A public relations officer (or media spokesperson or press officer) is a communications professional whose task is to communicate about the functions of the organisation, cause or the individual they are representing.
Public relations officers are often employed in companies and associations, but events like festivals and popular figures like politicians or celebrities can also have their own public relations officers.
A public relations officer has a dual role. On one hand, they convey the message of their institution, explain its programmes, illustrate its achievements, respond to critics and correct misinformation. On the other hand, they provide the media with needed information and communicate journalists’ and stakeholders’ needs to their institution, thus encouraging cooperation.
The most common tasks for a public relations officer may include writing press releases and articles, organising press conferences, editing customer and personnel magazines, annual reports, flyers and other printed products or communications material and online communications. They may, for example, write speeches or statements for the represented organisation’s CEO, politician or expert. Public relations officers may also call journalists and try to convince them to participate in press conferences or to make news about the party or person they represent.
A public relations officer is not supposed to be independent in relation to the party they represent.
Whereas public relations officers need journalists to reach out to large audiences, maintaining good connections to public relations officers is also important for journalists. Firstly, interviews are often agreed via public relations personnel. Secondly, press releases or even private calls from communication personnel are important information sources from which journalists can pick some potential topics for their articles.
A public relation officer’s job description can be very similar to a journalist’s, but can also be completely different. The values and ethical guidelines that steer the work of journalists do not, however, in principle bind public relations officers in the same way as they do journalists. A public relations officer is not supposed to be independent in relation to the party they represent. This is good to keep in mind when encountering, for example, press releases or articles on a company’s magazine: they may seem very professional and neutral, but they may or may not be impartial and objective.
Many journalists who have been laid off from their news work have moved to “the other side of the fence”, and started work in public relations.
Nevertheless, the job descriptions of a journalist and a public relations officer have, in recent years, moved closer to one another as a result of the ongoing change in media. Whereas many media outlets struggle to find new methods of funding in the digital era, the tasks in public relations and the amounts of funds allocated to it have prospered substantially with the increase in the use of social media as platforms for publishing, mobilisation, funded advertising and networking. In consequence, many journalists who have been laid off from their news work have moved to “the other side of the fence”, and started work in public relations.
Qualities of a good press release
A good press release:
- Is easy to read and written in clear language
- Contains editable quotations and concrete facts, which help the work of a journalist taking up the case.
- Contains contact information for requesting further information and guidance to the other possible locations where more information is available.