What is a public relations specialist and what do they do?

In this article, we share what it is to be a public relations specialist and what they do on a daily basis.

This multifaceted industry is constantly changing. Gone are the days when marketing teams and PR used to work singly. Now they function in unison as companies recognize the need for a holistic marketing strategy encompassing all facets of communication.

published: March 18, 2021
updated: December 15, 2022

What is a PR specialist?

Public relations plays a valuable role in the strategic communication process of a brand or individual. It’s there to build and retain mutually beneficial relationships between two or more entities, and to create trust in the product or service.

A public relations specialist is a professional responsible for creating, planning, and executing public relations strategies and monitoring their efficacy. Their main concern is that of reputation.

The process of public relations is the coordination and sharing of information from individuals or companies to the appropriate public to improve how they are seen. They are tasked with maintaining a healthy brand reputation and company image. This is done through several different methods, such as attaining news publications, general media coverage, and establishing partnerships for growth.

A PR specialist works very closely with their clients to understand the value of their brand or organization and works to communicate its value to the relevant audiences, creating campaigns that will affect how that client is perceived. This is their area of expertise.

What is a PR specialist? Definition.

What do PR specialists do?

PR specialists employ several tactics to manage and shape the public’s perception. These include press releases, thought leadership, and product launch events. A specialist will first look at the market, the media, and an organization’s place within it and, from there, create a strategy to grow, change, or reinforce its position. More often than not, they will take charge of an organization’s communications with the public, including customers, business partners, investors, and reporters - from drafting company newsletters to preparing the top executives to address the public.

Here are some other tactics and activities they could engage in.

1

Newsjacking

Newsjacking is when you ‘add’ your opinion or thoughts to a breaking news story. The purpose of doing this is to get exposure to a larger audience.

The PR team will study the news closely to identify opportunities to add themselves to the discussion. It could be a humorous addition or one meant to start discussions. This is a risky business. Newsjacking can easily go wrong, but a good PR specialist will know an opportunity when they spot one.

Learn more about newsjacking
2

Storytelling

Brand storytelling is not just a buzzword. Without a storyline, there is no PR. This is why PR experts help businesses find their stories to entice the audience and to give them something about your brand they can grasp. PR specialists use storytelling to add value for your audience. It can soften a brand and fill in the gaps of who you are, your purpose, why you’re different, and your values.

Storytelling can help deliver a brand message that resonates with people and is an essential tool in public relations.

Learn more about brand storytelling
3

Content marketing

This ties into PR storytelling. It’s more than sending a single message out into the world; it’s about creating a narrative and vision for your brand. Through content marketing, the PR team aims to position you as a leader in your industry. The PR specialist will build the content from market research and thorough business analysis.

Then reach out to newsagents and journalists whose readership aligns with the key message. Social media platforms, blogs, and any other resource the company has available to them play a part in successful content marketing. The PR specialist will identify how, when, and for which communication pieces to use these resources.

4

Crisis communication

This refers to how you communicate after an event that has the potential to destabilize an organization. Whenever a crisis occurs, communication is imperative. A specialist will help create tailor-made crisis management strategies to suit your business, depending on the crisis, your company, and your audience. The aim is to protect your reputation in the long-term, help mitigate damage, and prevent it from happening again.

Learn more about crisis communication
5

PR strategy

Regardless of how established the brand or company is, PR is an ongoing process of ensuring a healthy brand reputation. Brand authority, reputation, and awareness are all factors that need to be considered by strategic communications. It’s about gaining good publicity whilst aiming to secure business growth. When launching a new product or service, scaling your business, or just wanting more publicity, the PR specialist is responsible for developing a cohesive PR strategy that integrates with the overall communication goals.

PR specialists develop the overall PR strategy, arranging all campaign elements and aligning them with the overarching marketing goals.

Learn more about PR strategies
6

PR funding

Funding announcements are great press generators, especially for startups and scaleups. Investors like to know when businesses are profitable, and a funding announcement shows investors that the investments are legitimate and amount to business growth. The PR team can either help with press releases about recent funding rounds or help secure PR funding from venture capital to get your business going. Also, the PR team will get the word out to valuable media outlets.

A successful funding round can greatly increase a brand's reputation because it’s a show of credibility and solidifies trustworthiness. Funding announcements generate great press. The PR team is there to ensure media coverage is gained and valuable, growth-generating information is shared in press releases.

