What to Study - What You Will Make

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Dr. Ray E. Hiebert runs a company called Communication Research Associates, Inc., in College Park, Maryland. He is also a professor of journalism who splits his time between teaching and running his research and consulting firm.

He was the advisory editor of two books, Organizational Communications and Informing the People, wrote several books in the field of mass communications and teaches in the University of Maryland's public relations program. According to Hiebert, the four-year PR curriculum is not exactly what you might expect.

Much of it is literally grafted to a journalism program. "In the first two years, the program is 75 percent liberal arts. The people we get study things like science, math, political science, sociology, psychology, economics, statistics, history, literature and journalism," he says.

In the third and fourth year at Maryland, which offers a PR curriculum that is fairly standard, courses include such features as an introduction to mass communications, writing for the mass media, news reporting and editing, and the principles of public relations. The Maryland school uses a case-problem system to teach such concepts as the historical role of public relations and how, through the years, public opinion has been shaped by the mass media.

One of the courses, generally given in the third year, includes instruction in public relations techniques such as how to write press releases and write for house organs or internal corporate magazines. There are lessons in how to stage events like press parties and other promotional campaigns. The students also learn about the sometimes bewildering world of press relations and the far more intricate subject of employee relations.

"At the start of their third year, the students have to choose one of four courses - photography, the laws of mass communications, broadcasting or advertising," Dr. Hiebert says.

"Basically, what we're trying to produce here are good writers and editors. A lot of people think that this is a glamor industry where everyone spends three-hour, three-martini lunches with the client. But that's not true. It's a lot of hard work that often doesn't get enough respect.

"One of the troubles with public relations is that there are too many people in it who just don't know their subject. You have to know what it is you're trying to put across before you can put it across," Dr. Hiebert says.

One way to do that is to encourage internships which involve the Maryland students in on-the-job training with radio and TV stations or with functioning public relations firms.

"We've had summer interns working not only in the Baltimore and Washington area but in New York, Philadelphia, Oklahoma and even an English-language radio station in Korea," says Dr. Hiebert.

"Public relation is still a very attractive field. It draws a lot of people who go into dozens of different areas of the field." Dr. Hiebert says that most of the Maryland graduates go into such areas as government and politics, trade associations, corporations, counseling firms and schools, hospitals and religious organizations. The last three, he says, have recently become quite popular with people seeking entry-level jobs.

It's not easy to make it to the top, he says. Even someone with a four-year bachelor's degree from a school like Maryland will start out writing employee newsletters for a big company, churning out press releases or writing for a company magazine.

What's the competition like? It's tough. Very tough, because, as Dr. Hiebert says, 'There are an awful lot of people going into public relations today. If you stick it out, you can do very well. Today, students are much more job-oriented than they used to be. They're much more concerned with where they're going to be ten years down the road."

The normal way to the top is to graduate from writing press releases to running an internal communications organ or information service, handling your own account or branching out into business for yourself.

The pay can vary widely. Dr. Hiebert notes that his graduates generally start at between $12,000 and $15,000, although some have been known to command salaries in the $18,000 to $20,000 range. Sometimes that's a matter of luck, but more often it's a matter of one's ability to master the skills of communication. Nothing comes very easily in this highly competitive field where salaries, from top to bottom, can fluctuate wildly.

Salary Ranges

It's in the salary area that public relations becomes fascinating. According to published figures from Marshall Consultants in New York City, a person holding the title of vice-president or director of public relations in corporate communications, corporate relations or public affairs will pull down somewhere between $80,000 and $150,000.

In the $50,000 to $125,000 range are such staff jobs as government relations, investor relations, press relations, editorial services, consumer affairs,international affairs,community affairs, employee relations, and issues management or division public relations director.

The picture isn't exactly bad in the public relations counseling firms where the principal officer could make from $100,000 to $200,000 and more, an executive vice-president or senior vice-president between $75,000 and $150,000, and a group vice-president or manager roughly $50,000 to $100,000.

The figures above have to do, of course, with people who have had sufficient luck, skill and experience to reach the top level of the profession.

The PR Reporter in Exeter, New Hampshire, breaks down the median salaries of top level PR practitioners according to the type of organization for which they work.

In public relations firms the median is $45,000; in advertising agencies it's $36,500; in other consulting firms, $38,000; in banks, $34,000; insurance companies, $29,500; consumer product companies, $37,500; industrial firms, $36,000; conglomerates, $42,000; transportation, $33,800; utilities, $36,500; hospitals, $23,650; educational facilities, $27,700; trade or professional associations, $36,000; and government, $29,000.

You should know that these figures can vary widely from one part of the country to another. They're highest in the Northeast, where the median salary is $38,000, and the lowest in the West, where that figure drops to $24,500.

In the North Central states the median pay is $32,000, and in the South the figure is $31,500.

A Woman's World?

More than one witty soul has called public relations the ''Velvet Ghetto," an allusion to the fact that this presumably glamorous field has recently attracted more and more women. Many of them have made it to the corporate top and earn big money.

Experts cite the fact that in the last four years more than one half of the college students studying public relations have been women. Extending this figure, many such experts feel that the business may well be predominantly female by the end of the century.

This turn of events, they say, could be the result of affirmative action programs. More likely it has to do with the purchasing power of today's women and their role as consumers. After all, if you're trying to project a sound corporate image to the public, you're going to have to impress the female half of the country. Perhaps that's the real reason that more than 25 percent of the members of the Public Relations Society are women.

Despite the strides women have made in this field in recent years, they still do not really do as well financially as men. Women in public relations - with the same experience and doing the same kinds of jobs as men - are not equally rewarded, according to a survey of the International Association of Business Communicators. The survey cited this example:

If you're a man editing an in-house company magazine or newspaper and have a bachelor's degree, some newspaper experience and two years in your new PR job, you'll probably make a little over $18,084. If you're a woman with exactly the same credentials, you'll only make about $14,300, according to the survey. Want another example? Consider this: Women in the business average $18,733 a year. Men average $26,803. That's bad enough, but, according to the lABC survey, the gap appears to be growing: Men have increased their PR salaries by about 5 percent more than women in the past five years.

Nonetheless, some women do strike it rich in public relations. Many of them have made it to the lofty $100,000 plateau, a figure that usually includes incentive bonuses, profit sharing and pension plans.

So will men, for that matter. This is a rapidly growing field and anyone entering it will find that out soon enough. The only direction in which to go is up.
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