentations to new clients, and deliver proofs to clients for approval.
Bachelor's Degree in Public Relations
Earning a bachelor's degree in public relations can lead to careers in advertising, marketing, and public relations. The degree meets the entry-level requirements for many public relations jobs, including public relations specialist, market researcher, and copywriter. The skills gained during a public relations degree program also benefit event planning and writing professionals.
During a bachelor's program in public relations, students gain foundational skills in areas like strategic communications, media relations, and public relations. Prospective public relations majors can learn more about the top online public relations programs.
What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Public Relations?
- Public Relations Specialist
Public relations specialists shape public perception of their organizations to maintain favorable reputations. They draft press releases, respond to information requests from the media, and help clients communicate with the public. Public relations specialists also analyze advertising and marketing programs to ensure they meet the organization's goals and public relations strategy.
- Market Research Analyst
Market research analysts study market conditions to help companies understand what products and services consumers want. They monitor and forecast marketing trends, measure the effectiveness of marketing strategies, and collect data through surveys and opinion polls. Market research analysts create reports for clients and management to help them make marketing decisions.
- Public Relations Coordinator
Public relations coordinators create and maintain a positive public image for an organization. They may work in sectors like business, healthcare, or education, where they write news releases, distribute media kits, and organize public events. Public relations coordinators typically hold a bachelor's in public relations or a closely related field.
- Event Planner
Event planners coordinate events and professional meetings. They meet with clients, plan for the event's location and cost, and work with venues and service providers to meet the event's needs. Event planners also coordinate event services like transportation and food service. A background in public relations helps event planners understand an event's goals and promote the event.
Writers may create content for advertisements, books, speeches, articles, and blogs. They often conduct research, create drafts, and work with editors and clients to meet their needs. Writers may work in several subfields, including copywriting, content writing, and speech writing -- all positions that benefit from public relations training.
Master's Degree in Public Relations
With a master's degree in public relations, professionals can pursue leadership roles, such as public relations manager, advertising manager, and marketing manager. They may also hold titles like director or vice president. These professionals play a leading role in shaping an organization's public relations strategy, including media outreach, branding, and advertising.
During a master's program, graduate students can further specialize their training by pursuing a concentration. Prospective students can learn more about the top online public relations master's programs.
What Can You Do With a Master's in Public Relations?
- Public Relations Manager
Public relations managers promote organizations and individual clients by designing a media strategy, researching social and market trends, and recommending ways to enhance public reputation and brand identity. They may supervise a team of public relations specialists and oversee internal communications. A graduate degree in public relations helps public relations managers succeed.
- Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Manager
Advertising managers oversee a team of advertising specialists working to promote a product or service. They may work for advertising agencies, businesses, or individual clients. Advertising managers oversee the creative process for developing advertisements and prepare budgets for campaigns.
- Public Relations Director
Public relations directors help maintain the public image of an organization and protect its reputation. They present a positive image of their organizations for the media and the public by creating news releases, media kits, and PR strategies. Public relations directors can work in several industries, including education, business, and healthcare.
- Vice President of Public Relations
Vice presidents of public relations oversee an organization's PR strategy. They may also manage media relations teams and coordinate with branding and advertising teams. They help set brand strategies and respond to PR crises and negative publicity. They may also take a public role in representing the organization, interacting with the media as a spokesperson for the company.
- Marketing Director
Marketing directors oversee marketing tasks for an organization. They create projects to meet the organization's needs, communicate with clients, and manage marketing staff. Marketing directors also collect data on marketing performance to improve future projects. Marketing certifications and a graduate degree help marketing directors advance their careers.
Doctorate Degree in Public Relations
Earning a Ph.D. in public relations prepares graduates for the highest positions in the field, including academic titles like professor and academic dean. During a Ph.D. program, doctoral students complete coursework that provides advanced public relations knowledge and training within a specialization.
