What You Need to Become a Publicist or Public Relations Specialist.

Ever wonder what it takes to become a publicist? Almost every time you hear a story about a celebrity there is invariably a mention of his or her publicist. Of course, it is not just Britney Spears and Mel Gibson who find themselves in need of a publicist, also called a public relations specialist. PR guys work for everybody from politicians to charities, from hospitals to schools. Essentially, regardless of who he works for, the publicist’s job is make sure a positive relationship exists between the public and the entity that pays him. Today’s publicist really can’t afford to be merely a PR specialist. In the past, the PR guy-think Tony Curtis in the movie Sweet Smell of Success-was a glad-handing salesman whose job was to get his client mentioned in the press for things that went well and out of the newspaper for things that went badly. The publicist today must know how to juggle the press, coordinate events, manage staff, and even oversee multimedia presentations.

There is no surefire ticket to becoming a publicist, or even becoming a successful one. What a beer company needs from a publicist is significantly different from what a toy company needs. Although all public relations specialists have to possess certain qualities, the specifics vary from employer to employer. The main job of a publicist is to, obviously, get good publicity and control bad publicity. You may be called upon to track down reporters one day and fend them off the next. One way to look at being a publicist is to view it terms of being a metaphorical bodyguard. You won’t be required to actually take a bullet for your boss-at least let’s hope not-but when the publicity is bad and your job becomes that of controlling damage you can expect to be thrown to the dogs with the expectation that you’ve got the skills to defuse the situation.

What kind of background should a publicist have? Hundreds of colleges across the country already offer degrees in public relations or media communications. If you are planning on going into the PR field and your college doesn’t offer an actual degree program for public relations, the next best thing is journalism. Advertising may seem a good choice as well, but the fact is you won’t be advertising your client so much as selling the advertising. A few marketing courses could help, but having a background in how the media works is even better. As a PR man you will probably be expected to write press releases and deal with reporters so understanding the business from the inside is a golden attribute. A good publicist must have an understanding of the machinery of how private information becomes public news. Personality-wise, you must be able to project confidence and credibility. A publicist who is neither confident about what he’s saying nor believable is doomed; just ask Ari Fleischer, or any press secretary who has worked for George W. Bush. You will also be expected to be a team player. There is simply no room for an individualist on the PR team.

As for what you can expect to make as a publicist, that is entirely dependent on your boss. The publicists of some celebrities bring home millions. A more likely figure is somewhere between $50,000 and $200,000 a year depending on experience and the size of your boss.


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