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Starting a Career in Media Relations

As a communications professional for more than 28 years, I have served several times as a media relations representative - as communications director for a health care service, as a public relations firm account manager, as media relations specialist for a political party and as a campaign manager for a city council candidate. For an aspiring media relations specialist, education is key, but the education needs to be well-rounded. My experience has taught me that prospective employers want someone with at least a bachelor's degree in journalism/public relations or in a related field, but they also want a worldly individual with a wide base of knowledge to bring to the table. A degree in communication or English can be just as effective in providing general education to a prospective media relations specialist.

In interviewing with a prospective employer, a candidate for a job in media relations should make clear that he or she understands working on time and monetary budgets. In the media relations industry, account management is budget management. A college student hoping to enter media relations should have some experience in handling time and money on a budget, which will impress job interviewers.

Media relations specialists must have strong writing skill. A prospective media relations specialist should have a portfolio to show a prospective employer. It is very important that these writing samples include news releases written in the standard news release styles. Additionally, one should master Associated Press style, since most print media use it and news releases are more likely to be published unedited if written in it.

Additionally, media relations specialists need to be effective in pitching news stories to journalists and should be skilled in speaking on the telephone to them - which is often intimidating and requires assertiveness. Any opportunity to demonstrate assertive telephone skill is crucial. I suggest working in a job involving telephone sales.

Strong public speaking ability is also vitally important. Courses in public speaking should be included in a future media relations specialist's education plans.

Furthermore, I strongly believe prospective media relations specialists should know how to send news releases via the industry-standard distribution services such as Businesswire.com and PRNewswire.com. These services are so frequently used in the industry that any new hire needs to be able to do use them without first asking how to do so. Shockingly, I find the use of distribution services is rarely taught in colleges. I highly recommend going to the respective Web sites and studying their use.

Additionally, I urge everyone considering a career in media relations to learn about editorial calendars and how to use them. Editorial calendars are used by most serials to plan months in advance what topics to cover in their publications. Media relations specialists routinely peruse these calendars and develop publicity campaigns with them in mind.

Surprisingly, I find that many students graduate from college with degrees in journalism/public relations having never heard of editorial calendars. Prospective media relations specialists leaving college, who can demonstrate an understanding of their importance and use, will be way ahead of others competing for the same job. Use a search engine on the term "editorial calendar" and study the calendars of major publications.

Speaking of major publications - read them! I'm always surprised to see newly hired media relations specialists unfamiliar with the news media. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of reading local and national publications and in watching the major television news stations. Reading and watching these media outlets will give one insight into the nuances of how the media reports news. It's rather hard to be a specialist on the media when one is not familiar with the media.

A career in media relations can be a rewarding one. With the right skills and knowledge, one can compete in the job market and win.