What Does a Publicist Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image by Theresa Chiechi © The Balance 2019

Publicists are hired to get press coverage for their clients. They are the media world’s version of cheerleaders, to some extent, and it's their job to get journalists to write about their client.

Publicists, also know as press agents, get the press to write about their clients by issuing press releases. These general announcements are sent out en masse to the press to alert them of news and, hopefully, generate stories. Publicists usually write these press releases to make announcements about new initiatives and business developments the client or their company is involved in.

A combination of creative and corporate work, publicity can be ideal for those who have a flair for writing but might not want to put up with the low salaries and fierce competition typical for journalism jobs.

To take a peek into a publicist's day, say you’re a publicist who works at Random House, and you’re trying to promote a book for a client. You may need to hand-deliver possible stories about the book to journalists. To do so, you need to understand what kinds of publications might be interested in certain stories.

Is there something interesting about the author that might make for a good story? You need to think about the book’s subject matter. If it’s a debut novel about a family in crisis, stories about it might work better in women’s magazines. If the book’s about running, and you’re trying to publicize it, you should be talking to the editors at Runner's World. And so on, and so forth.

Publicist Duties & Responsibilities

As part of their day's regular duties and tasks, a publicist may perform some or all of the following:

  • Create and execute publicity plans for clients
  • Write press releases, which are generalized announcements
  • Cultivate relationships with journalists in order to place stories with them; good publicists understand the inner-workings of the media so they can recognize the stories that certain journalists want to write about
  • Discern which stories are obvious and don’t require much in the way of publicity
  • Pitch new stories to media
  • Arrange and flesh out talking points for press visits, interviews, appointments, and press conferences
  • Create and edit press releases, media alerts, and press kit materials
  • Build and maintain relationships with various media outlets

Publicist Salary

A publicist's salary varies based on the area of expertise, level of experience, education, certifications, and other factors. The salary range below does not necessarily represent the potentially much larger salaries of publicists who work with celebrity clients.

  • Median Annual Salary: $45,000 ($21.63 /hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $65,000 ($31.25/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $30,000 ($14.42/hour)

Source: Payscale.com, 2019

Education, Training & Certification

The publicist position involves fulfilling education and training requirements as follows:

  • Education: There’s no set degree required for a job in publicity. However, since the job requires a good deal of writing, it’s helpful to be proficient in this area. Most publicists do hold an undergraduate degree, and relevant majors include advertising, marketing, public relations, journalism, and communications. A college degree can also give you access to internships at local PR firms or at record labels that have PR departments.
  • Experience: Working as an intern for a publicist or serving as a publicist assistant can give you valuable experience and help you land a publicist job.

    Publicist Skills & Competencies

    In addition to education and other requirements, candidates that possess the following skills may be able to perform more successfully in the job:

    • Good attitude: Attitude is important, and a publicist’s job is to make whatever product they’re working on sound very interesting. If you don’t like to talk up things you have no interest in, this may not be the job for you.
    • Interpersonal skills: It's important to be able to communicate and network successfully with a variety of people.
    • Writing skills: You must be a good writer to produce professional publicity releases and other materials. Many publicists develop and write their own press kits, so strong grammar and writing skills are essential.
    • Calm, cool demeanor: You must be able to keep a great deal of information in your head, remain cool under pressure, and never, ever be starstruck around celebrity clients.

    Job Outlook

    Publicity is a broad field, which means that you can work for virtually any type of company. Non-profit organizations, movie studios, book publishers, and Fortune 500 companies all have publicists, which means there’s plenty of job opportunities in all sorts of fields.

    Work Environment

    Since publicity work takes place in a variety of companies, you could work in the book publishing field as part of a team of publicists that work on promoting individual books, or in various other industries.

    You may find work in a corporation, to promote the company and its image, or to promote its products. Publicists also work in the movie industry to help promote a studio's latest films.

    Publicists work with many different parties, including book editors, music critics, music journalists, radio DJs, TV producers, personal managers, recording artists, booking agents, and record label representatives.

    Work Schedule

    Although the majority of publicists hold regular office hours, they must be available to their clients when needed. This could mean doing last-minute project work on nights or weekends. With smartphones, clients know you’re reachable, and it’s up to you to set your own boundaries.

    How to Get the Job

    INTERN

    The majority of publicists start their careers as Interns or publicity assistants before finding a job as a full-fledged publicist. An internship will give you valuable experience and job history. Alternatively, you can contact organizations such as local record labels or other music businesses and volunteer to write press releases for them.

    Your next move towards a publicist job could involve getting hired by a more prestigious firm, or working with well-known clients. You could also open your own PR firm, or look for a job as a Publicity Director.


    NETWORK

    To help land a job, aspiring publicists must have a well-written portfolio to highlight press materials they've created and can share while networking. Additionally, some colleges and universities have PR-related clubs or student PR associations that can provide valuable networking opportunities.

    You can also join a professional association such as The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), which is one of the biggest professional associations for PR professionals in the US. Work to get your name out there, and attend as many relevant events as you can.

    Comparing Similar Jobs

    People interested in a publicist career also consider the following career paths, listed with their median annual salaries:

    Source: Payscale.com, 2019