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The Future of Public Relations

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The future of public relations, the fine art of persuasive communication, is virtually unlimited. Considering the fact that 50 years ago this was an art of which no one had heard, the field has come a long way.

The nature and purpose of public relations may still be a bit misunderstood, but most well-informed people anywhere are surely aware of the profession's existence. Rest assured, PR is here to stay.

It's one of the fastest growing fields in the world. Virtually no one is untouched by the art of the PR professional - from businessperson to corporate executive to politician.

Over and over again we have used the word communication. As man's ability to communicate via the written word, satellite or television expands, more and more we are going to be bombarded with corporate messages designed to heighten our perceptions of a particular company, policy or country.

Therefore, more and more people are going to be hired to work in this field. It's glamorous. It's exciting. It pays well. It is plainly going to attract a lot of people with a lot of talent. What's also plain is that the competition for such jobs is going to get tougher and tougher.

That's because the entire art of communication demands highly skilled people, no matter how they start out.

One of the things to keep in mind is the reality of this business. Yes, you have to be smart. Yes, you have to be able to communicate on many different levels. Yes, you have to be something of a salesperson, something of an orator.

It's a field that demands specific communication skills. It doesn't really matter how you acquire them - at a college or on a newspaper - but acquire them you must.

No one who's worked for any length of time in this business would quarrel with the notion that there's still a lot of room for improvement, a lot of areas in which the pros who practice this art -and it is an art - could do better. Here are a few examples:

1. Getting employers to understand. Everyone in business, as well as in many other areas, has begun to realize in recent years the importance of employing skilled communicators. But there are limitations to what PR can accomplish.

Getting your message across properly can take time. You can't leave such a program for the last minute. Sometimes you'll use the written word. Other times you'll use everything from film strips to public lectures or TV appearances. Convincing corporations of the complexities of mass communications, the need for mass communications and the limitations of mass communications constitutes a PR job in itself.

2. Improved understanding of the world around us. Public relations people must develop a better understanding of why people think the way they do. If they don't, they're going to have major problems in getting their messages across.

3. Education. There is still a great deal of disagreement about the value of a public relations curriculum in college. Hundreds of schools teach courses in what they are fond of calling ''communications." Sometimes they use the more straightforward words, ''public relations." But what, ask the doubters, are they really teaching? Of what, if any, value is it?

Perhaps the quality of the PR education could use some examination and some improvement. Slowly but surely, that's what is happening.

4. Global contacts. This is an international business, which comprises travel and relationships with people in other countries. It no longer is a uniquely American endeavor.

Ours is a world of almost instant communications and multinational corporations that buy and sell their goods in dozens of different nations. This is something that the public relations person of the future is going to have to learn to adjust to.

5. Ethics. It's odd that a profession devoted to creating an image for a person, place, thing, company or country should have an image problem itself. If you say PR to a lot of people, they'll smile at you in a rather deprecating manner. They'll put it down. That is going to have to change if this industry is to continue to grow. Those who practice it in the future are going to have to develop a greater sense of conscience. If they don't, the public will not accept the messages PR workers are paid to put across. In essence, the public relations industry is really going to have to sell itself. It is going to have to use PR to sell PR to the American public.

6. PR and government. In this area the responsibility is almost staggering. Public relations in Government, be it local, statewide, federal or international, is potentially an instrument of vast power. That power is going to increase. It cannot be disguised, nor can its abuse be excused.

Information is one thing. Distortion is another. Therefore the question of ethics is going to arise again and again. Here, perhaps, is a role especially suited to colleges and universities - pioneering the exploration of ethical issues.

The tremendous growth of big business and the vast changes in the communications process over the last two or three decades aloneis going to affect anyone contemplating a career in public relations. You communicate a lot differently today than you did 30 years ago. Your methods of communication are different. So are your abilities to communicate.

But the principles aren't going to change. You are always going to have to attract people's attention and hold it. To do that, you're going to have to use different methods. Radio and newspapers may help you achieve that. But they won't be enough.

You're going to have to master the electronic media, because that's going to be the quickest and most efficient way to get your message across. Perhaps communications wouldn't be a bad major in college, after all.

One other thing that maybe you should keep in mind: Salaries are bound to go up. People who are paid $20,000, $30,000 and $40,000 nowadays will be paid twice as much in the future. They'd better have twice the skills, because they'll need them. They'll need them whether they're communicating internally or externally.

While public relations is still a very young field, relatively speaking, the operative words, the key words, remain the same. They are: influence, persuasion, convince, and attention. We're not saying that if they are all paid attention to that success will automatically follow. But it sure can't hurt!
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