Most programs reserve 1-2 years for dissertation research and writing, wherein doctoral students conduct original research in their specializations and write dissertations. After successfully defending their dissertation before a faculty committee, doctoral students earn their degree. Many academic positions, particularly on the tenure track, require a doctorate, and administrative roles at colleges and universities often prefer candidates with doctorates.
What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Public Relations?
Professors of public relations work in community colleges, four-year colleges, and universities. They may teach courses and design syllabi to meet the department's educational goals. PR professors also assess student learning, oversee projects, and mentor undergraduate and graduate students. Many professors also conduct and publish research.
- Nonprofit Executive Director
A nonprofit executive director acts as the chief executive officer for a nonprofit organization. They oversee daily operations and work with the board of directors to achieve the organization's mission. Executive directors oversee development and management within their organizations, direct community outreach programs, and provide financial oversight.
- Provost or Dean
Provosts and deans, also called postsecondary educational administrators, act as administrators within a college or university, often with academic responsibilities. Provosts assist the president by setting academic policies, overseeing faculty hiring, and managing the budget. Academic deans manage a college or academic division, including faculty members and budget.
How to Advance Your Career in Public Relations
Prospective PR professionals should consider supplementing their public relations degree with additional training. Common examples include optional professional certifications and continuing education programs, both of which signal expertise in and commitment to the field.
Certifications And/Or Licensure
Currently, no PR-related career paths require candidates to earn or maintain formal, regulated licenses. However, many reputable professional organizations offer certification programs that deliver formal credentials endorsing specific skills.
For example, the Global Communication Certification Council offers two advanced certification programs to members: the Communication Management Professional (CMP®) designation for generalist practitioners and the Strategic Communication Management Professional (SCMP®) credential for specialist professionals.
The professional certifications mentioned in the previous section can double as excellent continuing education initiatives. Professionals can often pursue these learning opportunities remotely while they continue to work their current job. If you already hold a PR degree, limit your search to professional programs for graduates. These programs typically focus on niche, in-demand skills and proficiencies designed to advance your career.
You can also advance your career through a higher degree. An advanced degree can position graduates for leadership roles in the field.
PR professionals can further advance their career through professional organizations. These organizations may routinely put on events, conferences, and conventions where you can meet and interact with like-minded people in the PR industry.
Most professional organizations welcome students into their ranks. Many even offer membership discounts to current students and recent graduates, giving you further incentive to become active at an early stage of your career development.
How to Switch Your Career to Public Relations
Careers in public relations overlap with numerous other fields. People with degrees and experience in marketing, business management and administration, and communications can potentially transition into public relations jobs without earning a specialized degree. However, you can boost your chances of success by adding some PR-specific schooling to your CV.
To this end, you can pursue professional programs and advanced certifications. Heading back to school to get an advanced degree can also help. Depending on your academic background, you may qualify for master's programs in public relations if you already hold a bachelor's degree in a related field.
If you do not already have a bachelor's degree or if you completed a bachelor's degree in an unrelated field, enrolling in an undergraduate PR degree program may serve you well. Candidates with existing college-level schooling often qualify for advanced standing and transfer credits, which can greatly reduce your expected graduation timeline.
Where Can You Work as a Public Relations Professional?
PR professionals work in diverse industries and enjoy many employment opportunities. They may work for agencies, companies, or themselves. Salaries and opportunities are typically greater in well-populated urban areas with high concentrations of cutting-edge industries than in rural settings or places with low population densities.
Public relations professionals can work in a variety of industries, including advertising, marketing, and education. They may also work for nonprofit organizations, grantmaking organizations, or broadcast media companies.
- Management of Companies and Enterprises
The management of companies and enterprises sector includes organizations that own controlling interests in other companies or enterprises. PR professionals help these organizations administer, oversee, and manage these organizations and establishments.
Average Salary: $76,530
- Advertising, Public Relations, and Related Services
The advertising, public relations, and marketing sector hires many PR graduates to persuade customers, promote products and services, and strengthen organizational brands.
