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Public Affairs Specialists
Significant Points

This series includes positions responsible for administering, supervising, or performing work involved in establishing and maintaining mutual communication between Federal agencies and the general public and various other pertinent publics including internal or external, foreign or domestic audiences. Positions in this series advise agency management on policy formulation and the potential public reaction to proposed policy, and identify and carry out the public communication requirements inherent in disseminating policy decisions. The work involves identifying communication needs and developing informational materials that inform appropriate publics of the agency's policies, programs, services and activities, and plan, execute, and evaluate the effectiveness of information and communication programs in furthering agency goals. Work in the series requires skills in written and oral communication, analysis, and interpersonal relations.

Nature of the Work

One of the important functions of the Federal Government is to communicate with the public concerning the programs administered and activities engaged in by various Federal agencies. This communication serves the dual purpose of: 1) informing the broad spectrum of individuals and groups affected by agency programs of the benefits, services, or requirements of such programs; and 2) assessing the degree of understanding or interest the public has in these programs and activities. In addition to the general public, Federal agencies communicate with many specialized segments of the population, e.g., farmers, taxpayers, military personnel, educators, State and local government officials, manufacturers, and so on. Federal agencies communicate with the general public and these other pertinent publics in a variety of ways, for many different purposes, and in countless organizational settings across the country, and around the world.

While many positions within Federal agencies are responsible for some aspects of communicating with specialized groups, to facilitate dealings with these publics, Federal agencies establish positions primarily concerned with advising, planning, managing, implementing, and evaluating the meaningful interchange of communication between Federal agencies and the various publics served or affected by these agencies. Incumbents of these positions use a variety of communication media, methods, and techniques in making known the programs, policies, services, and responsibilities of the agencies and obtaining feedback to agency programs from various groups and individuals. This feedback and advice to top management serve in guiding agency management in developing programs that are more responsive and appropriate in meeting the needs of the pertinent publics they serve while still conforming to the legislative and executive mandates establishing the programs.

Structure of Public Affairs Positions

The public affairs function exists throughout the Federal Government at all major organizational levels including headquarters, agency, region, command, district, and local installation in both domestic and foreign locations and is staffed by public affairs specialists who support a variety of agency program functions. While public affairs specialists deal with varied fields, they are not necessarily experts in them. However, through on the job experience they develop a knowledge of the concepts and issues of the subject of agency programs. Although public affairs specialists do acquire a substantial degree of program knowledge, it is their knowledge of the full framework of communication that enables them to facilitate the effective communication between management and various publics.

The diversity of program areas in which public affairs specialists are found and the variety of organizational alignments and structures of the public affairs function among the agencies, produces a wide variability among positions in this series. When viewed from the broader perspective of the primary purpose of the job, positions in this series may include one or more of the following categories:

1. Positions that conduct the public affairs program of an agency or an organization within an agency. Such positions participate with management in policy formulation, advise on the potential public reaction to proposed policies, and plan, organize, and evaluate communication strategies, programs, and materials. Representative duties may include:

  • Formulate and recommend policies, programs, and procedures governing information functions related to the work of the agency.
  • Plan, initiate, and implement comprehensive public affairs campaigns to enhance the understanding of the agency's programs among the general public and specialized groups and organizations.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of the internal information program, media relations, and community relations programs in achieving greater understanding of the facility's mission and programs.
  • Advise agency's top management officials on the possible public and media reactions to proposed policy statements or agency actions.
  • Identify to the regional director and other program officials the information needs of the general public and various specialized groups within the region.
  • 2. Positions that inform, familiarize, or obtain feedback from an agency's various publics concerning programs, policies, services, and regulations. Such positions develop and disseminate informational material to the general public or specialized target groups and use the full range of communication methods and techniques in analyzing input from the publics for feedback to the agency's decision makers. These functions are referred to as public information or education. Representative duties may include:

