Public relations

Public Relations (PR) is about managing reputation: what you do, what you say and what others say about you. Gerald Chan, of the Institute of Public Relations, gives an overview of the profession
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The Independent Online


What do you think PR is?

A profession that organises events like product launch parties and awards ceremonies?

An industry that uses marketing, advertising, promotion and publicity to gain attention?

A busy office job which consists of liaising with a wide group of people including clients, photographers and journalists?

A serious business function with a growing body of theoretical and practical knowledge?

The answer is: all of the above and more.

But what is PR?

Public relations practitioners are the guardians of organisational reputation. They seek to build long-lasting relationships by establishing and maintaining mutual understanding and goodwill between an organisation and the public.

All organisations need to communicate, whether it is between themselves or with their various public audiences. Organisations have ideas and messages to pass on and do so through the PR practitioner, who ensures that the information disseminated among target audiences is honest and open.

An organisation's audiences come in many various forms. PR has to deal with each group separately, since information demands vary. Audiences include the media, government, employees, shareholders, pressure groups and any other external public or private body whose activities may affect an organisation.

Why practise PR?

To communicate effectively, an organisation has to listen as well as talk, and it is through PR that they can do this. Understanding can only take place if dialogue is established between the communicator and audience.

Since the late 1980s, PR's role has gone beyond promoting awareness, gaining media exposure and influencing behaviour. PR is a strategic management function that supervises and directs an organisation's brand, reputation and corporate image.

Am I a PR person?

As with any other job, confidence and know-how are acquired through time and practice. The basic requirements however are:

Strong communications skills ­ both written and spoken

Good project management skills ­ the ability to carry out several different tasks simultaneously and work within allocated budgets and deadlines

An enquiring and analytical mind ­ practitioners need to have an ongoing interest in current affairs, especially in the socio-political and economic developments that impact upon business

Where would I work?

There are two ways to work in PR: either in a consultancy or in-house. The differences are:

The public relations consultancy is an agency providing advice and specialist services to clients

The in-house public relations department works exclusively for the organisation

Why pursue a PR career?

PR makes use of knowledge and skills drawn from different disciplines ­ like business management, marketing and psychology, for example ­ and so welcomes students from a wide variety of academic backgrounds. A degree in PR is not necessary, though the industry is beginning to realise the value of PR graduates.

The many industry sectors of public relations mean that specialist knowledge is sometimes required. Thus, a graduate of biochemistry can go into healthcare PR while a student of computer science can work in PR for the IT and new technology markets.

Briefly, the main industry sectors are:

Corporate

Financial

Consumer

Public Affairs

Local government

Business-to-business

Trade and technical

Internal communications

Not-for-profit organisations or charities

PR prospects

PR is a competitive industry, ranking as one of the top three most popular career choices for graduates in the UK. Drive, competence and a willingness to learn are important.

These days, a good first degree is a must. There is also an increasing emphasis on gaining professional qualifications in PR. The Institute of Public Relations Diploma, the Communication, Advertising and Marketing Foundation Diploma (CAM) and Chartered Institute of Marketing Diploma (CIM) are relevant qualifications to obtain. For more information on IPR approved courses throughout the UK and the IPR Diploma, refer to the IPR website at www.ipr.org.uk

Some of the larger consultancies offer graduate trainee schemes. Selection for training schemes is vigorous and only the best are recruited. Again, refer to the IPR website for more information.

Work experience is crucial as it provides aspiring practitioners with a better understanding of the business. Paid work experience can be a temporary position or a short-term contract, while volunteers do not receive payment, but can start to build all-important contacts. Any relevant experience is useful as it shows initiative and commitment.

Conduct research by consulting PR Week, Press Gazette, Profile, Media Guardian and Financial Times Creative Business. Refer to the Hollis UK Press & Public Relations Annualfor contact details of PR consultancies and in-house PR departments. Every year, the Institute of Public Relations organises two careers days aimed at undergraduates and graduates.

For more information on Careers in PR, IPR Careers Days, IPR student membership and news about the profession and industry, refer to the IPR website at: www.ipr.org.uk or call 020-7253 5151.

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