Average Salary: $82,290
- Social Advocacy Organizations
Social advocacy organizations promote a cause or work toward a specific political goal. PR professionals help advocacy organizations raise public awareness and promote their causes.
Average Salary: $64,340
- Grantmaking and Giving Services
PR graduates in the grantmaking and giving sector focus on fundraising, donations, and grants. They may promote an organization that offers grants, communicate the organization's values, and raise visibility.
Average Salary: $71,050
- Radio and Television Broadcasting
The media sector -- including radio and television broadcasting -- employs PR professionals to act as media contacts, communicate values and goals, or promote a brand.
Average Salary: $53,090
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
According to BLS statistics, the U.S. jurisdictions that host the largest number of PR jobs include, in descending order, California, Texas, New York state, the District of Columbia (D.C), and Florida. In many cases, high job densities spilled over to neighboring jurisdictions, such as New Jersey for New York and Virginia and Maryland for D.C.
The jurisdictions with the highest average pay rates for PR jobs follow a similar pattern. The BLS identifies D.C., New Jersey, New York, Virginia, and Washington state as the five localities where PR professionals make the most money. Notably, average salaries in D.C. outpaced the second-place finisher, New Jersey, by more than one-third.
Interview With a Professional in Public Relations
Jordan Barrish is the public relations strategist for Peerfit, a market leader in connecting employers and carriers with innovative fitness experiences. Jordan has focused her public relations work in technology start-ups and nonprofits to bring a holistic approach to PR. Jordan creates campaigns and messaging that resonate and inspire others to live healthier and happier lives. She holds a BS in public relations from the University of Florida.
- Why did you choose to pursue a degree in public relations?
When I was trying to decide what I wanted to major in, I originally bounced between advertising and journalism. Marketing wasn’t even on my radar because, at the time, marketing was still highly sales-focused, and there was much less crossover with PR and other communications functions than there is today.
Then, I learned about public relations and realized it was something that I could apply in any industry and was the type of communication I was interested in. I was excited by the idea of PR being two-way communication. The other communications degrees at that time felt like they were all one-way communication (especially since social media was only really starting to get its wings), and I really enjoyed the idea of sharing ideas and content -- really understanding your audience and helping a brand connect with their customers.
- Was it something you were always interested in?
No, I originally wanted to work in education and also journalism, but the more research I did and the more classes I took, public relations really stood out to me. I loved the idea of the communications industry and the idea of representing an organization in a positive way. I had a lot of passions and thought that if I studied PR, I could apply those skills to any of those industries or hobbies in my working career. And I was right.
- What would you say are the minimum educational and work experience requirements to earn a job in public relations?
You will need at least a bachelor’s degree in PR. Depending on your school, it will either be a BA or a BS. Internships are also extremely vital. Internships, either paid or unpaid, help you learn real-world skills while still in school. They set you up for success after graduation so you not only have some real-world experience working in PR, but you have a better sense of how an office works and how to interact with others in a work setting. And your internship could lead to a full-time job in that organization.
- What about working in public relations do you enjoy?
I really enjoy working with so many people across so many industries. I have always done in-house PR but have worked with agencies while being in house. In each of my roles, I have been able to work with a number of partners, which keeps things exciting, helps you get insight into how other folks are doing PR, and also helps you stay on top of the constantly changing industry.
More traditionally, I also really enjoy working with the media. Building relationships is tough but worth it. There is a stat that there are now six PR pros for every one journalist, but that just makes the relationships you build that much more important.
I also really love the strategy involved in working in PR and how many different parts of an organization PR has a hand in. It helps you understand the business you are working in as a whole and is a really fulfilling industry to be in.
- What are some of the most difficult aspects of working in public relations?
