There are very few—if any—industries that haven't needed a PR team from time to time. Aspiring PR professionals can either specialize in an industry or work for a larger PR firm that manages a Rolodex of companies.
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Ginny Bartolone
Noodle Expert Member

March 27, 2022

A public relations manager oversees a team of PR professionals to manage a client's brand, promote awareness of the client, and mitigate bad publicity. It's a high-pressure job but, if you love public relations, it's a role you'll want at some point in your career.

In today's connected world, a company's image is just as important as the product it sells. If a company slips up and the public catches wind, you'll see the effects everywhere from the stock price to employee morale. Harvard Business Review even found that a scandal can follow an executive throughout their career, leading to lower salaries and fewer job offers. Without a great PR department, the fallout would be far worse.

A PR team does far more than just step in and clean up a crisis. Public relations specialists plan and maintain a company's media coverage, press releases, and social media, as well as the budgets that go along with them.

It takes a multi-skilled team with a range of business backgrounds to make this all happen. Close to the top of the pyramid sits the public relations manager. PR managers lead a team of creative communication professionals while acting as the liaison between top execs—the public relations officer, for one—and the many members of the marketing team.

In this guide, we'll cover the common demands on the PR manager role, what recruiters look for from their work experience and education, and how a strategic communication masters can prepare you for this demanding position.

This guide will cover:

  • What is a public relations manager?
  • Does a public relations manager need a strategic communications master’s to succeed?
  • What is a master’s in strategic communications?
  • Top strategic communications master’s programs

What is a public relations manager?

The exact responsibilities of a PR manager vary from company to company. You'll spot similar positions with different names, including communications manager, media strategy manager, or media relations officer. The PR manager oversees the public relations team; the role typically sits below the director level.

A public relations manager supervises a team of creative and administrative professionals, so the right candidate must have several years of experience in the field, leadership skills, and connections in the media. A management position typically requires a bachelor's degree in communications, marketing, or a related field. At a competitive company, expect to see a master's degree on the nice-to-have list as well.

What does a public relations manager do?

What can you expect to handle on a day-to-day basis as a PR manager? A PR manager creates viable ways to increase the visibility of a company, organization, or politician. They build relationships with journalists and news outlets, construct a social media plan, and manage press releases and press conferences. Any day on the job could involve one, or all, of these responsibilities.

If a wave of bad press rolls in, a PR manager helps the company's executives relay the right message to media outlets. And while they won't act as the spokesperson themselves, they're the coach behind scenes making sure the crisis passes as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Depending on the structure of the PR firm or company, a manager may also take on areas like project management, forecasting news cycles, speaking with stakeholders, and pitching articles and social media campaigns to the director.

Where do public relations managers work?

There are very few—if any—industries that haven't needed a PR team from time to time. Aspiring PR professionals can either specialize in an industry or work for a larger PR firm that manages a Rolodex of companies.

For example, you'll find public relations managers on the campaign teams of politicians, in the fundraising departments of nonprofits, and even in government offices. These pros work on marketing communication teams of retail, finance, entertainment, and travel brands. Even well-known execs and artists hire full-time PR managers to grow and maintain their brands.

How much do they earn?

The role of a public relations manager can be quite demanding. In fact, public relations made the CareerCast’s top 10 list of most stressful jobs in 2019. Between long hours and high-stakes decision-making, you can expect this role to be paid fairly well.

Salary.com reports that public relations managers earn an average salary just over $114,000. plus bonuses and other incentives. Location impacts income; again according to Salary.com, a PR manager in New York City earns, on average, $134,500 in salary and another $10,000 annually in incentives. In Bloomington, Indiana, the average salary drops to $105,000 (plus another $6,000 in incentive pay).

Does a public relations manager need a strategic communications master’s to succeed?

Flip through a few job postings for public relations managers and you'll spot some similarities. Many companies look for pros with at least five years of marketing experience, demonstrated communication skills, and a history of successful PR campaigns. Companies are on the hunt for experience in public speaking, media inquiries, social media management, and writing skills.

