Publicists seek to increase and maintain public interest in their clients.
Publicists, or PR officers, build and manage the reputation of a public figure, a company, a brand, a service or a product. They use marketing and advertising strategies to influence public opinion about their clients in a positive way.
Writing and communicating is a publicist’s main function: they are the link between their clients and the wider public. They try to generate press coverage on behalf of clients, using traditional tools such as press releases, publicity campaigns, brochures, newsletters and the organisation of various events. An effective publicist needs to develop excellent media contacts, as cultivating relationships with journalists will help them to place stories in the press. They also increasingly rely on online social media, such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.
Publicists also spend a lot of time doing research work. For example, they conduct surveys about products or brands to understand customers’ opinions and needs. After analysing the market, they present their findings to the company’s stakeholders. They suggest strategies to improve the reputation of the product and put together targeted publicity campaigns.
The entertainment industry is probably the first that comes to mind when a publicist’s work is mentioned. Publicity work is actually very wide-ranging: you can expect clients from public bodies, private companies across all sectors, charities, PR and advertising agencies, etc. Here are some examples of the type of work expected according to different industries:
- A publicist working for a publishing company has the responsibility of getting interest for a book. You send out review copies and organise book signings, press conferences and events to promote the author.
- A publicist working for a private company delivers presentations about the company’s activities. You analyse future trends, predict their consequences and advise management on advertising strategies.
- A publicist working with a celebrity needs to maintain a positive image of their client in the press and public opinion. You can spend a lot of time limiting the damage done to your client’s reputation when they commit a faux pas.
- Some publicists specialise in representing ‘ordinary’ members of the public. They try to sell their life stories to newspapers and TV channels for maximum profits.
Salary is usually higher in the private sector. At junior level, a publicist can get between £16,000 and £29,000 per year according to the industry and a senior PR officer can earn up to £55,000 per year. A Head of PR can earn £100,000.
Freelance publicists can expect between £100 and £300 per day according to their experience.
- Answering enquiries from individuals, journalists and organisations
- Researching attitudes and expectations toward a client or a product
- Collating and analysing media coverage
- Planning, developing and implementing PR campaigns
- Deciding on the best vehicle for communication (press release, professional publication, e-mail, personal letter, telephone, etc)
- Writing and editing press releases and articles for the media as well as in-house journals, reports and speeches
- Preparing and supervising the production of publicity material
- Organising interviews
- Organising the shoot of promotional videos
- Devising and coordinating photo opportunities
- Organising events such as press conferences, receptions, exhibitions and tours
- Managing sponsorship opportunities
- Creating and maintaining useful contacts, for example with journalists
Although there is no required qualification for the job, it is highly advisable to hold a university degree and have proficient writing skills. A degree in public relations, journalism, communication, media studies or marketing will be very helpful. According to the industry you wish to work in, other useful subjects include English, business, law, politics, economics and languages.
The Chartered Institute of Public Relations offers industry qualifications and organises careers days.
- Excellent writing and communication skills
- Excellent organisational skills
- Sociable, persuasive and ambitious personality
- Excellent presentation
- Positive attitude
- Versatile and adaptable
- Good eye to spot a story
- Passion about the clients you represent
- Ability to work under pressure and to tight deadlines
- Ability to multitask
- Good at research and analysis of findings
Although most publicists are office based, they often have to work during weekends and evenings. There is usually travel involved to attend meetings, events or press conferences.
You are likely to work under a great deal of pressure. If you work with celebrities, you must be ready to deal with difficult personalities and regular changes of public image. Publicists can easily be blamed if these changes don’t generate positive press coverage.
On the positive side, the work is varied and exciting. It can be very rewarding when you find your strategies have caught on and influenced public opinion positively.
It is very important to show that you have great writing skills. If you are a student, you can create your own blog, write for the student newspaper, do free publicity for a charity or get an internship. It will also be useful to show that you have experience in a related domain such as media techniques, editing or speech writing.
Large companies offer graduate training schemes. They usually provide secure employment opportunities; however, competition for places is fierce as PR is one of the top three career choices.
Most companies have a PR department. Some publicists may be based in PR agencies and it is also common to work independently as a freelance consultant.
A salaried publicist can be promoted to handle more prestigious clients, become account director or even director of publicity.
Tom Brumpton, 25, works as a publicist and copywriter in the music industry.How long have you been in this particular job?
I’ve been working as a promoter for several years, but I’ve been working as a publicist full time for over two years now.
What did you do before this job?
A number of things, but I largely worked as an administrator in my home town.
How did you end up doing this job; was it a childhood dream or was it by accident?
Very much an accident, I initially wanted to work as a copywriter but the work simply wasn’t there. I took on a freelance PR contract purely by accident and it turned into a job.
What do you do in a working typical day?
On a typical day, I’ll start by checking my email and going through my various accounts to check for any messages. After that, I’ll break down which countries I’ll be contacting press in on that given day and then begin calling. A large part of what I do is dealing with press throughout GAS (Germany, Austria & Switzerland), Benelux (Belgium, Holland & Luxembourg), the UK and Scandinavia so I break down my work load by which country I am dealing with.
Away from this, I have to arrange interviews for clients, which means I do a lot of liaison work with artists and their management. I also construct marketing materials for my clients.
You work as a freelancer; how do you find your clients?
When I first started I relied quite heavily on social media. Most of my clients have come through Soundcloud, Reverbnation and LinkedIn. I should stress that LinkedIn has proved to be the best of the three sites purely because it deals with a wide variety of sectors and a lot of high-ranking professionals use the site.
Today I still use social media, but more to interact with people that have found me. I get a lot of referrals and repeat customers too, which is always complimentary.
Do you find that the boundaries between your social and work life are blurred?
They can be, yes, but I work in the music industry and music has been a huge part of my life for the better part of a decade now. A lot of my friends are very invested into either film or music, so either way I’m constantly around it. I don’t mind because I love both and I enjoy what I do.
What do you like about the job?
I love interacting with people and there’s something exciting about working in the music industry, especially if most of the working jobs you’ve done before were very mundane and a million miles away from what you’d like to be doing. I consider myself lucky to do what I do, as there are a lot of people out there struggling right now.
What do you dislike about the job?
Not much really. You have the occasional bad day, but it’s no different in any other job.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing this job?
Be prepared for working a lot of hours, be very open-minded and do this job only if you enjoy working in this line of work as it takes a lot of dedication.
What job(s) do you think you might do after this role?
I’d love to work as a screenwriter. I’m working on a few scripts right now, and I sing for a band too. I don’t know if I’ll ever leave the entertainment industry. I like working around creative types.
Do you mind us publishing your salary / rate per hour - this is very helpful for job seekers?
I charge roughly £18 an hour, but usually work on a monthly contract that varies according to the amount of work involved.