The world of public relations expands every day. If you love branding, advertising, social media and communication–it may be the major for you. Choosing your major in college has an exciting feel and knowing all the details should be important before you make a big commitment. Public relations may seem hard to define but the beginner definition translates to professionally building good relationships for your clients to the public and the media.
Read on for the ultimate guide to the public relations major.
What you’ll be doing
The public relations major focuses a lot on… wait for it… relationships with the public. Whether you dream of taking over New York like Samantha Jones or running a private firm in a smaller city, your degree opens many doors for you. At many colleges across the nation, the major has ties with the colleges of communication because much of the work you do pertains to the media. Expect to study marketing, social media, project management and even psychology. “Writing and communication skills are vital, and I learned those through getting my PR degree. PR also really taught me how to be able to get in front of a group and people and speak confidently. Now I routinely give talks at tech conferences and I even organize a local meetup group for women in tech,” said Kara Luton, former music publicist to software engineer and Belmont University alumna. Luton, now using her public relations degree to work in the STEM field, proves your degree helps you no matter which route you decide to navigate in the future. Learning the do’s and don’ts of any public situation benefits everyone in every business.
The classes you’ll be taking
The subjects I gave before may have sounded vague but the courses you take are not, once in your major and past gen-ed’s your classes become smaller and more specific. Public relations students take classes like FSU’s The Principle of Speechwriting, UF’s Sports Communication or Syracuse’s Beauty and Diversity in Fashion Media. “One class I loved was Sports, Media and Society. It was an elective all about the relationship of sports, athletes and the media. I’ve never been a huge sports fan but this class really shed light on issues like the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the racist comments from the media about Serena Williams, Tiger Woods, etc.” said 2020 UF grad, Christi-Anne Weatherly. Expect in your first year to take public speaking and intro to mass media courses to learn the basics of media relations but afterward, get ready to dive into the interesting topics of event planning, pop culture, international relations and law.
Internships for the major
A public relations degree helps you qualify for a multitude of internships. Most mainstream media outlets hire public relations majors to work with marketing and communication teams. Each semester companies like ABC News, various pro-sports teams and Fox Sports hire PR interns to monitor social media, handle paperwork and learn the business from professionals. Even if you don’t live in a big college town, small businesses like local boutiques and restaurants are also often looking for PR majors to help with social media, branding and advertising. “I was the ‘Queen of Internships’ lol. I had an internship every semester and every summer. I didn’t realize until after I graduated how special that was, as most college students had one or two, I had over ten. But I think going to school in D.C, which is such a professional city, fueled my passion to always have an internship and gain experience, I found my internships in different ways. I used Indeed, LinkedIn, career fairs, company websites and career pages and most importantly, good, old-fashion networking!” said Na’ima Jenkins, Associate at Hill + Knowlton Strategies and Howard University alumna. Utilize your college town and the opportunities lying within. You’ll do way more than fetch coffee.
Working in the public relations field won’t be as drama-filled as Olivia Pope’s depiction, typical publicists don’t have multiple client assassinations or an affair with the president of the United States. Your degree opens a lot of doors in the media and entertainment industry but doesn’t limit yourself. Branch out into other things that may not seem related. “I want students to understand the importance of networking and long-lasting professional relationships, as it will get you far and help you grow as a professional (and person),” said Jenkins. Every job needs a candidate with good communication skills and the guts to pursue what they want.
A publicist builds and maintains a client’s public image. In the publicist career, you may be setting up big events, writing press releases, setting up important interviews, managing publicity disasters and working directly with advertising for product promotions. Clients can range from businesses to celebrities to influencers. Employers look for candidates with passion and confidence!
2. Content Manager
The perfect match for the detail-oriented writers. A content manager oversees all content regarding a business or client. You will manage blogs, websites and other digital platforms. You’ll also be responsible for editing, writing, creating and updating outdated content. Expect to work on both the content and management side getting valuable lessons from both.
Expect to put your writing skills to the test. As a copywriter, you are in charge of writing publicity and marketing materials on behalf of your clients. Maintaining your client’s voice and preserving their reputation serves as the most important expectation for the job.
4. Social Media Specialist
If you have an obsession with social media and studying the trending page, allow me to introduce you to your dream career. In a world where TikTokers and Insta baddies rule, many companies gave up traditional advertising and moved to influencer marketing. TikTok has over 800 million active users and Instagram boasts over 1 billion. Your job as a social media specialist includes planning and posting content made for promotion onto these big apps. Interacting and staying trendy makes or breaks the role for you.
5. Marketing Coordinator
Before you ask, public relations and marketing are not the same things. But the degrees do go hand-in-hand in a marketing coordinator position. As a coordinator, your main jobs include scripting and overseeing marketing campaigns for television ads, social media content, print and presentations. Basically, you get the fun job to help illustrate the company’s vision in branding. Employers look for creative and enthusiastic candidates to help lead teams. Research and understanding of analytics makes a major part of your work.
“I worked as a music publicist for several years at a social media marketing firm in Nashville. I had several clients both within the country music scene and outside of it. My days consisted of pitching journalists, writing press releases and sometimes even going to concerts or the occasional red carpet. It was a really fun job where I got to network with a lot of people and attend some fun events. I think the coolest thing I ever got to do was talk on the phone with one of the Backstreet Boys! If I had the chance to go back I would still major in PR. There are so many things I learned from my PR degree that help me as a software engineer. As a software engineer my day isn’t exclusively spent writing code. I’m having to write documentation about my code and pair with others to fix something I, or they, may be blocked on,” said Luton.
“When I initially applied to UF, I applied as a journalism major because I was really involved in yearbook I high school all four years. But by the end of my senior year, I really wanted a change. I like that PR gives you an outlet to write but also be creative. Last summer, I interned at Edelman in New York through MAIP (Multicultural Advertising Internship Program), which helps minority students get their foot in the door of the advertising and public relations industry. I did typical PR intern work like creating media lists, media reports for clients and sitting in on client meetings and taking notes. I’m so lucky to have the experience I do in the industry, but I also owe to the hard work not only in the last four years during college, but also in high school,” said Weatherly.
“I initially went to college in D.C. to be an FBI agent, but once I got to Howard, I changed my major. I worked at the student-run radio station, WHBC as an on-air host and a member of the radio station’s PR/promo team, and I loved it! Every class I took has played a pivotal role in my career, but some of my favorite classes (Advanced Public Relations, Intro to Strategic Communications, Social Media & Integrated Marking Communications and CapComm Lab) made me a true professional. From working with a client and developing communications plans to learning how to integrate new media with traditional PR. I want to leave students with this: Your journey has just begun, stay focused on this path, network and learn along the way, and remember that life is a marathon, not a sprint. And always remember that your greatest asset is your network. Stay persistent and consistent- and know that the best is yet to come,” said Jenkins.