Media relations specialists are experienced public relations specialists who have a broad working knowledge of television, radio, and print journalism and skills in establishing a controlled, positive image in the media for a company, person, or organization. They are also referred to as communications consultants. Media relations specialists serve as the liaison between the company, person, or organization they represent and newspaper, magazine, and broadcast news editors and reporters. The number of people working in media relations and their locations falls within the same parameters as public relations specialists. There are approximately 188,000 public relations specialists employed in the United States.
Media Relations Specialist Career History
Similar to public relations, media relations is rooted in the 19th century, when newspapers began running positive articles about businesses that advertised in the paper to encourage future advertising. By the early 20th century, literary bureaus were established to contrive these articles, and publicity agents began surfacing in large cities. However, the articles began to undermine the newspapers’ objectivity, and the practice was soon halted in the United States.
But the link between media relations and newspapers endured through reporters who were willing to use language’s effects on public image to present a company or organization in a positive light. By the end of World War II, government agencies and politicians followed business’s example by hiring public relations specialists to help deliver information to the press and to advise them on their appearances at press conferences and interviews.
Media relations are now an essential function of public relations. Virtually every public relations agency either employs media relations specialists or assigns media relations duties for each client to account executives. Likewise, most large companies and organizations have someone in charge of media relations.
Media Relations Specialist Job Description
As Wendy Leinhart, media specialist with Marcy Monyak & Associates in Chicago, emphasizes, “Media relations is not a stand-alone job; it is a function of public relations.” In other words, media relations are just one, but perhaps the most significant, part of public relations.
Media relations specialists develop corporate or product positioning strategies for specific media outlets; plan photo and editorial opportunities for use in the media and develop editorial ideas to fit a publication’s or broadcast medium’s special promotions; develop news and feature releases and pitch them to the media; place articles with the media; gain favorable product reviews and publicize them to the media; position the organization they represent as an expert source; execute media events, such as press conferences, interviews, tours, and promotions; handle information requests from the press; and collect and analyze media coverage of the organization they represent.
To understand the media relations specialist’s work, suppose a large pharmaceutical company has to recall one of its products because of possible tampering. The company’s CEO decides she wants to address the issue with the public. The media relations specialist decides between arranging a press conference or an interview with a newspaper journalist from a major newspaper, contacts the appropriate media (in the case of a press conference) or reporter (in the case of an interview), and then briefs the CEO as to the angles on which the reporter or reporters will be basing questions.
Successful media relations depends on building an authentic rapport with reporters and editors while giving them something they can use. Media relations specialists are aware that most reliable journalists despise news that originates with a public relations slant, but that journalists often must rely on it because of time constraints. This is the reason rapport-building skills are essential in media relations.
Because the press release is at the heart of media relations, and major newspapers and wire services receive thousands of releases per day, the experienced media relations specialist knows when something is actually newsworthy and presents it in the most concise, attractive, and easy-to-read manner as possible.
Media Relations Specialist Career Requirements
While your overall schedule should be college preparatory, there are a number of classes you should emphasize during your high school career. Naturally, English and communication classes, such as speech or debate, should be a top priority as they will help you hone your communication skills. Also, take computer classes and other classes that emphasize working with different media, such as radio or television broadcasting classes and journalism classes. Courses in mathematics, economics, and business will help you develop the skills you will need to work with budgets and project planning. If your high school offers advertising or marketing classes, be sure to take those. Finally, since a media relations specialist is involved with current events, take any history or social studies class that emphasizes this subject. Such a class will give you the opportunity to observe how current events are related to the public through different media and the influences these media can have.
To become a media relations specialist, you should have at least a bachelor’s degree in communications, public relations, or journalism. Many college programs require or encourage their students to complete internships in public relations, either during the school year or the summer. These internships often provide valuable hands-on experience. Typical classes for those majoring in public relations include public relations management; writing courses that cover news releases, speeches, and proposals; and visual communications such as computer graphics. Other courses you should take include psychology, sociology, and business administration. A master’s degree may be helpful as you advance in your career.