  • Develop and disseminate a wide range of information and data concerning the nature and objectives of agency programs, employing all types of media, including radio, television, newspapers, magazines, professional and scientific journals, still and motion pictures, posters, exhibits, and advertisements.
  • Arrange and conduct workshops, seminars, and other meetings with various organizations in stimulating participation in agency activities, identifying their concerns, and motivating these groups to conduct similar programs for their membership.
  • Advise and assist personnel at subordinate echelons on carrying out community relations activities, furnishing policy guidance, developing directives for policy procedures, and evaluating program effectiveness.
  • Collect and summarize input from specialized groups or individuals through surveys, public opinion studies, or group meetings, and prepare reports to management on the public's perception of agency programs.
  • Arrange and conduct tours of facility, briefing local, national, and international visitors and officials on the function and operation of the organization.
  • 3. Positions that provide informational material to agency employees concerning programs, staff achievements, awards, and news of personal benefit to employees such as pay, benefits, retirement, charity appeals, blood drives, etc. Such positions are found in activities known as internal information, internal relations, employee communication or information, command information, etc. Representative duties include:

  • Prepare newsletters or other communications for distribution to field offices to keep them acquainted with programs at agency headquarters.
  • Conduct a facility's internal information program designed for the benefit of all employees including foreign nationals employed by the organization.
  • Maintain liaison with subordinate organizations' public affairs personnel to produce ideas or communication materials for use in a headquarters magazine, or develop recommendations on ways the magazine can better serve the total mission.
  • Plan, design, and conduct information programs for awards and special recognition designed to improve employee morale.
  • Plan and conduct attitude and opinion surveys among employees in developing recommendations to improve communication.
  • 4. Positions that establish and maintain relationships with representatives of the news media in providing information about agency programs, policies, and services. Such operations are referred to as media relations, press relations, etc. Representative duties may include:

  • Organize and coordinate news media interviews with staff, and oversee arrangements with media representatives involving organization activities; provide supporting materials as required.
  • Establish and maintain relations with the news media in enlisting their cooperation in providing the public with information about benefit programs.
  • Gather information, and produce informational materials concerning departmental policies, programs, and activities for dissemination to the news media, and obtain feedback on the effectiveness of these materials.
  • Survey mass and specialized media coverage of agency activities and recommend methods and techniques for disseminating information that will increase public awareness of programs and benefits to the public.
  • Develop and maintain cooperative working relationships with representatives of foreign news media in facilitating communication between facility and its foreign national neighbors.
  • Communication Methods

    Public affairs specialists use a variety of communication methods in carrying out their mission to inform agency publics about the programs, policies, and services that are of interest to or affect various groups or individuals. Included are:

    Written News release, fact sheet, speeches, written response to media or public inquiry, feature articles, pamphlets, newsletters, magazines.

    Television, radio, audio tapes.

    Photographs, films, slides, video tapes.

    Interviews, briefings, seminars, hearings, tours, awards ceremonies, speeches, workshops, news conferences, discussions.

    Public Affairs Specialist, GS-1035-09

    Conducts the installation's internal information program with responsibility for informing all employees about departmental, facility and community activities and news.

    -- Makes news and feature article assignments to writers and reviews and edits copy upon completion;

    -- Reviews photographs and artwork for quality and composition and selects the most newsworthy for inclusion in the installation's newspaper;

    -- Reviews page layouts for weekly editions of the paper assuring that copy is prepared properly for type of composition required by the printer;

    -- Works cooperatively with contracted printer, overseeing layout and approving final copy prior to printing;

    -- Directs and instructs personnel assigned to the newspaper as reporters, writers, editors, photographers and illustrators.

    Public Affairs Specialist, GS-1035-11

    Conducts the public affairs program for a field installation based in a foreign country.

    -- Establishes and maintains relations with foreign communication media providing them with a variety of information on issues related to the installation's operation in the community; arranges tours for media representatives; and responds to media inquiries;

    -- Establishes an interchange of ideas and issues among installation personnel, local community leaders, civic groups, etc., concerning problems that might negatively impact the installation's activities;

    -- Evaluates the local media to identify potential problems or areas of friction and advises management officials concerning the causes of the problems and suggested methods for resolving them;

    -- Establishes and coordinates a program of cultural exchanges consisting of arranging special exhibits, programs of music, arts, entertainment, lectures, etc., in providing a greater understanding between Japanese and United States cultures;

    -- Translates and interprets written and spoken material from Japanese to English and vice versa;

    -- Advises management on appropriate solution and approaches to problems requiring knowledge of Japanese history, culture, language or customs, as well as the local political situation;

    -- Briefs foreign government and military officials on installation and departmental operations;

    -- Conducts the internal information program for foreign national employees.

