Public Relations involves working with various forms of media to educate, correct mistakes, and build or improve the image of an organization, person, or product. PR includes publicity, acting as press agents, book publicity, propaganda (for government agencies), corporate communications, crisis management and advertising. Those involved in public relations focus on effective communication for and the representation of their clients. PR professionals also analyze future trends and attitudes so their clients can maintain and win over public perception.
Who They Serve:
Public relations agencies serve a wide range of clients including for-profit companies, government agencies, individuals, hospitals, nonprofits, and foreign businesses and governments. To achieve their goals, these organizations need to develop effective relationships with many different target audiences such as employees, members, customers, local communities, shareholders, other organizations, and society at large.
The services provided by PR agencies to clients may include media relations, crisis management services, lobbying services, event management, and fundraising services. Three-fourths of agencies provide a full-range of these services, while smaller agencies usually specialize in specific areas. Some PR agencies specialize in political lobbying and fundraising for particular causes or issues. These types of agencies differ in that they focus on influencing legislators in favor of clients’ special interests rather, than attempting to secure favorable public opinion about their clients. Lobbyists often work for large businesses, industry trade organizations, unions, or public interest groups.
What They Do:
PR agencies work closely with media outlets and develop relationships with those outlets to provide vehicles for their client's message. The dissemination of information and news via the Internet, the evolution of information sharing and participation in digital communications is changing the traditional role of PR. Rather than just cultivating relationships with media outlets, PR agencies are focusing more attention on new interactive internet forums, i.e. Web 2.0, such as Internet messaging, “blogging," webinars, and social networking sites to communicate client messages directly to target audiences.
The primary purpose of Public Relations agencies is to:
- Secure favorable public exposure for their clients.
- Design and evaluate strategies to attain a specific public image for clients.
- Advise and counsel clients, especially during a sudden public crisis. This involves analyzing and interpreting public opinion, attitudes, and issues that might impact their clients while also interacting with clients and media outlets to communicate their clients’ messages.
Positions in Public Relations involve:
- Establishing relationships with the media
- Writing speeches and coaching clients for interviews
- Writing press releases and stories for print and online media
- Conducting interviews to promote their clients
- Developing opportunities for their clients to speak directly to media channels
- Organizing client-sponsored publicity events, i.e. concerts, exhibits, and charity and sporting events
Financial/Investor Relations: Communicates with the press, shareholders or organization’s members regarding the organization's financial performance and objectives. Prepares periodic and annual reports. Arranges stockholders meetings. Writes press releases on earnings or the financial implications of new product development. Coordinates interviews between organization executives and security analysts. Timing of news releases is critical since it could drastically affect the value of stocks.
Employee Relations - Prepares quarterly and annual reports. Compiles employee publications and newsletters. Organizes internal special events for employees.
Nonprofit Organizations Public Relations - Involves training volunteers, promotional activities, fundraising and grant seeking and designing public relations campaigns. Practitioners often have greater freedom in writing campaigns and creating publicity than in corporate settings. Nonprofit organizations, which include schools and universities, hospitals, and human/social service agencies, use public relations for education/awareness programs, fund-raising programs, staff recruiting, and to increase patronage of their services.
Health Care Public Relations - Translates medical information to the organization's "publics". A science and marketing background is particularly useful.
Educational Public Relations - Public institutions usually deal heavily with the government and are open to taxpayer scrutiny. Responsibilities often include fundraising and development.
Fundraising/Donor Relations - Identifies possible donors through research and then makes them aware of the organization. Work may involve writing grant proposals, preparing presentation books, creating videotapes, designing brochures or writing letters.
Government Public Affairs - Federal, State or Local: Titles include Public Information Officer, Public Affairs Officer and Departmental Assistant.
Political Public Relations - Assists candidates running for office with speechwriting, strategizing and publicity.
Lobbying - Works closely with federal and/or state representatives and senators to explain the intricacies of proposed legislation. Attempt to persuade lawmakers to adopt specific viewpoints.
What Employers Want:
Competition for entry-level jobs is great, so internships and related experiences are essential for students that want a job in public relations. Employers generally prefer candidates with coursework and majors related to communication and business. English, Writing Seminars, and the Entrepreneurship & Management minor are obvious examples, but Sociology, Psychology, Anthropology majors are also valued by public relations firms. Firms specializing in a specific market, such as healthcare or pharmaceuticals, may seek out students that are knowledgeable about natural and physical sciences.
