“If I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on public relations,” Microsoft founder Bill Gates had famously said. Let us understand what public relations (PR) is all about.
PR – Definition
PR is not advertising. In fact it is just the opposite. In advertising, you pay to have your message placed in a newspaper, a magazine or a TV channel. In case of PR, a newspaper, magazine or any other news media talk about your product not because you have paid for it, but because the journalist thinks it is something important that his audience needs to know. Hence such content is more effective in influencing the public. PR is thus crucial for a company’s success or failure. Apart from handling media queries and requests, PR is also responsible for shaping and maintaining a company’s image. Most companies have a PR department or use the services of external PR agencies.
Role of a PR professional:
A PR professional’s role is to manage the public relations of a company or client he or she is working for. At a basic level, PR professionals connect with journalists and send them information they require to write a positive story about the company. This is either through press releases or by setting up an interaction with the company spokesperson. Journalists are always on the look-out of story ideas, the PR professional’s job is to reach out to the journalist with information that is pertinent to him and which shows the company in a good light. A PR professional needs to convince the journalist why a certain company, its product or service, is important and why he needs to include that in the story he is doing. Often that means presenting the information with a story angle the journalist finds interesting. A PR professional also needs to plan the PR strategy of a company, manage events and press conferences and stay updated with the happenings in the industry. At higher level, PR professionals are also responsible for responding quickly and addressing the media when a potentially damaging story is out in the press and minimize the negative impact.
Skills required by a PR professional:
Good communication skills, both written and verbal, are the most crucial skills a PR professional needs to have. PR professionals thus need to be very proficient in media relations- he or she needs to spend a lot of time building relationships with journalists. That starts with identifying those journalists who have interests where the client or the company fits in. On the other hand, one needs to understand the requirement of the company or client.
Courses Offered for the PR profession:
While any basic degree is good enough for the PR profession, it helps if one has a degree in journalism, mass communication or English. Specialized Post Graduate courses in public relations give one an edge. The PG diploma course in Public Relation and Corporate Communications from Xavier’s Institute of Communication, Mumbai, the PG Diploma in Public Relations and Advertising from Indian Institute of Mass Communication, Delhi and the MBA in Communications Management from the Symbiosis Center for International Education in Pune are some of the most sought after courses. With the demand for PR professionals, many colleges have now included public relations in their diploma programs.
Job prospects for a PR professional:
With companies realizing the need to have a robust PR strategy, the demand for PR professionals is huge. There are numerous PR agencies, local and national that hire PR professionals. Many international PR firms have also set shop in India. PR agencies work with more than one client and employees often have to manage more than one client account. Companies look to hire experienced PR professionals as their in-house PR person. The role of such professionals is to manage the PR for the company and work with the PR agency it has hired.
Salary package for a PR professional:
Salaries at the fresher level is on the lower side but it increases with experience. Salaries are also on the higher side in the bigger metros like Delhi and Mumbai. With experience, one can get bigger packages going up to 10 lakh per annum with about 6- 8 years of experience.
A job as a PR professional is exciting as it lets you meet a lot of interesting people including your clients and journalists. It is also challenging and often involves late hours and endless meetings with your clients who are in most cases very demanding. However, due to the requirement of soft skills, the PR industry is dominated by women. The first few years in your job have a very sharp learning curve and it is important to stick around and gather experience.
If you have good communications skills, cope well under pressure, and have the ability to plan and strategise, then this is a career you can explore.