    Public Affairs Specialist, GS-1035-12

    Conducts the public affairs program for an organization with responsibility for developing and providing staff direction involving all public information, internal information, and community relations activities.

    -- Establishes and maintains effective working relationship with print and broadcast media representatives in disseminating information or answering inquiries about the organizations' operations or activities;

    -- Advises field office directors and others directly involved with activity operations on handling problems and incidents related to the organization's programs;

    -- Writes articles and speeches for organization director; prepares and publishes organization publications in keeping all internal personnel informed of programs, activities and career information; writes articles for director to specialized trade publics;

    -- Arranges for organization representatives to speak to local civic or service groups; informs local community of activities through various media available;

    -- Writes articles for director dealing with organization operations, programs and activities for publication in national trade outlets.

    Public Affairs Specialist, GS-1035-13

    Conducts the public affairs program for a region of an agency within a Federal department, with responsibility for planning, developing, and communicating the organization's programs, policies, and activities to the regional publics.

    -- Develops and transmits informational materials to a variety of publics to enhance the understanding of certain attitudes and practices advocated by the organization for the planned and efficient use of natural resources;

    -- Analyzes and evaluates regional program needs to advise regional director and other management officials of the information that should be made available to the public or approaches to take to attain program goals;

    -- Provides consultation to installation directors within the region in developing direction in public affairs activities to support the total management effort;

    -- Establishes and maintains effective working relationships with representatives of the print and broadcast media and national organizations interested in the environmental, recreational, and conservation aspects of the organization's programs;

    -- Uses a variety of methods and techniques in achieving communication goals such as news releases, radio and television scripts, feature articles, personal appearances, new conferences, exhibits, brochures, pamphlets, etc.

    Public Affairs Specialist, GS-1035-14

    Conducts the public affairs program within an agency of a Federal department, with responsibility for planning, designing, and executing a program to inform and educate the general and specialized publics about the organization's programs, activities and services.

    -- Plans, directs and executes national campaigns to convey complex information concerning programs, research on program-related areas, responsibilities, and activities;

    -- Establishes and maintains effective working relationships with members of the news media, specialized groups interested in the organization's programs and field offices;

    -- Responds to information requests from the news media and specialized and general publics on the organization's program in written and oral form, often requiring detailed explanations of negative comments made on the organization's activities or performance in a particular situation;

    -- Provides assistance and consultation to field offices in initiating and maintaining direct contacts with the general public, specialized groups and community and governmental entities using organization's services;

    -- Advises agency management of attitudes of commercial users of agency's services in field areas as well as field office reactions, achievements and criticisms; evaluates programs in the field and recommends modification when appropriate;

    -- Prepares magazine articles for publication in the internal headquarters journal reporting on technical progress and agency and employees' achievements;

    -- Directs special events, ceremonies, tours and other activities intended to develop interest in agency programs.

    Public Affairs Specialist, GS-1035-09

    Develops, for dissemination through the print and broadcast media, information concerning the mission, programs and accomplishments of a headquarters organization within a Federal department.

    -- Plans, develops, and executes a variety of radio and television programs for use on national, regional or local basis;

    -- Prepares and disseminates news releases and feature articles to the print media; also selects photographs to accompany releases;

    -- Briefs news media representatives on organization's programs and activities and their impact on various public and private activities;

    -- Interviews and confers with program specialists to obtain latest information for use in news releases, films and radio programs, articles, and meetings with media representatives;

    -- Assists field personnel in preparing for media coverage of a special event in local area by arranging for advance preparation and direct contact with media representatives.

    Public Affairs Specialist, GS-1035-11

    Conducts the public affairs program for an agency with particular emphasis on maintaining effective relationships with the media and planning and organizing special events sponsored by the organization.

