So you want to break into public relations?

public relations - who are talking to?This is a difficult and confusing time to break into the public relations business.  As  traditional media continues to disappear at unprecedented speed, and the acceptance and use of social media increases exponentially, the PR landscape becomes radically altered.  How do you promote a service, product or person in 2009 when the rules of engagement have shifted so far that nobody can say for certain what they are? How do you judge success when you have no verifiable way to measure it? Why on earth would anybody want to break into this business now when there are no jobs and nobody can agree what public relations is anymore?

I faced a room full of mass communications students last weekend at VCU and tried to answer these questions. The short answer is:  Uncertainty brings opportunity and this is a thrilling time to be in the communications field.  It begins at the top, as Barack Obama re-defines how government communicates with and interacts with its constituents.  And it comes down to us – never before have the methods of communication – the ability to package and distribute news and information on a mass scale – been in the hands of ‘the people.’

All the news and info distribution sources we now have at our disposal - including web sites, blogs, Twitter, Flickr (or any web photo platform), YouTube (or any web video platform), RSS, widgets – are absolutely free. All it takes is imagination and time and you can shout to the world. 

The PR business still treats social media as a curiosity, an add-on. They generally still don’t get that  PR needs to lead the communications mix (PR/marketing/advertising) and PR needs to follow media into an Internet-based, digital distribution system. Instead of pitching the media we become the media.

Writing has always been an important, and sorely under served, element of public relations. Now that we can’t complain about lack of avenues for publishing, writing is even more important.  Check out Emily Valentine’s blog Cultural Anthropologist. Emily was one of the 50 or students from the 10 colleges and universities at the VCU PRSSA event last weekend.  There are also links to writing samples on Emily’s blog, including Microfinance: social networking meets social enterprise on the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy web site. Coming into the ‘new PR’ landscape, Emily is honing her writing and social media skills, and engaging in socially optimized PR. It make take some time for PR employers to understand the value of writing, blogging, and social media literacy – but the smart ones will soon enough.

the 'new public relations' is the marriage of news creation with news distribution

See The Future of PR (SlideShow) | Mark Rose LinkedIn


  1. Sabrina says:

    I think all of us who are about to graduate or will in the near future are scared of the new form of PR that is out there. When asked what i am majoring in, people always ask what PR is, and it’s hard to come up with a real defining answer. Now that social media is such a big thing these days,I definitely think that businesses should take advantage and use this media but they should also try to manage it and control it because, like the Domino’s fiasco, it can go out of control in a hurry. When you say that this is the perfect time to be in the communications business it’s comforting because we need to know that we have a chance to succeed at what we’ve been working for and from what we’ve studied for the last four years.

  2. Susan says:

    Great piece, Mark, I want to respond to Sabrina’s comment. Sabrina, don’t be scared. PR courses weren’t offered until my junior year, when business began to say, “hmmm…maybe this thing adds some value”. (This was in the late 1980s-early 1990s). When I went to grad school, there was not a PR degree, rather the university offered a “Masters of Mass Communications” degree. This program offered courses in each of the traditional mediums (tv, radio, newspaper, magazines and statistics). I think you are fortunate in that you are coming in at a time where you don’t learn one thing but have to practice another. One last thing – people still ask for a definition of PR and it is still hard to come up with a defining answer.

  3. Mark Rose says:

    PR definition?

    Public Relations is defined as the management function which evaluates public attitudes, identifies the policies and procedures of an individual or an organization with the public interest, and plans, executes and evaluates a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance.

  4. 40deuce says:

    I think that this was a great post Mark. I actually just finished getting a post-graduate certificate in corporate communication and PR up in Toronto and I’m also a strong believer that social media is the future of PR.
    In my specific school we were taught nothing about doing PR online, although they will start to next year. I took it upon myself this past year to learn and get involved in social media because I could see for myself that it would be the future.
    I think that agencies and companies are starting to see that social media has become a huge entity, they just don’t know what to do about it. I think that people like me who are coming out of these PR schools and who are more involved in social media will be the people who are most in demand in the very near future.

    As for Sabrina’s comment, it’s true that you can’t have control over everything in social media, but if you use it to build the right kind of a reputation and relationship then people will hopefully also remember you for the positive things which should help in fixing negative things.

  5. Bekah Garr says:

    Mark, this post was helpful for a PR student who will be graduating in the next year. You are right that PR is constantly changing and social media plays a huge role in that. News distribution and news creation are directly related, and I liked how you put those together on that slide to help illustrate that. I think that it is important for people just starting in PR to realize what an impact social networking has and that PR should be the media and changing with it. Writing is essential to PR and starting off in the industry, we need to realize that we will still be writing a lot, but a lot of it will be digital as well. I agree with you that it is an exciting time to be in the communications field and thanks for the knowledge of how PR and media go together.

  6. Cato Gustavson says:

    The only problem for us graduates in this job environment is to actually get the foot in the door, especially if you are graduating in the North East such as I am. Not many agencies here are aware of the value an intern can do for their PR-team, especially individuals who are growing up with social media as an extension of themselves. We are the vanguard in this new environment, and I hope agencies will catch on to us and not be afraid of the measly 13.000 pounds p.a it costs to have a fully paid intern up there.

  7. Katice Harris says:

    Even though this is a year later that I am reading this article, I still think it is relevant. I just graduated in june and I am still trying to find my place in the communications world. Where do I start and what can I do in the mean time? This article was a great eye-opener for me because I realize that I have the control as a pr professional to make my on way. I just have to find my niche. I am a journalist first which will help me find the contacts I need to get started. I am an alumni of PRSSA at CSU East Bay and I have to say that being apart of that organizations helps with mentorships. Thanks for a wonderful article.


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