Certification or Licensing
Although certification or licensing are not required, you may find it beneficial to get accreditation in the communications field. The Public Relations Society of America accredits public relations professionals who have at least five years of experience with the accredited in public relations designation, which can be obtained by passing a written and oral examination. The International Association of Business Communicators also offers the accredited business communicator designation.
In addition to excellent verbal and written communication skills, you need to be creative and aggressive, coming up with new and appealing ideas to attract media interest in your clients. You also need to be able to work under the pressure of deadlines, be able to make decisions quickly and effectively, and do thorough research. In addition, as a media relations specialist, you should have an interest in continuously learning about new technologies and using these new technologies to promote the interests of your clients.
Exploring Media Relations Specialist Career
During your high school years, become involved with the school newspaper, yearbook, or literary magazine. Try working with these publications’ advertising departments or sections, either selling ad space or promoting the publication to the student body. You can also join school committees that plan and publicize events such as school dances, fundraisers, or other functions. Try your hand at other media by working at the school television or radio station. You may even be able to come up with your own ad campaign for a school event.
The best way to explore this career during your college years is to complete an internship at a public relations firm. If you are unable to get such an internship, try getting a part-time or summer job at a local newspaper, radio, or television station where you can work in some type of public relations department. Read publications by the Public Relations Society of America, such as The Strategist and Public Relations Tactics, to become more familiar with how the public relations field works.
Media relations specialists are employed either by the organization, company, or individual they represent or by a public relations agency. The majority of opportunities exist in major metropolitan areas, but there also may be opportunities even in smaller communities, such as at colleges and universities. Approximately 188,000 public relations managers are employed in the United States.
It is not likely that you’ll begin your career in media relations right after graduating from college. Even someone with a professional journalism background should not jump into media relations without first working as a public relations generalist. “Most media relations specialists work entry-level PR jobs after working as a journalist, and fall into media relations as a specialty,” Wendy Leinhart says. Also important is computer literacy, as the proliferation of online services continues.
College placement counselors can help you find a position that will prepare you for media relations. Other effective routes include completing an internship at a public relations agency or in a corporate public relations or communications department.
Entry-level public relations specialists might assemble media clippings or create media lists for different clients. As they gain experience, they may be assigned to write news releases, conduct a poll or survey, or write speeches for company officials.
As prospective media relations specialists become more experienced and knowledgeable about the organization they represent, they may be called on to help seasoned media relations specialists pitch news releases, place articles with the media, and plan media events.
Seasoned media relations specialists can move into managerial positions where they take an active role in shaping media strategies and positioning the organization they represent.
The U.S. Department of Labor reports that the lowest paid 10 percent of public relations specialists made approximately $26,870 or less in 2005, while the highest paid 10 percent earned $84,300 or more. Salaried public relations specialists earned an average of $45,020 in 2005.
Media relations specialists working for consulting firms, agencies, and large corporations earn the most, while those in the nonprofit sector earn less.
Media relations specialists receive standard benefits, including health insurance, paid vacations, and sick days. They also receive regular salary increases and are often given expense accounts.
Media relations specialists usually work in a traditional office environment and work between 40 and 50 hours per week. From time to time, tight project deadlines may call for more overtime than usual. Media relations specialists are expected to be tastefully dressed and socially poised and to maintain a professional demeanor. Often, they must entertain editors and reporters at lunches or dinners. Frequently, their conduct in their personal life is important if they are employed by a public relations agency or as a consultant to a client. Media relations specialists also are required to travel from time to time for business.
Media Relations Specialist Career Outlook
Competition among corporations continues to grow, as does the competition for funding between nonprofit organizations. In addition, individuals in the public eye, such as politicians and sports figures, continue to want expert advice on shaping their images. Thus, public relations will remain among the fastest-growing fields, and media relations as a component of public relations will continue to grow. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that employment for public relations specialists will grow faster than the average through 2014.
Competition for media relations positions will be stiff because, as with public relations, so many job seekers are enticed by the perceived glamour and appeal of the field. However, those with journalism backgrounds will have an advantage.