Public Relations is a very young discipline that has undergone many transitions in a very short space of time. At a point in its history, the whole of its work centered on the generation of publicity for its clients. But today, Public Relations is one of the professions with the highest number of career paths available.

Unfortunately, many new and potential entrants into the profession still think it is all about publicity. And they believe they can succeed in their careers as generalists, working for everyone; and in every industry, just providing publicity services. How wrong they are!

The Road to Failure

To think of becoming a PR generalist today or remaining one is to lay a solid foundation for failure in your career. PR generalists have had their days, and those days are now gone forever. There is no such thing as a general practitioner in Public Relations now. There are many areas of practice now that require unique knowledge, skills and personal attributes to succeed.

As a communication and relationship management function, PR is in high demand in all the sectors of the economy and in the civil society. Practicing in any of the sectors require knowledge of the laws, rules and regulations guiding each of the sectors and its communication needs. Where then is the place for a generalist?

A Solid Foundation

Laying a solid foundation for your career in PR is about carving a niche area of practice for yourself. And the best approach is to master the basics and get grounded in what I call the universal PR skills; the transferable skills in the profession. These are the skills that are crucial for success in any area of the profession. Writing, speaking, media relations, research and evaluation, technology and business literacy come under that category.

It is also important to acquire diverse experiences in many industries and in different areas of the practice at the early stages of your career. You can thereafter decide to specialize in your area of interest. That way, you will not lay a solid foundation for your career; you will also become well-rounded and capable of giving superb specialist services to your client.

Specialization is the reason smaller, more focused PR firms are able to compete effectively with very large firms. And most large firms are learning their survival lessons by creating small specialist firms under their roofs.

How specializations work in PR

There are four common way to approach specializations in your PR career. Let’s explain them in turn:

  • Specialization by industry – pick a sector of the economy you are familiar with or have passion for, study and master how the industry works, vis-à-vis its laws, rules and regulations. Master government policies guiding actions in the industries and understand its communication needs before pitching your career tent as a specialist. Sports, entertainment, fashion, healthcare, education, food and beverages, non-for-profit and travels/tourism are some of the economic sectors you can specialize in.
  • Specialization by PR skills or service offered –This involves the development of skills in a particular area of PR practice to a very high level. Such areas include: Corporate PR which is all about the management of an organization’s reputation; Issues Management – scanning the environment to identify issues and threats to an organization and developing responses to avert the problems; Crisis Management – developing crisis plans and helping organizations activate them to minimize risks to their reputations; Internal Communication or Internal PR which is all about building and maintaining good relationships between an organizations and its publics; and Public Affairs, the business of helping organizations make sense of and influence public policies. It is also known as lobbying. Other specialist areas are: consumer PR, which is the use of communication to win and retain the attention of consumers on an organization’s products or services; Financial PR – that area of PR that helps clients communicate and build relationships with investors and the financial publics; and Digital PR which is about the provision of digital support to help clients establish and maintain effective web presence.
  • Specialization by target audience – here you dig deep and acquire a solid understanding of a particular target audience – its attitudes, sentiments, needs, perceptions  and preferences – such that you become a go-to resource when it comes to the group. Today, some PR firms practice Youth PR because they have enormous knowledge of the youth mindset and how to manage them.
  • Specialization by geography – when you work to understand a particular place or region, its power structure and traditional institutions, its people and culture, its media system, its people’s level of activism and its level of economic development and then decide to practice as an expert in the region,  you are specializing by geography. This could involve working as a cultural interpreter to organizations wishing to do business in the place or region, and advising them on how to put their best foot forward.

To think of becoming a PR generalist today or remaining one is to lay a solid foundation for failure in your career,

Specialization enables you to focus on the area of PR that brings out the best in you. It differentiates you from others and helps you to win the fierce war of competition in the marketplace. Today, specialization is the way to go. Clients hardly look for jacks-of-all-trades. They rather want PR practitioners with uncommon insights into their problems, those with deep experiences and relationships in their sectors that they can tap into, and those with the right levels of competencies who can help them navigate the complexities in their business environments. You don’t need a crystal ball to see that the days of the PR generalists are over. It is PR specialists that hold the ace.