How Public Relations Works

By: Dave Roos

Careers in Public Relations

Public relations professionals often organize press conferences to announce special events.
Frasier Harrison/Getty Images

Public relations professionals are natural and effective communicators -- skilled writers, journalists, public speakers and cold callers who are media-savvy and well-versed in pop culture and current events [source: The Princeton Review].

There are a variety of careers in public relations because the nature of the work is so diverse. That said, the broad scope of public relations jobs can be narrowed down into three general categories:


  • Publicity
  • Communications
  • Training


The bread-and-butter of public relations is generating publicity. Publicity is a free and favorable mention of your client in a magazine, a positive review of your client's product in a newspaper column, or a recommended link to your client's Web site on a popular blog.

All careers in public relations include a certain amount of publicity work, but the real heavy lifting belongs to publicists. Publicists spend their days writing press releases to targeted journalists and publications. They handle all press inquiries regarding their clients and they prepare detailed press packets to hand out at interviews, press conferences and trade shows [source: The Princeton Review].


Communications overlaps considerably with publicity since one of the goals of effective communications is to garner publicity. But PR communications is also about managing the client's image as a whole, combining skills in media relations, marketing and even psychology.

Crisis communications specialists are PR professionals brought in to help a client through a particularly bad news day. A crisis could be an accusation of corporate crime, a fire or flood at a manufacturing plant, or something as deeply tragic as a school shooting. Crisis communications specialists often serve as the official spokesperson at all press conferences during a crisis and as the point person for media inquiries.

Press secretaries and campaign managers are masters of political PR communications. A well-trained press secretary will always remain on message, reiterating key points to portray his candidate or office-holder as competent and concerned with the issues. Press secretaries and campaign managers must stay cool under sharp questioning from the media and know how to divert attention to positive news.

Marketing communications is another important public relations job. Also called product communications, this branch of PR works close with the client's marketing department to help launch new products or reposition existing ones [source:]. Product communications professionals help come up with wording for advertising campaigns, product packaging and special promotional events [source: All About Public Relations].

Large corporations often hire financial public relations experts to handle all communications pertaining to the financial well-being of the company, including annual earnings reports, stockholder newsletters and new investor outreach [source:].

An emerging career in public relations is that of community relations and community manager. A community relations professional is constantly looking for ways to get his client's name attached to positive events in the local community. This PR specialist might encourage the client to sponsor arts and cultural events, give money to a children's organization or send out volunteers to clean up city parks.

A community manager, on the other hand, works mostly on the Internet, managing the image of the client with its online consumers. The community manager is active on company message boards, related industry blogs and online social networks, patching holes in consumer confidence and looking out for potential PR crises.


Media trainers are PR professionals who put their media relations knowledge to work coaching corporate executives, spokespeople and politicians on the best techniques for handling the press.

Check out the next page to find out about the professional association for public relations.