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What does a Publicist do?

A publicist helps craft statements that are prominent in today’s print, broadcast, and online press headlines such as the following:

  • “Senator Jones has issued a statement denying allegations…”
  • “Yosemite National Park announced closure to the public due to wildfires…”
  • “Today a spokesman for the AFL/CIO revealed a new contract proposal…”
  • “McDonald’s details plans for eliminating trans-fats…”

Of course politicians, national parks, unions and companies usually do not speak directly to the public. Instead, their news is carefully crafted by publicists employed to write what the various entities want the press and public to know.

Such writing permits careful choice of wording without the possible errors of extemporaneous speech. Writings are often slanted to sway the reader or listener’s opinion, or to build interest and excitement about personalities, products, services, and events. “Publicity director,” “media specialist,” “press secretary” and “public relations specialists (P.R.)” are other terms for a publicist.


P.R. specialists work in both staff and freelance positions. The work is often pressured, with tight, ongoing deadlines. It is also creative and can be exciting.

Training for publicists

To become a publicist, it usually helps to have a public relations specialty within mass communications. Many traditional colleges and universities offer bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD degrees in public relations, journalism, or mass communications. Online degrees are also available.

If you have a particular field in mind–art, business, computer science, education, environmental law, health, entertainment, or political science–completing a major in public relations and a minor or double major related to your field of choice can create a competitive edge. A liberal arts minor and classes in sociology and psychology are also desirable. Most likely, you will complete an internship, working in your chosen field for college credit, for at least one semester.

Coursework can include both general and P.R. writing, journalism, photography and image editing, and studying the inside workings of new and traditional news technologies. Upper division courses may involve semester-long mock publicity campaigns. Business and economics courses help you understand the financial world of your future clients as well as managing your own freelance P.R. business.

You may start out researching files and issues for a Congresswoman and end up as a professional lobbyist for a green energy coalition. You may start out writing freelance personality profiles for magazines and end up as the spokesperson for a major jazz star. You may start out setting up press conferences and end up as an account executive, writing speeches and major press releases.

Better-paying jobs are likely to be in major urban or political centers.

Publicists’ career and salary possibilities

Jobs in the P.R. field were projected to grow 24%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.) Competition for jobs will be keen.

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