Students attracted to public relations should be strategic thinkers that enjoy the challenge of crafting a message to meet a client’s goals. Employers want with strong interpersonal and networking or “schmoozing” skills since developing and maintaining a wide variety of relationships is another crucial responsibility of public relations professionals. Creativity, verbal and written communication skills, and problem-solving ability are essential skills for a PR professional. Foreign language skills have always been important in public relations. These skills are increasingly vital to reach groups not fluent in English in both the U.S. and abroad. Keeping pace with technology is fundamental to success in the industry as new media, such as blogs, are creating new arenas to communicate a client’s message.
What They Hire Undergraduates to Do:
Undergraduates typically start as research or account assistants and may be promoted to account executive or account supervisor as they experience success in public relations. Some large firms offer training programs for new hires that may include formal classroom training. However, most training is on the job, with the new hire supervised by more experienced professionals such as senior account executives.
Success in increasingly responsible staff assignments usually leads to advancement to supervisory positions. To advance as public relations professional, broad vision and planning skills become extremely important. Another way to get to the top in this industry is to open one’s own firm.
Amelia Vereb- Assistant Account Executive, Edelman PR, Writing Seminars, Class of 2009
- How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - As a Writing Seminars major, I wanted to explore different opportunities to use my writing in the future, and many people suggested public relations. So, I participated in an internship through JHU as a freshman and continued to pursue PR internships after that. My interest in PR grew with my experience in the field.
- What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - I did my first PR internship through Hopkins as a freshman working with a local PR agency (Himmelrich, Inc.) to promote the Johns Hopkins Center for Summer Learning. The following summer, I interned with a multicultural PR agency in my hometown of Columbus, OH, where I helped prepare the launch of their new web site, BlackHistory.com. As a junior, I took Advertising with Prof. Kendrick and was the PR department manager for our class--we worked with the Navy to develop a marketing campaign for its medical scholarship program. The following summer, I interned with Edelman PR as a member of the health and media practices, and I made a point of keeping in touch with my contacts there, so they were aware that I was graduating and let me know immediately when a position opened. I think the most important thing for me was communication. I have kept in touch with all of my past employers, and it really helped me learn how to develop good professional relationships.
- What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - My first job after college is also my current job--I am now working full-time as an assistant account executive within the health care practice at Edelman.
- What advice do you have for current students? - As annoyed as I was when my mom told me to do internships, it was probably the best career advice that I ever received. After my first internship with JHU/Himmelrich, I never intended to build my resume the way that I did, but by the time I applied to jobs, I had at least three or four solid internships/work experiences in media that gave me an obvious advantage over other applicants. So--if nothing else--DO INTERNSHIPS!
- What is your typical day like? - I usually get to the office around 8:30am and I conduct media monitoring for one of my accounts so that we can send updates to the client by 9:30. After that, most of the day is spent doing internal projects for my main client, which involves anything from emailing news items of interest to the client, to helping to draft press releases and other materials depending on what events we have coming up. On average, I work until 6:30, so it's usually a 10-hour day.
- What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - The most rewarding thing about my job is that I am working with a client who is really making a difference. My client develops drugs for infectious diseases, so by raising awareness of my client's treatments and involvement in the infectious disease community, I also feel like I am helping these populations receive the care that they need. I think the most challenging part of my job was getting used to a different type of writing. I was a writing seminars major at JHU, so I was used to writing fiction, but health care PR is very fact-based, so it was hard for me to get used to cutting out the descriptions and sticking to the basics. I get a lot of constructive criticism from my team every day--this is one of those industries in which you never stop learning.
- What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - The entry-level position for PR is usually an assistant account executive, or some variation of that title. To be successful, you need to have strong writing skills, you need to be able to work well as a member of a team, and you have to be willing to learn. At Edelman, I know we also like people who can bring other interests to the company, so it doesn't matter what you majored in as long as you have other qualities that make you a good fit for what we do here.
- Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - In the next 5-10 years, I think PR is going to become even more important because a lot of companies are having trouble maintaining trust among consumers, and they need help earning that trust. With good PR, companies learn the importance of transparency and client interests, which are vital in developing a strong foundation. I also think PR is going to become even more entrenched in emerging technologies. For example, we have begun to see a number of media outlets using Twitter.
- What skills and out-of-class experiences are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - As I mentioned before, you want to do as many media-related internships as possible--they don't all necessarily need to be in PR. I would also suggest taking on leadership roles, so employers can see that you are confident and comfortable working with others.
- Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - After two years, most entry-level employees will have been promoted to account executive, which means more responsibility and more involvement in major projects. After five years, most people will be a senior account executive or senior account supervisor. After ten years, most people will be a vice president of an account team. It all depends on how hard you work and what your goals are. In that time, a lot of people will also switch practices in order to test out possible interests. Edelman is really good about letting employees explore their options.
- Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - Take advantage of any opportunities that JHU offers to become involved in media campaigns or internships; I found my freshman-year internship through one of the mass emails sent out by administration. Also, don't be afraid to network and use your connections--alumni love to help!
- What related occupations and industries would you recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - Any of the media industries are also good areas to pursue. Marketing, advertising and communications all fall under that category. PR can also be conducted in-house or through an agency, and the experiences in each are entirely different, so sometimes it helps to try both and see which one you prefer.
Beth Ann Felder- Director Federal Relations, Johns Hopkins University, International Studies, Class of 1985
- How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - Was always interested in policy making and politics; no this was not my precise/original goal.
- What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - College, law school, clerkship, working in Congress. I am now a lobbyist which is often a next step after having a long career on Capitol Hill.
- What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - I was a paralegal at a law firm in Washington, DC where I focused on the legislative practice and did some lobbying. So yes it was somewhat in my current field.
- What advice do you have for current students? - Do well in school; study what you love and seize opportunities to do new things.
- What is your typical day like? - I have no typical days. Although what I do requires excellent communication skills and strategic thinking.
- What's most rewarding about your industry and / or job? What's most challenging? - Rewarding: Having the ability to impact/change public policy. Challenging: Making and maintaining personal/professional relationships over a long period of time
- What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - One almost always must have experience working in a legislative body. To be successful in this one must be willing to work for a fairly low salary and be willing to take on any tasks presented, even if they appear "beneath you".
- What skills and out-of-class experiences are ideal for entering your industry/career field? - Excellent communication skills (written and most important: oral); ability to drive consensus and create coalitions; best experience is to work for a legislative body either a member or a committee
- Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - Volunteering for campaigns is a good way to make connections.
Evelyn Jerome Alexander- Partner/CFO, SJA Strategies, Political Science, Class of 1992
- Describe what you do and how you got started in your current career. - I ran political campaigns immediately after college and grad school. I transitioned into government relations/lobbying/public relations, which is what I do now at the local level. I continue to manage some small political campaigns, including small cities city council, initiative and school board elections, as well as judicial races, which are county-wide in Los Angeles.
- What is most rewarding about your job and/ or industry? What is most challenging? - It's rewarding to do a project for a client and have them appreciate the work that you have done. It's rewarding to win an election! Most challenging for me is the public relations aspect of my work, because no matter how hard you work, there is an element to pitching media coverage for a client or an event that is out of my control (i.e. if there's a car chase, my event gets bumped!). It is also rewarding that I am my own boss, working with a partner, but also challenging that I am responsible for bringing in income for our company.
- Is your career the same or different from what you had envisioned your career would be when you started at Hopkins as an undergraduate? How is it similar and/or different? What advice do you have for a Hopkins student entering your career field / industry? - Work hard and people will notice that you do good work. Give extra effort and for every piece of work that you submit, do it as if it were your name on the door. Take pride in everything you create.
Amy Flood- Senior Director, Public Affairs
Johns Hopkins University School of Arts & Sciences,
English, Class of 1993
- How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins?- I pursued a job in advertising or public relations in a healthcare-related field, based on my interest in writing and communications, and in health and science. When I started at Hopkins I intended to go on to medical school, so my current career is quite different than what I intended it to be during my freshman year.
- What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - I started my career in a PR agency, worked for a number of years in an agency environment and then moved to a biopharmaceutical company.
