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Getting Started in a Public Relations Department

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What a novice does upon joining the staff of a public relations department or a counseling organization depends on his or her aptitudes, skills, and knowledge and, of course, on the needs of the organization. The novice may do research in interviews or at the library, may study reports and abstract them, or do other chores. Some of this day-to-day detail work will be drudgery, but that is the way to learn.

Work may be on a segment so small that it will be difficult for the novice to encompass the whole. A telephone appointment made for an executive may carry no meaningful application. Neither will filing a letter. But a person must undergo such training before playing a part in exciting decision-making. One learns to walk before running.

Avoid Snap Judgments

A newcomer to public relations should withhold judgment of the organization he is working with until he can make his judgment on the basis of experience. It takes time to appraise accurately.

Personal Public Relations

If sound public relations is important to the survival and growth of organizations, it is equally so to the individual public relations practitioner. Everyone should practice personal public relations.

Appearance plays a role. The first impression made on the eyes conditions the attitude of the beholder.

A person who does his or her own public relations should be aware of the publics that are of concern. First, of course, are the employers, then the persons and groups with whom contacts are made and colleagues in the field.

Starting Out for Yourself

Some people who enter a public relations career want to become independent consultants. When should they strike out for themselves?

It is wisest to go through a learning process with someone else. If your ambition and plan is to become an independent consultant, serve an apprenticeship with a public relations counseling firm or in a public relations department in the field of your choice, preferably the former.

You learn from the experience of others. Such matters as dealing with clients can be absorbed through observation. You should also during this period establish a name for yourself and a reputation. You will be sought after by those who have heard of your work, and prospective clients will be more easily convinced of your capacity if you have a record of performance.

How Much Capital Do You Need?

Very little capital is required, principally for office space, furniture, and expenses for telephones and other office appurtenances. You don't actually need an office. You can, if you wish, serve your clients from your home. Your knowledge of public relations gained in your previous position and from study and reading is your stock in trade. But if you fail to get a client immediately you may need a cash reserve to withstand some months of little or no income.

Dealing with First Clients

Be sure not to oversell what you can do for a prospective client. Otherwise he may be disappointed and you may lose him.

Many clients have no yardstick for judging your services. They may judge you by unrealistic expectations. After you are established and have earned a reputation for integrity, they will accept you and what you say you can do for them at your valuation.


When we started, my wife and I had no precedent on which to base fees. No books on public relations existed, and there were no professional associations or publications.

I naturally wanted to earn as much as I could when I was a publicity man for the theatrical producers Klaw and Erlanger in the middle 1910's. When I asked that for services from one of our first commercial clients, a radium luminous materials company, I was offered $15 a week and I accepted. A year later I hit on the idea that we should be reimbursed for services as were lawyers. Our efforts demanded knowledge, skills, and insight. They often brought results as potent as a lawyer's efforts for a client. With that in mind we based our fee on a yearly service charge. In the early 1920's, as a result of this policy change, we received from $12,000 to $25,000 a year for services, depending on the intensity and extent of our activity, its value to the clients, and the time and effort of our personnel. After several years we recognized that it was sounder practice to charge for out-of-pocket expenses on the basis of previous authorization by the client. We then received our service fee plus expenses authorized by the client. This procedure set a pattern that public relations has adopted as standard practice.

Choosing a Counsel on Public Relations

Today it is difficult for a prospective client to find the individual counsel or organization best suited to advise his enterprise. Most clients come by recommendation from a former client, from favorable public visibility the prospective counsel has received, or from friends, acquaintances, or other contacts.

A knowledgeable prospective client or employer can get in touch with the local public relations association or the special-ized one and ask their help in finding candidates for the position.

The prospective practitioners are then interviewed by the client. He outlines his problem and needs and asks for a year's proposal (or whatever the term under consideration may be) for the fee for services and the contemplated expenses. The prospective adviser predicates the fee on several criteria, pri-marily on the amount of time the firm will have to spend on the client. The fee will be related to the earning power of the firm and, of course, the absorption of ordinary office overhead such as rent, insurance, and telephone.

The practitioner estimates in advance the contemplated out-of-pocket expenses, such as outlays for mailing, printing, travel, research, and long-distance telephone. Payment is made on presentation of vouchers that have been authorized in advance.

Books and a Library

Books are the storehouse of human knowledge. The prospective public relations practitioner should realize this and profit from some of the 15,000 items that have been published on the profession in the past 50 years.

Young practitioners often have a tendency to think they are Columbus or Magellan, discovering the field by themselves. Rather they should lean on the relevant literature and begin their discovery and exploration where others have left off.

The prospective practitioner would do well to invest in a library of public relations to help him in his work. The library should contain books on the theory and practice of public relations and volumes on the social sciences on which the practitioner can depend for help in the solution of problems. In a separate section should be important directories and compendia that will help him in his activity.
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