Public relations—the craft of “sending the right messages to the right place and the right people, creating a stronger brand reputation”—plays a critical role in shaping consumers’ perception of products, services, and individuals. It’s an essential service for anyone attempting to build a public profile in today’s multi-channel media landscape.
Public relations specialists help brands establish and maintain credibility by composing and distributing press releases, conducting market research, fielding press inquiries, handling media relations by cultivating press contacts with media outlets and influencers, holding press events, and generating favorable coverage in the media across all platforms.
The Business Research Company notes that “a well-made, integrated PR plan can connect customers and clients with the organization and creates a competitive advantage for organizations.” It’s an in-demand and valuable market. BRC predicts the global public relations market will grow over 11 percent between 2021 and 2022 ($92.55 billion to $102.80 billion). By 2026, it should reach $149.44 billion.
If you’re still wondering what does a public relations manager do?, continue reading to learn about:
According to PR Week public relations managers are responsible for “developing and implementing an organization’s PR and media strategy, building its reputation and ensuring effective media coverage.” They monitor media channels, determine which channels best fit the communications objectives of their clients, develop initiatives to promote a carefully crafted image for their client, and work to place positive stories where they will be seen by the greatest possible share of their target audience.
According to Indeed, a public relations manager’s job description includes creating and overseeing the implementation of PR campaigns (including crisis management strategies) for the brand or organization, managing the public relations team’s work, organizing press conferences and PR events (and serving as a spokesperson), and analyzing and generating press coverage. They need excellent project management and communication skills, including public speaking and writing skills.
Public relations managers work for both large and small companies. At small organizations, they handle much of the PR responsibility themselves, while at large organizations they oversee a public relations team. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 22 percent of public relations and fundraising managers work for religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations. The next most common sectors are state, local, and private educational services (20 percent); professional, scientific, and technical services (16 percent); and management of companies and enterprises (8 percent).
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for a public relations manager job is $118,430, though this varies by industry. PR managers for companies and enterprises earn the most ($134,790), followed by managers of organizations that provide professional, scientific, and technical services ($133,270), and educational services ($105,750).
While public relations managers can perform their jobs with only a bachelor’s degree, earning your master’s in strategic communications can equip you with the knowledge and expertise necessary to advance and succeed in this competitive field.
As in most communications jobs, experience is essential for moving up the ladder in public relations. Many employers require five or more years of relevant work experience to qualify for most management-level jobs. Candidates with experience and a master’s degree often are more valued by employers and can command higher salaries.
Strategic communications master’s programs help students learn the communication and media strategy skills necessary to work effectively as public relations professionals. You’ll focus on one area of strategic communications, such as internal communications, marketing, or public relations. After graduating, you’ll be able to determine which data analytics strategies make the most sense for your campaign and craft a message to fit different social media platforms.
Though accelerated master’s programs take less time, the average length for a strategic communications master’s is two years. Part-time students may take longer.
Always check your desired school’s prerequisites before applying, as they may deviate from the traditional application. Many programs are becoming test-optional now, for instance, meaning they don’t require the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). Expect to submit materials such as undergraduate transcripts with a 3.0 GPA, letters of recommendation, a resume, and a personal statement demonstrating why the program can advance your professional goals.
Many strategic communications master’s programs seek applicants with relevant work experience—typically two years in a communications sector like marketing, journalism, or public relations. If you have five or more years of experience, you should consider an executive program. If you have little or no professional experience, don’t worry; some programs are designed for career changers.
Strategic communications coursework is typically a mix of theoretical and practical courses. You’ll learn the competencies needed to work across different platforms and in various situations. Additionally, programs will teach you the research skills to identify new techniques and effectively leverage the communications strategies at your disposal.
Though most programs don’t offer a specialization track, students can use electives and projects to hone their skills in a specific area. Most programs employ a capstone or practicum (internship) to provide students experience in real-world situations.
This section includes information about top schools with a strategic communications master’s, including programs that focus on public relations.
Columbia offers a 36-credit MS in strategic communication, which students complete in either 12 or 16 months. In the 16-month track, you have the option to complete a practicum. Experienced applicants can take an accelerated “executive master’s.” Required coursework focuses on general communication and leadership strategy; students also can complete a public relations elective called Public Relations & Corporate Communications.
NYU offers a Master of Science in Public Relations and Corporate Communication that balances public relations and marketing coursework. Students learn to research, plan, write, and execute quality campaigns. For their capstone project, NYU leverages its standing in New York by pairing students with a business and having them run a campaign during their second year. Students also choose between a Public Relations Management and Corporate and Organizational Communication concentration during their second year.
USC’s highly regarded program focuses heavily on digital storytelling across multiple formats. Students have several thesis options, including completing a project or developing a portfolio. Relevant courses include Storytelling with Data Intelligence, Multimedia Content Creation for Brand Storytelling, and Business and Economic Foundations for Public Relations.
Several well-regarded schools offer online options for busy or out-of-state students. Top programs include:
Butler’s 30-credit online Master of Science in Strategic Communication program utilizes “real-world case studies and simulations to learn how to strategize, plan, execute, and evaluate ethical and effective strategic communication.” At just $850 per credit, this program is quite affordable among comparable graduate degrees. Though the program is offered online, students still engage in a real-world capstone project to get experience creating communication strategies.
At Georgetown, “students will learn how to use cutting-edge technology, such as artificial intelligence, automation tools, and predictive modeling, to excel as a PR professional.” You have the option of completing the program full-time in two years or part-time in up to five. Students can choose from three start dates.
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