    -- Writes and disseminates, to local and national print broadcast media representatives, news releases and feature articles describing exhibitions, acquisitions, lectures, presentation ceremonies and related staff activities;

    -- Organizes and coordinates print and broadcast media interviews with staff members, and oversees all arrangements with the media involving agency activities; provides photographs and other material as required;

    -- Establishes and maintains working relationships with local groups and representatives of national organizations concerned with history, the arts, science and technology, the humanities and education;

    -- Coordinates agency information programs with academic and professional organizations concerned with art, history, and education and with programs of other national and local organizations;

    -- Arranges for speakers in agency's lecture series and recommends to director series themes and potential speakers; also develops arrangements with lecture series' sponsor and guest speakers;

    -- Serves as liaison with speakers and arranges for preparation and editing of lecture manuscripts with publisher so that each season's lecture series may be printed as a volume.

    Public Affairs Specialist, GS-1035-12

    Functions as a specialist in the news media section of the public affairs department, of an agency in a Federal department, planning and coordinating the dissemination of information relating to the organization's programs, objectives and functions through the news media.

    -- Develops and writes information materials designed to reach national audiences through the news media such as wire services, radio, television, newspaper, etc. Written materials include: news releases; spot radio and television announcements; fact sheets; feature stories; background statements; etc.;

    -- Determines the need for information materials to support programs at agency level and provides news releases, feature stories, speeches, etc. To regional information offices which adapt this material to reach specialized audiences in their geographical areas;

    -- Establishes and develops effective relationships with media representatives and public affairs personnel of specialized groups, which currently give little or no coverage to organization programs. Determines in what ways the organization can work more closely with media and groups in communicating with audiences interested in or affected by programs;

    -- Develops communication plans by considering such items as specific topics or aspects to emphasize, the most effective media to use in communicating with intended audiences, the kind of information various groups want or need, etc.;

    -- Evaluates the impact and effectiveness of communication plans and advises management if efforts should be discontinued, emphasis changed or coverage expanded in improving intercommunication between organization and various audiences through media utilization.

    Public Affairs Specialist, GS-1035-13

    Serves as the public affairs specialist in an agency concerned with domestic animal health, with responsibility for planning, designing and executing comprehensive, nationwide campaigns to convey information concerning the organization's programs to publics served or affected by such programs.

    -- Evaluates information problems encountered in communicating the organization's programs. Advises on and recommends specific information activities designed to meet these problems. Analyzes information needs in terms of the public needs to be met and provides advice on program information problems to program staff;

    -- Develops plans for campaigns to disseminate information about organization's programs. Organizes campaigns to bring about timely and coordinated use of all facilities and skills available in the organization, within the agency, and with cooperating State and other Federal agencies;

    -- Develops basic campaign materials including fact sheets, news releases, feature articles for magazines and trade papers, radio and television scripts, motion pictures and other materials;

    -- Establishes and maintains effective working relationships with information and public affairs officials of State governments, extension services and other cooperating agencies as well as with general readership newspapers, trade papers, radio and television stations and citizen organizations.

    Public Affairs Specialist, GS-1035-09

    Serves as a public affairs specialist in a headquarters organization responsible for administering a functional program within a Federal department, with primary responsibility for collecting, assembling, preparing and disseminating information concerning the various programs of the organization.

    -- Responds, in oral and written form, to requests for information by determining the nature of the data required and collecting and assembling the material using the appropriate format and style based on needs and organization practices;

    -- Plans and executes information campaigns that disseminate results of successful projects in stimulating adoption of their results by State and local governments as well as private and special interest groups;

    -- Develops written materials which transmit information concerning the nature and purpose of the organization's programs, projects, items of concern to the general public or more specialized publics;

    -- Identifies areas to be addressed in the campaign, characteristics and needs of the target audience, and communication techniques most appropriate; develops recommended approaches and drafts of material for supervisor's approval;

    -- Advises program officials regarding the content and presentation of information materials submitted for dissemination or other information purposes.

