A media relations manager acts as the liaison between a company, institution, public official, or celebrity and the media to promote good news about the organization or client and maintain their reputation. They craft press releases, pitch story ideas, set up interviews, respond to press inquiries, and cultivate relationships with journalists and other media contacts and influencers. While a public relations team formulates the messaging strategy, it's the media relations manager that helps ensure its delivery to your social media feed, TV screen, or morning paper.
In the event when things go south, it's the role of the media relations manager to manage the crisis and mitigate the damage. Oftentimes, this means trying to address the situation and shape the public narrative before the press does. According to a study by Harvard Business Review, companies that publicly admit their crisis or mistake before the media reveals it are viewed by the public as more credible, and the issue is considered less severe. This strategy is dubbed “stealing thunder." Media relations managers who can do this effectively are particularly valued by their employers.
Do you have the skill set and passion required to succeed in this role? In this article, we'll answer that question by exploring what is a media relations manager as well as:
Most mid-to-large businesses, nonprofit institutions, and even high-level public officials need to communicate with the public and their stakeholders in some way. A media relations manager ensures that a consistent message is effectively conveyed across multiple media channels.
Media relations managers cultivate relationships with the press to shape media coverage of their company or client. A media relations manager ensures that the right media channels cover new product launches, accomplishments, leadership changes, or—as we mentioned above—when a company needs to address a misstep.
Depending on the structure and size of a company, a media relations manager works in tandem with public relations managers to lead the PR team. Alternatively, they may work under the guidance of more senior managers and directors.
Media relations managers serve as company spokespeople. They also coach executives to speak on behalf of a company when necessary. They write press releases, schedule and host press conferences, and work with the PR manager and team to build long-term communications plans to convey a brand's story to a targeted audience. This includes working with online, broadcast, and print media outlets, arranging interviews and company features, and managing the company's social media efforts.
A successful media relations manager must be able to detect and avert potential issues with the press before they happen. They are expert at managing crises strategically and skilled in promoting public relations initiatives to the press that will likely elicit the desired media coverage. Media relations managers also may assist the marketing team with SEO-optimized ads, blogs, and social media campaigns.
Media relations is a versatile field. Everyone from politicians running for office to major shoe brands hires media relations professionals. This demand provides media relations managers with a host of career opportunities. You'll find media relations manager job postings at major corporations, healthcare companies, large nonprofits, and educational institutions, as well as for high-profile individuals. Major public relations firms manage a roster of clients with support from media relations managers who help them devise and implement communications strategies.
Media relations managers must have specialized skills—not everyone has the communication skills and experience to successfully interact with the media and effectively shape the narrative. Salary.com reports that the average annual pay for this role is $102,232. The lower end of the range—around $70,000—is more likely in locations with a lower cost of living, for smaller companies, or when the manager role falls under a director or president position.
Media relations manager salaries also depend on the particular responsibilities for that position. For example, some managers handle social media strategies in addition to press relations, while larger companies may split the roles in two. Some professionals also bring public affairs experience to a role and work on government policy.
Strategic communications can be practiced by anyone versed in different forms of communication and skilled in organizational planning. A media relations manager acquires and hones many of these skills on the job, through building relationships with journalists, drafting press releases, and managing social media crises.
However, academic study provides a more reliable route to career success in this field. Most employers seek candidates with the expertise and knowledge that advanced degrees provide; that's why a master's in strategic communications can be so valuable to anyone seeking to advance in media relations.
A Master of Science in Strategic Communications (or Master of Arts in Strategic Communications) is a graduate-level degree focusing on the theories and models of mass communication. It teaches the analytical processes and strategic practices used to build communication initiatives used by businesses and other institutions. Students explore communication theory, strategies, and functions in different industries, and how they relate to a highly digitized society. Typical coursework covers storytelling and digital strategy, quantitative research, campaign planning and evaluation, and public relations.
The top strategic communications master’s programs take 12 to 24 months to complete. However, there are accelerated 12 to 16-months programs for people hoping to complete their studies sooner. For example, Columbia University’s 16-month executive program caters to communications professionals working full-time jobs.
More traditional two-year programs offer in-person, online, or in-person options. They may culminate in a thesis, capstone, or internship option or offer the alternative to graduate early without the additional credits.
Strategic communications programs typically require that applicants hold a bachelor’s degree—often in a related field—to be eligible for admission. In some cases, professional experience may obviate the need for a media-related college major.
Applications often need to include undergraduate transcripts with a minimum GPA of 3.0, letters of recommendation, a resume/CV, and a personal statement demonstrating how their course of study will help you meet your career goals. Some programs, such as the one at Butler University, also require competitive Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) scores.
Let's take a look at Fordham University's Master of Science in strategic communications. Foundational courses from Fordham include marketing communications, social media management, research methods, crisis communication, and purpose-driven marketing. Students cover both the theoretical communication topics as well as the data analytics used to measure a campaign's success.
An aspiring media relations manager may focus on developing specific skills by taking elective courses. Butler University offers electives in media relations, global strategic communications, and strategic communication for advocacy.
In addition to electives, how can a media relations manager make the most of a strategic communications master's? Some master's programs allow students to declare a specific concentration. American University offers tracks in areas like corporate communication and reputation management as well as international strategic communication.
Students can specialize further in both their choice of electives and their final capstone project. The final thesis, internship, or group project typically highlights a real-world problem and how they can use their newfound skills to solve it.
You'll find strategic communications master's programs spread across the US, from state colleges to Ivy League universities. Some communications programs offer a concentration in strategic communication while others offer courses in related topics.
Ranked among the top 100 universities in the country by US News & World Report, American University in Washington, DC offers highly customized master's degrees in strategic communications. Choose from a 12-month on-campus or 20-month online track and one of five concentrations.
Butler’s highly flexible online program incorporates real-world challenges into each of its foundation and elective courses. Students “design and analyze research methods to drive informed communication strategy and address organizational goals." Elective topics include media relations, social media strategy, and strategic storytelling for advocacy.
Columbia offers three programs for early-career, mid-career, and full-time working professionals in New York City. Students can collaborate with com munication industry leaders from around the world who work in tech, nonprofits, politics, and education. Depending on the chosen track, students can also opt to complete a graduate-level internship to build connections through Columbia's extensive professional network.
Fordham offers an online master's degree that delivers the benefits of its New York location to students around the world. Admissions requirements include a minimum of three years professional experience in the field. In addition to a rigorous curriculum, online students complete three-day residencies during which they meet face-to-face with top executives and communication leaders in a range of fields. Students can choose from a 12 or 18-month course of study with flexible start dates.
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