Become a Publicist: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a publicist. Research the job duties and the education requirements demanded by the position and find out how to start a career in public relations.

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Should I Become a Publicist?

The role of the publicist is to 'create a buzz' about a product, service, person, or idea. Publicists work within the public relations (PR) department to develop a publicity campaign, coordinate media appearances, and organize media events. Duties often overlap with PR specialists and may include creating press releases, securing product or story placement in media outlets, and maintaining reports on media coverage.

Publicists are usually required to have a bachelor's degree in public relations, communications, journalism or a related field and, like other public relations specialists, usually work on a full-time basis with many working more than 40 hours a week. The work environment for such workers is generally an office setting, although travel opportunities may arise. Publicists must feel comfortable talking to large and small groups of people, be able to conduct meetings, and should have the ability to 'sell' their client or product.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree (minimum), master's degree
Degree Field Journalism, communications, public relations
Certification Voluntary; offered by Public Relations Society of America and the International Association of Business Communicators
Key Skills Strong verbal and written communication skills, strong interpersonal skills, organizational skills
Salary $55,680 (median annual wage for public relations specialists 2014)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

The minimum requirement for publicists is generally a bachelor's degree. Undergraduate degrees in communications, public relations and journalism include coursework related to public relations. Publicists interact with reporters, pitching them information to use in news stories. They must be aware of the news cycle, the process of creating news and the business of news in traditional and new media outlets. Aspiring publicists learn how to write press releases, articles and other written materials designed to promote their clients. In addition to writing courses, students learn about media law, visual communications and public relations strategy.

Step 2: Build Your Network

Some employers request that publicists have a strong network of contacts. Publicists will network with journalists so that they can later pitch ideas, potential clients and other publicists. Job seekers will also need to network. It is important for publicists to begin developing industry contacts early by joining professional and industry groups and polishing the interpersonal skills necessary to maintain a cadre of contacts.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the role of digital media in public relations will create additional responsibilities for publicists. Some colleges are offering digital and social media coursework. An easy way to learn about social media is to set up personal accounts in social media to understand how those platforms work.

Step 3: Gain Experience

Many publicists receive on-the-job training working on administrative tasks as they learn about the industry and the nuances of public relations in the field that they are in. For example, fashion publicists may be assigned the responsibility of double-checking RSVPs for a media event before they are charged with writing press releases, pitching story ideas and coordinating events. Responsibilities may include building contact lists, updating databases of media contacts and maintaining press clipping files. It is during this time that publicists can continue to sharpen their interpersonal skills and learn to respond quickly as public opinions fluctuate.

Step 4: Continue Informal Education

Once a publicist picks a specialty, he or she can build contacts, hone skills and learn what works in that field. Some individuals may find that they excel at crisis communications or social media or speech writing. They can immerse themselves in a field like health care or artist management to become an expert. Regardless of the niche they work in, publicists need to communicate effectively with the written word. Gaining experience should include consistently improving one's writing skills through practice.

Step 5: Consider Certification and Graduate Education

Armed with experience, publicists may want to pursue graduate studies to gain more knowledge and experience in the area in which they are interested. Master's degrees in public relations include advanced coursework in writing, new media, communications strategy and crisis communications. Programs that offer a thesis provide an opportunity for publicists to delve further into areas that interest them.

The Public Relations Society of America offers its members an exam-based Accredited in Public Relations credential (www.prsa.org). Submission of a portfolio and interview are required. The International Association of Business Communicators offers an Accredited Business Communicator credential, which requires submission of a portfolio, oral exam and written exam (www.iabc.com). These online seminars in advanced communications, management and leadership skills are intended for experienced business communications professionals, like publicists and related public relations professionals and others. Students may earn continuing education units for participation.

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