Learn more about PR funding
7

Thought leadership

Thought leadership can be understood as a division of a content marketing strategy. Its aim is to share industry knowledge, research, and insights that will add to a company or person's authority. The PR specialist will generally use the opinions and perspectives of an authority figure, like the company CEO, to formulate thought leadership content. Here, PR focuses on establishing the company as an industry pioneer with a reputable brand status.

At the end of the day, the work done by PR specialists is to ensure that communications are effective and reach internal and external audiences with the intended messaging.PR specialists are employed to create and maintain a positive public image for the organization they act on behalf of. All the work amounts to shaping and protecting the brand’s image and reputation, as well as establishing it as a thought leader in the industry.

Learn more about thought leadership
8

Media pitching

As a PR manager, you’ll spend a lot of time pitching to journalists, editors, reporters and news outlets. Media pitching is when you present your news story and angle to journalists, to get it featured in their publication.

Pitching plays an important role in the PR process, because we want to generate awareness around the brand’s value and importance in the industry. The pitch gets us one step closer to being featured in the media. Essentially, your pitch is the first impression a journalist gets from your story. So, PR specialists dedicate a lot of time to this since we want the journalist to pick up the story and find out more.

Learn more about media pitching

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What is the difference between a publicist and a public relations specialist?

While both get their clients' media attention, and both help deal with any negative publicity, there are differences. A PR specialist will look at the long-term goal of a business, and put together a strategy to get there. They will develop narratives to shape public perception, write press releases, and disseminate information based on the key messaging strategy agreed on.
Publicists tend to work on a more short-term approach. Tying up loose ends and using their specific connections, they’re often seen as having a narrower focus within the communications spectrum. If there is a one-dimensional goal (promotion of a film, a record, or a book), publicists often take the lead here. A public relations specialist, however, takes steps to achieve a long-term goal.

Most often, publicists are only looking for….well, publicity. Just getting airtime is the main concern. There is a focus on quantity over quality. In PR, the exact opposite is true. A public relations specialist manages the long-term reputation and communication of an organization or individual. The goal here is to create a positive image.

How do PR specialists grow your business?

Essentially, PR professionals represent your business and part of that role is to elevate your market position. We do this by supporting you to grow your business. When it comes to growing or scaling your business, there are two very important PR concepts. These are brand authority, and brand awareness.

Brand awareness is the extent to which your target audience both recognises and recalls your brand. The more awareness people have of your brand, the more people can identify it when associating it with certain services, products or desirable qualities. Brand awareness also leads to greater brand recall. This is an important factor in the consumer decision making process. In this, PR is tasked with creating a memorable and positive brand impression.

Brand authority, on the other hand, is you or your company’s perceived expertise within an industry or on a topic. It is all to do with trust. If your audience trusts your knowledge and expertise, then they will feel confident in buying into your brand. This is an important factor of consideration for investors, they need to see why their investment in you will benefit their own reputation and capital growth. As mentioned, trust is a huge part of PR.

The aim of a PR specialist is to close the gap between trust and customers for your business. This is what makes PR a long-term process. PR isn’t directly focused on making a sale, the aim of PR and a PR specialist is to build and maintain the relationships between the brand and their target market. Awareness and authority is how they close the gap between trust and potential clients for your business.

Business growth and PR promotion

Your business can’t grow if you’re not attracting the right traffic. Let’s use your website as an example. You need 3rd parties who promote your business. In order for you to show up in front of the right audience, you need to show Google you exist. In this, PR specialists help make you discoverable. They work to get you links from 3rd parties, build relationships with business prospects and share your story with the world. This also means features and placements in sources that people trust.

Without 3rd party endorsements, you can only do so much on your own to grow your brand’s prominence. Referrals and endorsements mean more to the public than what you have to say about yourself.

For more information on brand awareness and authority, you can read any of our guides on PR for technology companies and PR for startups. PR helps you in becoming discoverable, for example by attracting traffic to your website or getting you third party endorsements.

PR and growth marketing are converging

Accountability and results are vital in PR. How do you actually measure and set goals for something, as important, yet intangible as awareness? The truth is, growth hackers and PR professionals are now becoming important partners. As this relationship gets closer, we open ourselves up to new ways of thinking.

It’s not just about growing your numbers, to be truly successful at growth marketing you have to adopt a growth-focused mindset. Workshops like the Growth Tribe Academy are teaching professionals in every area, including PR, how to adopt this way of thinking. Instead of being satisfied with using established methods that bring in results, the idea is to always be experimenting and A/B testing.

