Every organisation, no matter how large or small, depends on its reputation for success. Public relations (PR) is the discipline which looks after that reputation, helping establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its 'publics', which can include customers, suppliers, shareholders and staff.
People who practise PR go by a number of different job titles, depending on their responsibilities and the type of organisation they work for. Here, we refer to PR practitioners in general as public relations officers.
Public Relations Officers are employed in two main areas:
In-house PR departments in a wide range of organisations. These include industrial and commercial companies, government departments and agencies, local authorities, the police, professional bodies and charities.
PR consultancies. There are around 2,800 consultancies in the UK, ranging from large multinational organisations to small firms run by one or two people.
Public Relations Officers could also be involved in some or all of the following:
Programme planning - analysing problems and opportunities; defining goals; recommending, planning and implementing activities and measuring results; liaising with management and clients throughout.
Writing and editing - shareholder reports, annual reports, press releases, film scripts, articles and features, speeches, booklets and newsletters.
Media relations - developing and maintaining good working contacts with, and understanding of, the media, whether print, broadcast or online
Corporate identity - developing and maintaining an organisation's identity through corporate advertising, presenting the company's name and reputation rather than its products.
Speaking - communicating effectively with individuals and groups including meetings and presentations.
Production - brochures, reports, film and multi-media programmes, and co-ordinating or supervising studio or location photography.
Special events - news conferences, exhibitions, open days, competitions and award programmes.
Research and evaluation - analysis and fact-gathering to develop a PR programme, and evaluation and measurement to decide future strategy.
Most will work in a team with other PR staff, marketing and communications specialists.
Typical working hours are 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday. Longer hours may be necessary on occasions, and might include working evenings and weekends. Part-time and flexi-time work is possible.
The work is office-based, although it usually involves frequent travel to meetings and other events. Certain types of events, such as trade shows and conferences, may involve longer trips away from home.
Starting salaries range from around £12,000 to £21,000 a year.
PR in the UK is flourishing, with around 48,000 practitioners.
Job vacancies may be advertised in Press Gazette, Profile, PR Week, The Guardian (on Mondays) and in other national and local newspapers. There are numerous specialist PR recruitment companies. Jobs are also advertised on the internet, including specialised PR and media job sites and on the website of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).
Many Public Relations Officers have a degree. This could be in PR, but other subjects such as communications, marketing, journalism, media studies, or English are common too. Those without degrees tend to have gained experience by working their way up from other positions in an organisation, perhaps studying for professional qualifications along the way.
The typical minimum entry requirements for degree courses are two A levels/three H grades and three GCSE's/S grades (A-C/ 1-3) in other subjects. Alternative qualifications may also be acceptable. These include Scottish Group Award (SGA), BTEC/SQA national or higher national award and International Baccalaureate. Applicants should check specific entry requirements with individual universities.
As entry into PR work is competitive, it may also be helpful to have a postgraduate qualification. A first class or upper second degree is usually required to get onto a postgraduate diploma or masters degree course.
Relevant experience is also helpful in gaining entry to this work. This can be through the work experience placements included in some first degree and postgraduate courses or via voluntary work or holiday jobs.
Universities and colleges throughout the UK offer PR degree courses. Some of the courses are approved by the CIPR. Courses mostly last three years full-time or four years if they include a year's work placement.
Several postgraduate diploma and masters courses are accredited by the CIPR. They typically last one year full-time or two years part-time. Online or distance learning is also possible.
Graduates interested in a PR career may also take the CIPR Advanced Certificate, which is available at a number of centres in the UK, and usually takes 24 weeks part-time.
New Public Relations Officers will usually be introduced to the role by a senior colleague or manager. Some large consultancies and other employers have graduate training schemes with structured training programmes. Training may include work shadowing and attending conferences, workshops, seminars and briefing sessions.
The CIPR offers a wide range of training programmes as well as a continuing professional development scheme. It can lead to Accredited Practitioner status and to Fellowship of the CIPR.
The Communication Advertising and Marketing Education Foundation (CAM Foundation) also offers part-time or intensive and distance learning courses that lead to the CAM Diploma in Marketing Communications (awarded by the Chartered Institute of Marketing). This includes a module on PR.
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A Public Relations Officer should:
The typical career path for an in-house Public Relations Officer is to PR manager, PR director and, possibly, head of corporate affairs.
Progression in consultancies can be from junior account executive to account executive, then senior account executive/account manager and associate or account director.
Movement between employers may be necessary to gain promotion. Some experienced Public Relations Officers become freelance consultants or set up their own PR businesses. Some move into related work, such as advertising or marketing.
Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR),
32 St James's Square, London SW1Y 4JR
Tel: 020 7766 3333
Communication Advertising and
Marketing Education Foundation Ltd (CAM Foundation),
Moor Hall, Cookham,
Maidenhead SL6 9QH
Tel: 01628 427120
Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA),
Willow House, Willow Place,
London SW1P 1JH
Tel:020 7233 6026
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.