Public Affairs Officer: Job Description and Education Information

Public affairs officers create a connection between organizations and the community and serve as liaisons between a business, nonprofit entity, government department, or military unit and the people affected by the organization's actions. Many public affairs officers arrange press conferences and other public appearances of CEOs and top-level executives.

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Job Description for Public Affairs Officers

Public affairs officers (PAOs) help maintain the relationship between an organization and the public. The title 'public affairs officer' is more commonly used in the military and government agencies; individuals with similar positions in civilian organizations or businesses may be known as public relations specialists or communications specialists. PAOs prepare formal statements and write speeches for an organization's representatives and superior officers.

Behind the scenes, public relations specialists train and brief executives to speak effectively with the public and advise executives based on demographic trends. PAOs are responsible for informing the public about how company activities will impact the community, and coordinating and managing an organization's response to negative events as they occur. PAOs work under multiple deadlines and attend meetings with fellow employees and community interests groups.

Education Information

The majority of public relations specialists possess at least a bachelor's degree in public relations or communications, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many degree programs require prerequisites such as mass media, professional ethics, speech, and global politics. Core classes can include professional communications, rhetoric, persuasive arguing, motivation, and marketing.

Military public affairs officers are commissioned officers who receive specialized training through their branch's officer candidate school and the Defense Information School. Both training programs require prospective PAOs to hold a bachelor's degree. The Defense Information School Public Affairs Officer Course may accrue college credit to a Master of Science in Management, for both military officers and civilian government employees.

About 15% of public relations specialists possess a master's degree in public relations, business management, or an industry-specific degree, according to O*Net Online (www.onetonline.org). Some graduate programs allow individuals to specialize in corporate, government, or international communications. Courses include marketing research, business writing, strategic communications, presentation skills, and internship where students apply their classroom skills to real-world public relations challenges

Salary Info and Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), the employment of public relations specialists, including public affairs officers, is expected to grow by 23% between 2010 and 2020. The BLS also reported the median annual salary earned by such specialists as $54,170 in May 2012; those employed by the federal government averaged salaries of $87,990 a year in 2012.

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