- What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - My first job was as an entry level account executive for a PR firm specializing in healthcare. I've stayed in this field.
Just before I graduated I got a list of JHU alumni from the career center who were involved in the fields I was looking at, and just about every person I called took time to talk with me and refer me to other potential employers. That's ultimately how I found my first job. Talk to as many people as you can when you are searching for a job.
- What advice do you have for current students? - My advice is to be open to different opportunities and not focused singularly on one goal -- as you learn more and gain more experiences, different fields may interest you than those you thought would in high school.
I would also participate in as many activities and groups as you have time for -- those experiences will be valuable in whatever career you choose later on. If you have an opportunity to participate in something that involves giving your time and knowledge back to the community (outside of Hopkins), try to take advantage of that. It will be valued later on by potential employers.
Most importantly - have fun! I know too many people that feel like they "wasted" their college years. That's not to say studying and grades aren't important, because they are, but balance is equally important.
- What is your typical day like? - Every day is different. I work in public relations, so we deal with news, developments within our company and industry, and inquiries from the media - and every day is something new. My job is somewhat a 24-hour one. I'm not in the office all day, obviously, but I have to be available if something happens that requires public communication.
- What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - The most rewarding part is that my company develops drugs for diseases like HIV/AIDS, and those medications are making a difference for patients. Communicating about developments that will benefit people suffering from life-threatening diseases is tremendously rewarding.
The most challenging is probably the pace and variety of work. My job doesn't involve one project at a time - it can be fairly chaotic and require a lot of focus and patience.
- What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - Entry-level positions in public relations are typically available at PR agencies rather than corporations. These entry-level positions involve project management, typically supporting several different client companies or organizations at one time. The position requires an ability to multi-task, excellent organizational skills and communications skills.
- Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - I think the public relations field will continue to grow, particularly in the healthcare and pharmaceutical sector, where communicating with the public is increasingly important. There also has been an increasing focus within communications on corporate social responsibility, and I think this will continue to grow as well.
- What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Skills: strong writing, time and project management, ability to digest information about a wide variety of topics quickly, enjoyment working with people and within teams.
Experience: any position that involves communicating with other audiences, juggling multiple projects, budgets and deadlines at one time.
To thrive in this field you need to be someone who is energetic, a true "people person", a good communicator and smart.
- Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - On the PR agency side of the business, advancement is fairly quick. Within two to five years, someone can expect to be a senior account executive or in a role that requires more hands-on client management. Within 10 years, someone can expect to be a fairly senior member of an agency team, with responsibility for management of other employees. Alternatively, if someone moves to the corporate side of the business, he or she can expect a manager- or director-level role within the communications function of that company.
- Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - The Public Relations Society of America is a good place to start, and it also has a student division. I also recommend that students network. Talk to as many people as you can. Just before I graduated I got a list of JHU alumni from the career center who were involved in the fields I was looking at, and just about every person I called took time to talk with me and refer me to other potential employers. That's ultimately how I found my first job.
- What related occupations and industries would you recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - Advertising and journalism are worth exploring. Public relations is fairly broad, so if someone is interested in PR for healthcare, for example, any hands on experience in the healthcare arena is helpful (ie, working at a hospital, knowledge of scientific research, fundraising for a non-profit involved in healthcare issues).
Additional Alumni Profiles
Networking with alumni and other professionals who work in these fields can help you learn very specific information about a career field. Use Johns Hopkins Connect to contact alumni to ask for their advice. You may also find professional contacts through professional associations, faculty, friends and family.
If you would like to talk about how your search is going, we invite you to make an appointment with a Career Counselor by calling 410-516-8056.
LinkedIn.com - a professional networking site where you can identify Hopkins alumni. Join the LinkedIn Johns Hopkins University Alumni Group to add over 4000+ alumni to your network.
Industry /Professional Organizations:
Networking with professionals who work in this field can help you learn very specific information about a career field. Professional contacts through professional associations, faculty, friends and family can be very helpful. You may also explore career opportunities by talking with employers at career fairs, and company presentations.
Internships - research positions and summer employment are highly effective ways for you to try out a field, gain experience and skills and make professional contacts.
If you would like to talk about how your search is going, we invite you to make an appointment with a Career Counselor by calling 410-516-8056.