Cold-emailing journalists is probably one of the toughest aspects of the job. You have to not only get the reporter to see your email but to actually open and read it. Once you get over the hurdle of the cold email, it starts to get much easier, but it’s vital that you do your research, know who you are reaching out to, and make your pitch succinct and intriguing.
It’s also sometimes difficult to fully quantify your work beyond “we got this many placement stories.” PR can have an impact across your or your client’s company as you build awareness and also generate leads, but it can be hard to share the true impact.
PR is also one of those job positions that sometimes seems like a mystery to some of your coworkers. Helping others understand how it works and understand that timing always varies when building relationships and getting stories placed can be tough, but it’s worth it to help educate those you work with.
- What advice would you give to students considering earning a degree in public relations?
Working in PR can be challenging but also rewarding. If you are interested in getting your degree in PR but aren’t entirely sure, I suggest going and talking to someone who is already working in the space and picking their brain. This could help you decide what path you might want to take with PR once you have your degree.
They say, “it’s not what you know, but who you know,” and that could not be more true. This doesn’t discredit your education and on-the-job skills training, but the more you can network and meet folks, the bigger your network will be, which can help you land media placements, build your network of PR pros, or even find your next job.
If your school has a Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter, I highly recommend you join. It’s a great first step into the PR industry.
- Any final thoughts for us?
Skills learned in a PR degree are beneficial to any career path, such as strategy, ethics, writing, storytelling, and knowing how to talk to people in a concise and interesting way.
There are a number of ways you can go with a PR degree, so don’t feel like you have to settle with wherever you start out.
The communications field is constantly changing. PR is a great degree if you are excited by the idea of being in an industry that is always evolving and changing.
PR is extremely versatile and can get you working in almost any industry.
If you are a people person who likes helping to make connections, you are on a good path with PR.
Resources for Public Relations Majors
This section provides important resources for prospective students considering a public relations degree, including professional organizations, open courseware and other free learning opportunities, and esteemed publications.
- Professional Organizations
Public Relations Society of America: The nation's largest professional organization for public relations and communications, PRSA represents more than 30,000 members. PRSA offers a content hub with resources and information on different PR topics, hosts events with networking opportunities, and offers job listings in public relations.
Public Relations Student Society of America: A branch of PRSA designed specifically for students, PRSSA supports students pursuing careers in public relations or communications. The society offers internship listings, scholarships, and publication opportunities.
International Public Relations Association: A global organization for public relations professionals, IPRA organizes conferences and events designed to connect PR professionals. IPRA offers member services such as a directory, a public relations code of conduct, and professional development resources like trainings. IPRA also publishes books, grants awards, and publicizes PR news.
National Communication Association: A professional organization for communications professionals, scholars, and teachers, NCA publishes multiple academic journals, hosts an annual convention, and offers professional development opportunities. For scholars, NCA offers teaching and learning resources and a career center that focuses on academic positions.
American Marketing Association: Public relations professionals who work in marketing or a related field can join the AMA for professional development resources, information on the best marketing practices, and research in marketing. The association offers the professional certified marketer credential, hosts a job board with marketing opportunities, and offers marketing career resources.
Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management: This organization represents over 160,000 professionals around the world and brings together multiple public relations and communication management associations. GA raises professional standards, shares knowledge across national borders, and promotes a global perspective. GA also runs forums and projects, publishes research and educational resources, and grants awards.
International Communication Association: An academic association for scholars in human and mediated communication, ICA hosts an annual conference with networking opportunities, publishes journals and an annual report, and hosts interest groups for specialists in different communications fields. The association also posts academic job openings.
Social Media Association: SMA brings together professionals who rely on social media. The association holds informative meetings and networking events for members and guests, including workshops, meetups, and discussions. SMA also offers a job bank for job-seekers.
Association for Women in Communications: A professional association for women in communications, AWC hosts events, provides scholarships and awards, and offers professional development resources. Members benefit from an online membership directory, members-only publications, and website resources. The association offers local chapters for professionals and students.
