So You Want a Career in Public Relations?
03 Sep 2008
While most of this blog discusses the intersection of online and offline, I still believe that good offline communications has its roots in online. But in a town where I know more non-practicing lawyers (those with law degrees who decided AFTER that they got jobs in law firms that it was not a fit), I’ll offer my humble assessment of what life is like in a variety of positions and organizations within the world of public relations. Some of this is sourced from PRSA’s “Careers in Public Relations,” but I am writing this with the understanding that PRSA is not likely to write a piece that says “Working in PR is Hell.”
So here goes:
Where you work
You have a few different options if you want a career in public relations. You can work for an agency (where a lot of younger people get their start), or you can go in house at a corporation, non-profit or even the federal government, which is surprisingly, the nation’s largest employer of people working in a public relations or public affairs capacity.
What You Need to Bring to the Table
There are three items that I think set people apart in the field of public relations:
- The ability to write well, telling a story and in a convincing fashion
- Intraprenuerialism – I made the work up, but you need to operate in an entrepreneurial fashion within an organization; and
- Intellectual curiosity – Asking the right questions at the right times sets people apart.
The Pros and Cons
Working in-house at an organization
Here are a few ideas about comparing “in house” vs. working for an agency. Working for the government, private sector or non-profit, you will have:
- One client – or really one employer and one issue. You may have multiple “internal clients,” but you are likely to have only one major issue to work on.
- Advice-giving: You will be responsible to provide advice, counsel and support to a relatively small number of people, compared to an agency.
- Involvement: Unlike when you work in a big agency and can float in and out of projects, you will likely be involved from start to finish
- “Corporate” environment – some argue that this is less stressful than an agency, but it depends largely upon the issue that you are working on.
- Slower advancement. If you are in a good position in-house, you may be a staff of five people or less. This creates less opportunities for advancement.
- Lower pay. This varies region to region, but my own experiences have taught me that the agency life demands more, thus pays more.
Working for an agency
- Multiple clients – expect to be working for multiple clients (I once had 14 at the same time), and all of which want to think that they are your most important client. The variety is interesting, but this can be extremely stressful.
- Responsible for firm’s primary objectives; contribute to firm’s growth. A lot of people get so involved in client work that they forget who writes the paychecks: the agency. If you work for a PR agency, you are responsible for accomplishing their primary objectives, which are mainly delivering good client service and growing the business. The higher up you go in a PR firm, the more pressure there s to develop business and keep the pipeline of business going.
- Long-term, project or retainer work – since you don’t have “one client,” most of your work will have a beginning, a middle and an end. Then you’ll get five minutes to take a breath and you will be on to the next assignment. There are some people who thrives on this and there are other people who prefer less “variety.”
- Advancement – PR agencies are bigger than most in-house PR shops. Bigger places means more room for advancement.
- “Combat pay.” Since the work is stressful and demanding, you will likely earn a better salary at an agency, but don’t forget that when a client or major project goes away, your job could go with it.
- More “figure it out” – especially at a junior level, most of the people who thrive at an agency at those who can apply critical thinking skills and just plan figure things out with minimal instruction.
There is a LOT that I could add to this, but I am more interested in hearing others’ perspectives. Please chime in early and often.