This means tracking everything.

  • How many more leads have entered into the sales funnel as a result of your new PR campaign?
  • How much less are you spending on Facebook ads due to traffic coming in from activities like guest blogging?
  • Has your share of voice increased as a result of your recent press interview?

In PR, an industry in which creativity and innovation are so important, adopting a growth-focused mindset will be a game-changer, particularly as in the past concrete metrics have been a challenge for PR specialists to measure.

Public relations specialist skills

The most important skill to have is the ability to understand the value and the power of a brand. Your job is communication, in particular the communication of a brand’s positive qualities, so before you start your PR campaigns, you need to be able to analyze a business and understand it’s core values, mission and purpose.

However, this alone won’t make a great PR specialist. People don’t want to just read about how great a company is, they want relevant and engaging stories. That is why creative writing and the ability to entice an audience is of great importance.

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1

Timing and news awareness

PR specialists need to have great timing with regards to campaigns.You have to be aware of the news at the time By aligning your PR content with trending topics and the news-of-the-day, you show that you’re relevant to the modern market and can actively contribute to what’s currently happening in the industry. To stand a chance of being picked up by a journalist, PR has to be grounded in a larger societal context. Newsjacking is a good example of a PR strategy that is incredibly dependent on timing, one you can read more about here.

Timing and awareness also assists you in future forecasting. This means to assess the current industry trends and piece them together to create a picture of how the future landscape will look. By doing this, the PR team can plan how to extend the longevity and future relevance of their clients and the brands they represent.

Learn more about PR trends 2024
2

Media relations

Journalists are constantly looking for credible and newsworthy stories. With so much news out there, PR specialists need to establish quality relationships with the journalists and news reporters who will be valuable to work with. Even if you have the most relevant, engaging story, it might fall flat simply because a journalist doesn’t know you, and this is another reason for PR.

Relationships aren’t built overnight, and while journalists are looking for interesting stories, they are also looking for credible ones. Building a relationship with journalists means that you make yourself known to them, in time, establishing trust between you. Relationships with journalists and key players in media are essential for PR success. Without these relationships, securing media coverage is made difficult. You need connections who trust you and who are willing to share industry information and collaborate with you. Regardless of your relationship with a journalist, the story needs to work for them. So it's important to do your research beforehand regardless.

3

Creative writing

PR specialists need to be able to write creative stories that communicate the values of their clients and make sure they engage the target audience. They need to master the art of storytelling to create newsworthy press releases. Creative writing is a skill that accompanies the ability to tell engaging stories. You need to understand what sells, what’s currently trending in the news and what the client has to offer.

Brand storytelling and content marketing are essentials for PR professionals to master. The ability to write creative stories enhances the engagement of the pieces published.

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4

Power of persuasion

There’s a lot of fierce competition out there, meaning that journalists receive numerous pitches and press releases every day. So, PR specialists need to be able to skillfully pitch without sounding like they are just trying to hurry you down the sales funnel.

When we say “be persuasive”, we mean integrity and honesty should still be paramount. It’s about building credible relationships. When pitching to journalists or addressing the public, there’s a big difference between being persuasive and manipulative. You have to be convincing in why your story is the one to publish. People need to believe in you. Gaining brand authority does not happen overnight, that’s why PR pros continuously need to be firm in their dealing with the media and public.

Famous PR experts

From public speaking to media relations, crisis communication and brand building, a PR specialist is a valuable asset any brand or company can have. Although the PR industry has many famous individuals, these are our top picks:

Photo of Brandee Barker, Facebook's first Head of Global Communications and Public Policy

Brandee Barker

Facebook's first Head of Global Communications

Barker was named one of Business Insider’s most effective PR people in tech. Experienced as a former director of communications at Facebook, she took to freelance work and established her private consultancy.

With over 15 years of experience, she has helped startups blow up, including Spotify, AirBnB and Quora. She has also done work for Square and Uber.

With an impressive portfolio, Barker knows the PR industry like the palm of her hand and continues to actively use her skills and abilities to promote value adding companies and causes. Especially in support of women empowerment.

Photo of Christopher Graves, PR Expert

Christopher Graves

President & Founder, Ogilvy Center for Behavioral Science

Graves came to the PR world from a journalism background. He was the head of news for CNBC Asia & Europe and at the Wall Street Journal for 18 years.

