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PR Career Paths May Take Different Turns

Michelle Garrett

Mar 12, 2017

No two stories are alike when it comes to PR careers. That’s because a career in public relations offers so much variety.

But when you’re just starting out, how do you discover where your true passion lies? What area of specialization do you love—and which are you truly skilled at?

For new PR grads, often the best way to get a taste of the various areas of specialization is to work for an agency.

“Students often ask me where to work when they graduate,” says Rick Clancy, APR, Edgar Thomas Cato Distinguished Professor of Public Relations at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “I often suggest an agency versus an in-house role. An agency experience can help young pros figure out which direction to go, as they gain exposure to many different roles, tasks, clients and colleagues. It’s an opportunity to learn a lot about PR and get excited about various elements of the profession.”

Agency experience also teaches young pros the fundamentals of the business such as how to manage and bill for their time, how to pitch new business, and how to work with clients of different sizes from various industries.

They also gain experience working with tools, as many agencies have subscriptions to media intelligence tools like Meltwater. Having experience with different PR and marketing tech gives practitioners an edge in hard skills that can help them as they move through their careers.

From there, PR pros can choose to go with an in-house role with a corporation, startup or nonprofit. Organizations often seek candidates with agency experience. In an in-house position, public relations practitioners may choose to specialize in areas like corporate communications, social media, internal communications, event planning and management, community relations, crisis communications or media relations, among others.

While agency experience offers an opportunity to learn a vast amount about working in PR, an in-house role affords a chance to focus on just one client—your employer. This allows pros to delve deeper into initiatives, versus moving quickly from one to another.

Areas to learn that will benefit a PR pro working in any industry:

  • Analytics/Measurement: Some argue there is no hotter topic in PR right now than measurement and analytics. While there was a time when numbers weren’t vital to a career in PR, that’s changed. Those who grasp PR measurement are in demand. Some schools now offer this as an area of specialization.
  • Visual communications: Visuals have never been more important in the PR field than they are today. With video marketing on the rise and the demand for visuals to accompany all of the content being created, PR pros who understand visual communication have a leg up in any industry.
  • Writing: One area that’s a cornerstone of nearly any role in PR is writing. “Good writing never goes out of style,” says Clancy. “In every role I’ve held throughout my career, strong writing has been essential.” With the rise of content marketing and branded content, writing is more vital than ever. For those who embrace it, the career options are vast and varied.
  • Content marketing: While “content marketing” may be a newer term, this skillset has always fallen under PR’s umbrella, as creating content includes earned media, press releases, contributed articles, customer success stories and the list goes on. Most brands are upping their content marketing game, which means this will continue to be a “hot” area for PR pros to specialize in.
  • Social media: It’s pretty much a given these days that social media plays a key role in any PR strategy. Those who grasp social media, enjoy the fast pace and think quickly on their feet can help shape a brand’s presence in the digital world.

And, a parting thought from Clancy. “While being a generalist offers a more diversified career and perhaps greater leadership potential in the long run, in the earlier years of your career, pursuing some depth in a particular area of specialization can help make you more marketable based on a specific organization’s needs.”

The good news is that there’s no one road that will lead you to a successful career in PR – there are, in fact, many.