    Public Affairs Specialist, GS-1035-11

    Serves as a specialist in the public participation program of an agency's headquarters staff within a Federal department providing assistance in the national direction and coordination of the organization's efforts to solicit public input in its decision making process.

    -- Identifies, summarizes and analyzes public comments submitted on national issues; also advises and assists program headquarters and field personnel implementing analysis systems on national and regional issues;

    -- Reviews all proposed Federal Register entries for the organization concerning national issues in the public participation program including those announcements printed in compliance with department's consumer representation plan; also prepares draft reports on public involvement efforts and reviews environmental impact statements for thoroughness and adequacy of public involvement process;

    -- Writes public involvement plans for informing and involving the public on issues of national significance;

    -- Initiates and prepares responses to inquiries from interested groups, the general public, and field personnel concerning policies and activities of the public involvement program;

    -- Assists field personnel with development of public involvement training components on identification of concerned publics, preparation of informing materials, and design of informing process such as meetings, workshops, etc; and use of systems to collect, analyze and evaluate public input.

    Public Affairs Specialist, GS-1035-12

    Serves as a public affairs specialist in an agency headquarters developing, promoting, and implementing consumer safety information and education programs through trade associations and professional and civic organizations.

    -- Establishes and maintains effective working relationships with national organizations interested in consumer safety programs with particular emphasis on those organizations not previously active in participating in such efforts;

    -- Plans, implements, and evaluates information programs in specifically assigned product categories;

    -- Develops campaign or program guidelines for headquarters and field offices use, defining the scope and parameters for implementing campaigns and providing suggested activities, materials to be used, deadlines and reporting requirements;

    -- Develops appropriate communication channels, techniques and strategies for use by others in disseminating information to hard-to-reach audiences such as industrial concerns, low income and minority groups;

    -- Reviews area office plans for consistency with overall objectives of national program and recommends follow-up procedures; monitors activity reports to determine program progress and provides advice and assistance to resolve problems;

    -- Speaks to a variety of groups and participates in meetings to promote the dissemination of information concerning consumer safety programs. Also attends agency management meetings to provide input on policy and program development.

    Individual Occupational Requirements

    A bachelor’s degree in a communications-related field combined with public relations experience is excellent preparation for a person interested in public relations work.

    Education and training. Many entry-level public relations specialists have a college degree in public relations, journalism, marketing, or communications. Some firms seek college graduates who have worked in electronic or print journalism. Other employers seek applicants with demonstrated communication skills and training or experience in a field related to the firm's business—information technology, healthcare, science, engineering, sales, or finance, for example.

    Many colleges and universities offer bachelor's and postsecondary programs leading to a degree in public relations, usually in a journalism or communications department. In addition, many other colleges offer courses in this field. Courses in advertising, business administration, finance, political science, psychology, sociology, and creative writing also are helpful. Specialties may be offered in public relations for business, government, and nonprofit organizations.

    Internships in public relations provide students with valuable experience and training and are the best route to finding entry-level employment. Membership in local chapters of the Public Relations Student Society of America (affiliated with the Public Relations Society of America) or in student chapters of the International Association of Business Communicators provides an opportunity for students to exchange views with public relations specialists and to make professional contacts that may help them to find a full-time job after graduation.

    Some organizations, particularly those with large public relations staffs, have formal training programs for new employees. In smaller organizations, new employees work under the guidance of experienced staff members. Entry-level workers often maintain files of material about company activities, skim newspapers and magazines for appropriate articles to clip, and assemble information for speeches and pamphlets. New workers also may answer calls from the press and the public, prepare invitation lists and details for press conferences, or escort visitors and clients. After gaining experience, they write news releases, speeches, and articles for publication or plan and carry out public relations programs. Public relations specialists in smaller firms usually get well-rounded experience, whereas those in larger firms become more specialized.

    Other qualifications. In addition to the ability to communicate thoughts clearly and simply, public relations specialists must show creativity, initiative, and good judgment. Decision-making, problem-solving, and research skills also are important. People who choose public relations as a career should have an outgoing personality, self-confidence, an understanding of human psychology, and an enthusiasm for motivating people. They should be assertive but able to participate as part of a team and be open to new ideas.