In one sense, applying for a manager position is the transition from an entry-level to a leadership role. And while a job posting may not include a graduate degree—or even a specific bachelor's—a master's in strategic communications offers both the training and networking to facilitate the jump. In an employer's final analysis, a graduate degree could be a difference-maker.

What is a master’s in strategic communications?

A relatively newer concept in post-graduate education work, strategic communications marks the intersection of PR, marketing, journalism, and even HR. The program covers more than basic communication or sales tactics. Students learn to properly develop a point of view and share it in an effective and ethical way.

The program typically caters to working professionals with a few years of experience in their industry. The curriculum incorporates the most up-to-date research on how to communicate and how to leverage the many tools at our disposal in a tech-heavy world.

How long does it take to earn this degree?

On average, strategic communications master’s programs take anywhere from 12 to 24 months to complete. Traditional two-year master's programs take place either online or in-person and typically include a capstone project or professional-level internship.

What is required for admissions into a strategic communications master's program?

Strategic communications master’s programs are looking to create cohorts of students who already have acquired a baseline of knowledge and skills in the communications field. Most schools require that prospective students have between two and five years of professional or relevant experience (such as internships or work in a related field).

Applicants typically need a bachelor's degree, undergraduate transcripts—usually with a minimum GPA of 3.0—letters of recommendation, a writing sample, resume/CV, and a personal statement about how their program will help you fulfill your career goals. Some schools, such as Butler University, also require Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) scores for admission.

You should be able to demonstrate why this particular program is right for you at this point in your career throughout your application. Whether you're a public relations professional at a nonprofit, major PR firm, or large retail brand, the coursework and mentorship opportunities should link back to your specific career goals.

Strategic communications coursework

Many programs, such as the one at Columbia University, subdivide their curriculum along chosen tracks. Students can opt for a 16- or 12-month format. American University encourages students to shape their coursework within a specialty, which we'll touch on more below.

In any case, strategic communications master’s programs start with foundational courses, such as communications management, digital communications, research, and leadership skills.

Electives allow students to dive deeper into areas aligned with their career goals. Coursework includes such offerings as managing crisis, internal communications, public affairs, strategic storytelling, and ethical decision-making. A final project or practicum enables students to apply their coursework to a real-world project.

Specialization options

As a current or aspiring public relations professional, you may want to home in on electives, projects, and concentrations that specifically prepare you for your career.

For example, many programs highlight the power of strategic communications and its role in social change. American University offers concentration tracks in advocacy and social impact, digital communication strategies and analytics, corporate communications and reputation management, international strategic communications, and diversity and multicultural communications. Butler University provides electives in health and risk communication, strategic storytelling for advocacy, crisis communication, global strategic strategy, and more.

Top strategic communications master’s programs

The communications field is constantly changing. A great master's program keeps up with the evolving research, connects students with leaders in the field, and provides compelling opportunities to put their newly acquired knowledge to the test. Top schools offering strategic communications master’s programs include:

_American University_

American's program caters to a range of professionals looking to improve their communication strategies, from politicians to public relations managers. Its unique concentration structure encourages students to focus on the specific areas they need to fulfill their career goals. The program is provided in full-time, part-time, and online formats. American’s degree program has been featured by several top college and PR ranking lists, including in PR Week and PRNews.

_Butler University_

Offered online, Butler University's strategic communication program covers the most cutting-edge research on communication and marketing, where students “design and analyze research methods to drive informed communication strategy." It connects students with top experts in the field, culminating in a capstone project to demonstrate skills learned through real-world scenarios.

_Columbia University_

Set on Columbia's Morningside Heights Manhattan campus, this Ivy-League master's program provides both 12- or 16-month tracks, as well as an accelerated pathway for working professionals. The program explores today's most innovative communication strategies, including corporate storytelling, organizational mindsets, and research tool design. Students participate in a capstone project, speaker series, and a professional-level internship.

_Fordham University_

Fordham offers an online marketing-focused master's in strategic communications fully online that takes just 12 months to complete. The program welcomes students with at least three years of industry experience. The curriculum teaches students how to master persuasive corporate communication, manage crises, and build social media relationships. While the coursework is offered remotely, students must complete one three-day residency for graduation.

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