Alliance for Women in Media: An organization for women working in media, AWM supports members by offering professional development tools, events with networking opportunities, and the AWM job board. The alliance grants awards to distinguished women working in media and publishes academic papers.
- Open Courseware
Introduction to Public Relations - PR Academy: This short course is offered by the United Kingdom-based PR Academy. Learners from anywhere in the world may join. It covers a high-level, introductory overview of public relations and professional practice. According to PR Academy, the course provides an excellent opportunity to those seeking to build familiarity with public relations before deciding whether to pursue a degree or career in the field.
Introduction to Personal Branding - University of Virginia: Politicians, celebrities, professional athletes, and other high-profile successful individuals rank among the major employers of PR professionals. Such people carefully build, refine, and promote a "personal brand" representing their consistent, coherent public image and profile. This introduction to personal branding offers value to anyone seeking to explore this branch of public relations and marketing.
Transmedia Storytelling: Narrative Worlds, Emerging Technologies, and Global Audiences - University of New South Wales (Sydney, Australia): Many careers in public relations draw on the principles of storytelling to cast their subjects in a positive light. This course explores the ways in which people use multimedia platforms and novel technologies to create and manage purposeful narratives for worldwide audiences. Given the internet's increasing role in public relations, the subject has a great deal of relevance for established and emerging professionals.
Public Relations Review: Distributed by leading academic publisher Elsevier, this peer-reviewed academic journal was founded in 1975 and stands as the oldest periodical dedicated to specialist commentaries and expert research in the PR field. Most of its content covers empirical, data-driven research carried out by recognized experts and leading scholars.
Journal of Creative Communications: A SAGE product, the Journal of Creative Communications holds voluntary membership in the Committee on Publication Ethics. The journal covers PR topics and wider communications trends and issues with strong applicability to technology, cultural trends, and global socioeconomics.
Journal of Communication Management: Published quarterly, this peer-reviewed academic periodical launched in 1996 and focuses on organizational communications and public relations. It maintains informal ties to the United Kingdom-based Chartered Institute of Public Relations.
The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law: This handbook acts as an essential reference guide to AP style, which remains the standard among PR professionals, and it also explains the fundamentals of U.S. media law as it pertains to PR releases. The book undergoes regular updates to account for changing best practices and legal standards.
Primer of Public Relations Research: Written by noted University of Miami scholar Don W. Stacks, this widely used textbook holds a canonical, authoritative position in the study of public relations. Its content examines commonly used qualitative and quantitative methods for designing and tracking the progress of PR campaigns. The work's most recent update as of 2020, the Third Edition, was released in 2016.
Public Relations Strategies and Tactics: In its 11th edition as of 2020, this benchmark was coauthored by Dennis L. Wilcox (San Jose State University), Glen T. Cameron (University of Missouri), and Bryan H. Reber (University of Georgia). It is essential reading for emerging PR professionals, as it lays out the major strategies and techniques used by contemporary PR professionals.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is public relations a good career?
Public relations careers benefit from strong demand. High-profile organizations, companies, and individuals often seek to maintain a carefully managed and curated public image. The field remains more relevant than ever in the internet age.
- What does a career in public relations look like?
Careers in public relations offer many rewarding challenges as client needs go through constant states of flux. Public relations is a dynamic, creative, exciting, and fast-changing field with high stakes.
- Is a degree in public relations worth it?
Employers increasingly prefer candidates with specialized degrees, especially given the ways in which the internet and social media have impacted the field. Professionals may also qualify for certain PR jobs with degrees in communications, business management, or marketing.
- How much do public relations specialists make?
According to the BLS, public relations specialists earned a median annual salary of just over $61,000 in 2019. Actual earnings vary according to many factors, including role, experience, education, and industry.
- Are public relations specialists in demand?
According to the BLS, jobs for PR specialists are projected to grow 6% between 2018-2028, which is on pace with the national average for all occupations.