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Public Relations Major

Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics. At its core, public relations is about influencing, engaging and building a relationship with key stakeholders across a myriad of platforms in order to shape and frame the public perception of an organization.

There are many opportunities to get involved and gain real-world experience while in the UofM PR program. PR students hold internships at local organizations like St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and FedEx, while others work at agencies like Archer Malmo, inferno and Obsidian PR. Students may also choose to become involved in the Public Relations Student Society of America or Meeman 901 Strategies, the student-run strategic communication firm, to network and develop relationships with industry professionals.

As a management function, public relations encompasses the following*:

  • Anticipating, analyzing and interpreting public opinion, attitudes and issues that might impact the operations and plans of the organization.
  • Counseling management at all levels of the organization with regard to policy decisions, courses of action and communication, taking into account their public ramifications and the organization's social or citizenship responsibilities.
  • Protecting the reputation of an organization.
  • Researching, conducting and evaluating, on a continuing basis, programs of action and communication to achieve the informed public understanding necessary to the success of an organization's aims. These may include marketing; financial; fundraising; employee, community or government relations; and other programs.
  • Planning and implementing the organization's efforts to influence or change public policy.
  • Setting objectives, planning, budgeting, recruiting and training staff, developing facilities — managing the resources needed to perform all of the above.
  • Overseeing the creation of content to drive customer engagement and generate leads.

PR students at the UofM study all aspects of the industry, including brand journalism, content marketing, corporate and executive communications, crisis communications, event promotion, influencer marketing, internal communications, media relations, reputation management, social media management and more.

Careers in PR include those on the promotional and protective side. On the promotional side of PR, your main job is to convince the media to write a positive story about your client or organization through press releases, story pitches, press conferences, and events. You can also manage your online and local community relations, handle investor relations and even be your brand's spokesperson. The protective side of PR is concerned with helping your client or organization maintain their public reputation or defend it during a crisis. Here are some roles you can pursue on either side**:

Promotional Public Relations

  • Content Creation: The content creation team usually crafts positive stories about their brand that the media relations team pitches to journalists. These stories can also pique journalists' interest on their own, like a press release about a major company merger. A member of this team writes press materials, bylined articles for news outlets, and can even make brand awareness videos.
  • Media Relations: The media relations team develop and maintain relationships with journalists, so they can pitch stories to them and seek out interview opportunities for their client or organization. They also track all their press, social, and blog placements and measure and report their PR campaign's effectiveness.
  • Social Media Management: The social media community team tracks and manages their company or client's image on social media. They use social listening tools to gauge the company's public reputation, and to bolster it, they interact with their social media following, make company announcements on social media, and find social media influencers to promote their brand.
  • Community Relations: The community relations team makes sure their company or client lives up to their social responsibility potential. They do this by finding ways to associate their company or client with positive community events, like sponsoring an event, donating money to an organization, or working a philanthropy event. The brand's impact on the community gives journalists positive stories to write, which increases their number of press placements and strengthens their public reputation.
  • Financial and Investor Relations: At public companies, the financial communications team forges relationships with analysts and investors to improve their financial reputation. They do this by fielding all analyst, media, and investor inquiries at shareholder meetings, press conferences, and private meetings. They also write earnings reports and the investor section on their website.
  • Spokesperson: A spokesperson is the face of their company's brand. They speak to the general public on behalf of their company during press conferences, make television and radio appearances, and respond to any criticism the company might face.

Protective Public Relations

  • Reputation Management: The reputation management team gauges their company or client's public reputation by monitoring brand sentiment on social media, review sites, their ratings and reviews section on Facebook, their own online communities, and the news. This information helps them identify any complaints about their brand and quickly address them through social media and other communication channels online.
  • Crisis Management: The crisis management team help clients, or their own company, deal with major catastrophes caused by human error, intervention, or even malicious intent. They mitigate the damage by releasing statements that take responsibility for the issue, crafting company-wide responses to backlash, and spreading awareness for their plan to solve their problems through paid, earned, and owned marketing channels. They also appoint an official spokesperson to respond to any criticism on behalf of their brand at press conferences and interviews.

Students in our online PR degree learn the same essentials as their on-campus counterparts. To learn more about our PR program, you can contact Dr. Melissa Janoske McLean at mljnoske@memphis.edu for information on the on-campus PR degree, and professor Kim Marks Malone, APR at ksmarks@memphis.edu for information on the online PR degree.

*These statements were adapted from the Public Relations Society of America.

**These statements were adapted from the HubSpot PR Career Guide.