    Certification and advancement. The Universal Accreditation Board accredits public relations specialists who are members of the Public Relations Society of America and who participate in the Examination for Accreditation in Public Relations process. This process includes both a readiness review and an examination, which are designed for candidates who have at least 5 years of full-time work or teaching experience in public relations and who have earned a bachelor's degree in a communications-related field. The readiness review includes a written submission by each candidate, a portfolio review, and dialogue between the candidate and a three-member panel. Candidates who successfully advance through readiness review and pass the computer-based examination earn the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) designation.

    The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) also has an accreditation program for professionals in the communications field, including public relations specialists. Those who meet all the requirements of the program earn the Accredited Business Communicator (ABC) designation. Candidates must have at least 5 years of experience and a bachelor's degree in a communications field and must pass written and oral examinations. They also must submit a portfolio of work samples that demonstrate involvement in a range of communications projects and a thorough understanding of communications planning.

    Employers may consider professional recognition through accreditation as a sign of competence in this field, and such designations could be especially helpful in a competitive job market.

    Public relations specialists who show that they can handle more demanding assignments are more likely to be promoted to supervisory jobs than those who are unable to do so. In public relations firms, an entry-level worker might be hired as a junior account executive and be promoted over the course of a career to account executive, senior account executive, account manager, and, eventually, vice president. Specialists in corporate public relations follow a similar career path, although the job titles may differ.

    Job Outlook

    Employment is projected to grow much faster than average; however, keen competition is expected for entry-level jobs.

    Employment change. Employment of public relations specialists is expected to grow 24 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. The need for good public relations in an increasingly competitive and global business environment should spur demand for these workers, especially those with specialized knowledge or international experience. Employees who possess additional language capabilities also are in great demand.

    The recent emergence of social media in the public relations is expected to increase job growth as well. Many public relations firms are expanding their use of these tools, and specialists with skills in them will be needed.

    Employment in public relations firms is expected to grow as firms hire contractors to provide public relations services, rather than support more full-time staff when additional work is needed.

    Among detailed industries, the largest job growth will continue to be in advertising and related services.

    Job prospects. Keen competition likely will continue for entry-level public relations jobs, as the number of qualified applicants is expected to exceed the number of job openings. Many people are attracted to this profession because of the high-profile nature of the work. Opportunities should be best for college graduates who combine a degree in journalism, public relations, or another communications-related field with a public relations internship or other related work experience. Applicants who do not have the appropriate educational background or work experience will face the toughest obstacles.

    Additional job opportunities should result from the need to replace public relations specialists who retire or leave the occupation for other reasons.

    Earnings

    Median annual wages for salaried public relations specialists were $51,280 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $38,400 and $71,670; the lowest 10 percent earned less than $30,140, and the top 10 percent earned more than $97,910. Median annual wages in the industries employing the largest numbers of public relations specialists in May 2008 were:

    Management of companies and enterprises $55,530
    Business, professional, labor, political, and similar organizations 55,460
    Advertising, public relations and related services 55,290
    Local government 51,340
    Colleges, universities, and professional schools 46,660

    Additional Sources

    A comprehensive directory of schools offering degree programs, a sequence of study in public relations, a brochure on careers in public relations, and an online brochure entitled Where Shall I Go to Study Advertising and Public Relations? are available from:

    • Public Relations Society of America, Inc., 33 Maiden Lane, New York, NY 10038-5150. Internet: http://www.prsa.org

    For information on accreditation for public relations professionals and the IABC Student Web site, contact:

    • International Association of Business Communicators, 601 Montgomery St. Suite 1900, San Francisco, CA 94111.

    Information on obtaining Public Affairs positions with the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Government's official employment information system. This resource for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at http://www.usajobs.gov or through an interactive voice response telephone system at (703) 724–1850 or  (703) 724–1850  or TDD (978) 461–8404 and   (978) 461–8404. These numbers are not toll free, and charges may result. For advice on how to find and apply for Federal jobs, download the Insider's Guide to the Federal Hiring Process” online here.

    Source: OPM's Position Classification Standards for White Collar Work

    Last Modified Date: March 4, 2011

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