Advice From the Pros

What Does a Publicist Do?

Writing is an essential skill for this popular role

You’re a strategic thinker, problem solver and, like, the best writer ever. If you’re not a publicist, you should be. Not convinced? Maybe a couple of public relations experts can convince you. Check out what they have to say about the job. You’ll be applying for publicists gigs in no time.

What exactly does a publicist do?

At the most basic level, publicists communicate a business or brand’s messages to the consumers they hope to reach, impact and influence, says Sakita Holley, CEO of House of Success PR. “So the primary function of the role is to work with the brand to decide what those messages will be, how they will be delivered, who will deliver them (and on what platform), and how to engage and maintain a conversation with this target group of people and/or the market.”

A publicist generates and manages publicity for public figures, businesses, films, movies and the like. There is a lot of writing involved: press releases, press kit materials, speeches, media alerts, bios and social media content—you didn’t think your favorite celebs wrote all their own tweets, did you? A publicist also stays busy managing the public image of clients and setting up publicity events such as book signings. Other responsibilities include pitching clients to journalists and influencers, arranging interviews and press conferences, managing crises, developing media lists, and tracking media coverage.

So inquiring minds want to know: Is all publicity good publicity?

No, says Holley. But you can definitely spin a negative story into something positive.

What skills does a publicist need?

“Writing has always been a core part of public relations, but with the proliferation of technology and social media, publicists [now] spend more than 90 percent of their time writing and/or crafting copy for everything from emails, proposals and pitches, to tweets, social media captions and marketing materials,” says Holley. If you want to succeed in this field, you have to write well.

You also need attention to detail, says Jessica Janik, owner of wedding public relations agency, The Invisible Bridesmaid. A wrong number or address, for example, can be a big deal. Could you imagine sending out a press release with the wrong contact number or an invite with the wrong address? Yikes!

You also need problem-solving skills to manage and avert crises and experience in public relations software such as Cision to help enhance public relations campaigns.

What does it take to excel in this position?

“Being confident while speaking in front of a large group of people is so important,” says Janik, who recommends joining Toastmasters to sharpen your skills. Articulating your thoughts and your client’s story in front of an audience, your coworkers and the media will open many doors, she says.

How can I break into this field?

A degree in public relations or journalism is good stuff, but experience is more important than your major. “The best route is applying for an internship at a public relations firm in the field you are interested in,” advises Janik. “If it’s fashion, look for a designer you would like to work with or for the public relations agency that reps different brands/companies you admire, and apply.”


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