Everything You Need to Know About Advancing Your Career in Public Relations

Being trained by practicing PR professionals who have the academic and industry know-how to drive successful business and client outcomes is key, according to USC experts.

Public relations (PR) is necessary for the success, promotion and protection of practically every type of business, meaning there are plenty of job opportunities available in the field. 

While PR has its share of misconceptions (people often confuse the career with marketing or advertising, for example), it is an exhilarating field that covers everything from media and community relations to brand crisis management.

To better understand the PR world and learn how to master public relations, the schooling involved and the prospective job market, we spoke with several representatives from the Master of Science in Public Relations Innovation, Strategy and Management (MSPRISM) online program at USC.

What Is Public Relations?

Simply put, public relations is a powerful brand-building discipline that organizations use worldwide to establish brands for their product services and the organizations themselves, according to Burghardt Tenderich, MSPRISM program director and professor at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

“It complements marketing efforts,” he added. 

Although almost any form of communication from a brand or company can be considered public relations, the primary distinction is that unlike advertising, PR focuses on “earned media,” said Fred Cook, director of the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations.

Earned media includes brand reviews, social media mentions and other content written about a product, person or company that wasn’t purchased. People who work in public relations gain earned media by forming relationships with influencers, encouraging people to try products for reviews, posting promotions on social media and doing other forms of media outreach to boost messaging.

The idea is to create a positive image of your organization and build trust with the general audience. As Neil Patrick Teixeira, assistant dean of digital learning and online programs at USC Annenberg, emphasized, PR is really all about creating a relationship between a brand and the public.

“PR, at its core, is about building and managing relationships — with clients, consumers, employees and the public. The modern practice of PR is both art and science, requiring mastery of communication strategy as well as the latest media technologies,” he said.

In addition to finding ways to get their client visibility, those who work in PR also spend their days writing press releases, crafting social media posts, writing media pitches, planning events and helping handle crisis management if a brand faces negative press.

Do You Need a Master’s Degree for a PR Career?

To get started in public relations, there is “no formal education required, like there would be for physicians or attorneys,” but it is ideal to earn a bachelor’s degree in an adjacent field, such as business, communications, media studies, journalism or even public relations itself, according to Tenderich.

“As with anything, having the appropriate training and skills is essential. The more skilled you are, the more opportunities you can pursue,” said Clarissa Beyah, a professor at USC Annenberg.

Being educated by practicing PR professionals who have the academic and industry know-how to drive successful business and client outcomes is key, and “how, where, when that training occurs — and in what context are essential things to consider,” she explained.

And even if you feel you have plenty of experience, Cook noted that PR is a rapidly changing industry — “which means people who work in the field need to be constantly retraining themselves to stay relevant,” he said.

Going into a master’s program focused on PR (like the online MSPRISM program) means students also get the most up-to-date perspective on the latest trends and technologies, which can help them better maneuver their careers.

Plus, Beyah said, a master’s program is a great way to network and build relationships with peers, business leaders and instructors — and as relationships are at the core of public relations, those connections may serve you well further down the line.

The MSPRISM program at USC Annenberg is particularly focused on giving students the practical, hands-on training they need to succeed in public relations, as well as the development of leadership skills. It also veers into nontraditional PR areas, such as social media buying or communicating via emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, said Tenderich. This means students not only walk away with a solid knowledge foundation in PR, but also with a broader understanding of communications and media in general.

Ultimately, as Teixeira put it, “USC Annenberg is the premier school for studying and researching public relations, and the MSPRISM was specifically developed to modernize skillsets and accelerate career trajectories for brand communication professionals across the globe.”

What PR Jobs Are Available?

Obviously, most people who want to study public relations end up working in that exact field. While being a PR manager or a member of a brand’s public relations team is a straightforward goal, it’s worth noting there are many different industries to choose from.

You can work in-house for a company or for a specific PR agency. You can join the entertainment industry, a sports team, restaurant group, fashion brand, tech company, university, hospital, non-profit and much more.

Essentially, every industry needs public relations, so you have a wealth of options when it comes to the type of field in which you want to practice.

A PR degree can also lead to other jobs, as the skills are transferable to many different career paths, said Beyah.

“PR professionals may specialize in research, content development and creation, social media or digital content, media relations, internal communications, marketing and event management … The opportunities to create and drive strategy with compelling content that connects the world are endless,” she noted.

What Salary Do People in Public Relations Make?

Like any industry, there is a wide salary range when it comes to working in PR. Your compensation depends on where you live, what industry you’re working in, how long you’ve been working for a specific company and what level you’ve reached in your career. 

The average salary for a PR manager, however, is around $67,000 to $128,000 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Another benefit of obtaining a master’s degree? It can help you become more attractive to employers and even encourage a salary bump.

The Bottom Line

Public relations is an exciting field that’s constantly changing and growing with the advent of new technology, offering a multitude of job opportunities and career options across industries.

It’s a rewarding and dynamic career path for those who want to truly understand the ways in which people interact with media, and the field is ideal for professionals who are confident, creative and curious.

“People who have a real interest in strategy, who are thoughtful, who have a good aptitude for creating content and understanding what content and what type of media their audiences engage with, those are the people who will do great in PR,” Tenderich said.

Plus, if you’re passionate about the public relations world and want to pursue a meaningful career in the sector, a master’s program can certainly help you become an expert — especially at USC.

“USC Annenberg is seeking dedicated public relations professionals who are eager to sharpen their analytical, managerial, and creative abilities. We want to equip them with tools and strategies not only for the current media landscape, but the emergent one,” Teixeira said.

Learn more about the Master of Science in Public Relations Innovation, Strategy and Management (MSPRISM) online program today.