Public relations is the strategic communications process which builds and supports the relationship between an organization and its diverse publics. This takes place through the use of communication and engagement through a variety of channels to achieve mutual understanding, realize organizational goals, and serve the public interest.
Most PR professionals work in one of three broad segments: in-house, consultancy, or agency. Those working in-house are employed directly by a corporation or organization and typically provide strategic and practical communications support.
Consultants are self-employed, engaged by corporations or organizations on short- or long-term contracts. PR agencies are larger than a one-person consultancy and are paid by corporations and organizations to conduct public relations on their behalf, sometimes on retainer and sometimes for specific initiatives.
PR activities include communications planning, issues management, media relations, investor relations, corporate branding, community relations, writing, producing business materials, special events planning, crisis communications, video production, social media management, research and evaluation. Some PR professionals specialize in one or a few activities while others are generalists.
These three fields are related and often work in cooperation. Marketing and advertising are concerned with the direct sale of products or services and the development of markets, while public relations is about communicating with stakeholders, engaging with the public and reputation management. Marketing specialists identify markets for their employer’s products and services, then develop and implement programs to create and maintain demand for them. PR specialists identify people and audiences who have a relationship with their employer, explore what that relationship is, then develop and implement communications programs to connect with those people.
Advertising is a specialized area of marketing that involves identifying the media to which people interested in a product or service are attuned, then paying for guaranteed placement of advertising in those media. Media relations is a specialized area of PR that involves pitching stories to identified media and responding to media inquiries. In this arena of PR a company or agency does not pay for media placement and it can influence, but not prepare or control, the output.
Public relations practitioners are responsible for an organization’s reputation and profile and for communicating with the organization’s stakeholders. In-house PR practitioners are often in management positions. Whether working in-house, as a consultant or with an agency, PR practitioners work to build solid relationships based on goodwill and honesty.
Salaries in the PR field vary dramatically depending on experience, employer, job function, and whether you work in-house, as a consultant, or in an agency. An entry-level PR professional in-house or at an agency can expect to start at $30,000-$45,000. Senior PR professionals can make well into six figures.
Most people interested in PR undertake a diploma or degree in the profession. Some people come into PR from other fields, such as journalism, but usually only after gaining expertise in the other field that will prove valuable in PR, and often with supplementary PR education.
There are a number of schools in Metro Vancouver which offer PR programs. These include Simon Fraser University, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, BCIT, Douglas College and Langara College to name a few. All of these programs graduate students who are now working in the industry. Each school has a different specialty. Once you determine the area of PR you want to focus on, you might want to talk with program coordinators (and if possible, some graduates) to see which school best meets your needs, budget and schedule.
After sufficient time working in public relations, you should consider gaining professional accreditation as an “APR” (Accredited in Public Relations), a designation of increasing value in the industry. See the Accreditation section of our website for more information.
Consider some or all of the following options to get your foot in the door, gain some experience and be noticed by PR professionals:
• Volunteer with charities and professional organizations to develop transferable skills which you can use in the industry
• Find a mentor
• Network and connect with other more senior practitioners
• Join CPRS Vancouver to receive the twice-monthly newsletter, view job postings and attend events
It tends to expand and shrink along with the general economy. BC’s job market for PR practitioners is reasonably strong and is showing signs of growth. As organizations and businesses look for creative, cost-effective ways to stand out, PR is emerging as an attractive alternative to traditional marketing and is increasingly critical as the media landscape shifts.
Some skills are important to all PR activities: effective listening, a vibrant personality, common sense, energy, curiosity, organization and time management, the ability to learn, creativity, stamina, effective stress management, knowledge of current events, literacy, a strategic mind and people skills. Most if not all PR practitioners are expected to be able to write well for a variety of audiences.
Don’t be shy to speak to our Board of Directors, or come to one of our CPRS events calendar and do a little networking.