From there he moved on to WPP's Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, which made $303 million worldwide in 2011. Passionate about business growth, Graves works to boost the effectiveness of every client engagement through applying a deep understanding of the “Real Why” of human behavior.

He’s also been a keynote speaker on many occasions, talking about human behavior, how to change minds and how to craft narratives. A real specialist in storytelling and bringing brands to life through establishing human connections.

Photo of Matias Rodsevich, PR expert in Amsterdam

Matias Rodsevich

Founder and CEO of PRLab

Rodsevich is the founder and CEO of PRLab. With over 10 years of experience, from managing PR for IBM and Google in Argentina, to founding his own award winning PR agency in the heart of Amsterdam, Rodsevich is a PR expert on a mission to innovate and propel the modern workings of PR even further.

Through PRLab Community, the first of its kind, he established a platform for marketing and communication professionals to share their knowledge, insights, and expertise with other professionals. It now has over 1200 members and continues to grow.

He is also the author of the PR book, The PR Paradox. In it he shares his industry knowledge and insights, with advice on how to succeed in PR.

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What degree do you need to be a PR specialist?

Typically, a bachelor’s degree in public relations, journalism, communications or business studies is needed to pursue a career in PR. A portfolio of work that demonstrates the student’s abilities is a huge plus.

Some of the fundamentals that the student should be familiar with include business ethics, management and marketing. These are usually covered in communication studies. Strong literacy skills, reading and writing abilities and a good sense of journalism is key when pursuing a career in public relations.

Entry-level employees often do admin work, such as managing organizational activities, keeping an eye on the news and assembling information for speeches and pamphlets. After gaining experience, PR specialists will then start to write news releases, speeches, and articles for publication.

What else should you do if you want to be a PR specialist?

An internship

Hands-on learning can be the best way to get into PR. A lof of agencies will pay a small internship salary to you, so useful if you’re studying full-time. Not only will you learn the fundamentals and get client experience, but you’ll also find out if you like it. Being a PR specialist is a rewarding but stressful job with high client expectations and tight deadlines. An internship will show you what the role involves, allow you to work alongside PR professionals, and develop your skills.

Volunteer

Similar to an internship, but as you’ve guessed, it is totally unpaid. You can get your foot in the door in public relations by offering content for free. This can include writing articles, blogs, or creating video content. You can ask for your name to be published next to the article or a link to your portfolio. The expectation, though, is that you’re good. Keep track of all projects you work on so you can mention them at a later stage.

Get networking

Thats right, it's time to make friends. Follow agencies and professionals on LinkedIn. See what they’re doing. Go to industry events and job fairs. You can also join professional organizations and subscribe to any relevant newsletters. Even still, join an online group or social media page where people often share opinions and have discussions. The more exposure the better.

Conclusion

Hopefully now you have a better understanding of what a PR specialist does and what to expect from the job. We’ve also touched on some of the skills you’ll need. PR is a dynamic profession. It is multifaceted and you need to be prepared for a fast paced environment. With PR and marketing becoming more and more integrated, the industry overlap means that PR pros will have to sharpen up their storytelling abilities. Brand growth can’t succeed anymore without a good story to draw the attention of investors or customers. It is the PR team’s job to use compelling storytelling to get media placements and features and, from there, to make sure the brand image and reputation is nurtured through shared stories.

Traditionally, these PR efforts have been about maintaining a positive perception of a well-established brand. Here at PRLab, we are also interested in how you can create this perception, which is why our work is focused on startups and scaleups, and how PR can be used to grow businesses.

March 18, 2021
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What is a PR specialist?

A public relations specialist is a media professional who is responsible for creating, planning and executing public relation strategies in order to manage public perception of a brand, company or individual.

Do you need a degree to be a PR specialist?

While a degree in PR  is certainly useful and a degree in marketing or communications wouldn’t hurt either, you don’t strictly need a degree to become a PR specialist. While a relevant education will make it easier and give you a significant understanding of how PR works, if you have the skills, it is certainly something you can do yourself. Being able to research effectively and stay up to date with market trends, understanding the value of brands, and mastering the art of storytelling will get you on your way to being a PR specialist.

What does a PR specialist do?

A PR specialist works to understand the core values of a brand as well as the needs and values of the relevant target audience. They research trends within the niche markets of these brands to create content and identify core publications and journalists to pitch the content to in order to secure media coverage for their clients. They are increasingly integrating PR strategy with other marketing tools such as content marketing, social media, and the general development of branding and branding assets.

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