Sponsored: Preparing for PR

Changing communications landscape fuels need for public relations specialists

In this era of instant and very social communication, savvy company executives know that presenting and maintaining a positive image is a full-time job. Handling those responsibilities calls for trained professionals in public relations, an employment area that continues to grow.

According to U.S. World & News Report, researchers at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predict that jobs for public relations specialists will grow by 23 percent between 2010 and 2020 — which translates into 58,200 open positions that will pay an average of approximately $58,000 a year. Those numbers were enough to earn PR specialist the 51st spot in the magazine’s 2013 list of Best Jobs.

And it won’t just be corporate entities who find themselves in need of public relations expertise. Nonprofits, health care organizations, academic institutions and small businesses are a few of the places where PR professionals are needed to build relationships with the media as well as with community leaders.

But there’s more to the field than what most people think, said Urkovia Andrews, an assistant professor in the Communications Arts department at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro.

“This is an area that continues to become more specialized as companies look for individuals with specific skill sets,” Andrews said. “They want someone who can wear multiple hats — can practice public relations, understand marketing and advertising, and understand social media as well.”

At Georgia Southern, students who major in public relations start off with a core set of classes followed by specialties that cover a broad range of interests.

“A lot of people are interested in health communications; another large group is interested in event planning or international PR,” Andrews said. “There’s also a difference between working in a firm or corporation and a nonprofit, and we have courses for that, too. Students can focus on Web content, development, layout and design. But if there’s something specific they’re interested in, they can minor in it, (such as) getting a bachelor’s in PR with a minor in international relations or fashion merchandising.”

In the third year of the program, students work with actual clients to research and produce a PR campaign. The “clients” are businesses and members of the local community.

“We also have clients from right here on campus,” Andrews said. “For some classes, the student may be responsible for finding a client; in some, the professor has a list to suggest. We get a lot of referrals from people in the community who have worked with our students and enjoyed what they produced. Either way, it gives them a chance to produce pieces and design a campaign.”

Although the PR field is often depicted as glamorous, Andrews said students need to know that it also requires a lot of hard work.

“While I can’t say if there is an ideal candidate for PR, it does need to be someone who is willing not only to learn theoretical concepts but to also put them into action,” she said. “It’s also a good fit for someone who enjoys writing. If you can write, you can write your own ticket, but that’s also the hardest part. Many students don’t realize the amount of writing that’s necessary in the PR field.”

Graduates of the program have a wide range of options open to them, including going into public relations, marketing or advertising jobs, or enrolling in graduate school.

“Our graduates are in so many places across the board,” Andrews said. “The jobs are there. That may be why PR is one of those degrees that, when we can offer a class, it always fills up, even during the summer.”