Communications Officer

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Communications Officer


An organization's reputation, profitability and lifespan often depend on the degree to which the public perceives it. In today's media-savvy society, governments, organizations and community professionals strive to get the right messages across to the public. Communications officers act as the intermediary between their employer and others, including consumers, community groups, government agencies and the media. They facilitate communication links between the organizations they serve and the audiences they wish to reach.

Whether it's a pharmaceutical company communicating about the side effects of a new drug or a politician getting bad publicity, most organizations benefit from the expertise of a communications officer. They speak on behalf of their clients in an attempt to get the most favorable publicity possible while putting a positive spin on events without anybody knowing that they are trying.

Communications officers must understand the foundations and beliefs of the organization they represent along with the attitudes and concerns of consumers, employees and the general public. They also must establish and maintain working relationships with important community representatives, public interest groups, advertising agencies and with representatives from the journalism world.

Communications officers serve as company spokespeople, plan and run events intended to generate publicity, and develop strategies that will spark media interest. The majority of a communications officer's day consists of working with the media, making phone calls, issuing press releases and planning events. In fact, journalists often depend on communications officers for information they cannot gather themselves. More experienced communications officers will also write speeches for politicians, strategize with senior management and marketing departments on the best time to announce a new product and develop and publish newsletters.

Communications officers are sometimes thought of as devious and deceitful no-gooders trying to simultaneously trick both their clients and the public at large, working only to produce the news that fits their best interest. They are sometimes referred to as political "spin doctors," helping politicians put the right spin on their messages. However, this is an unfair judgment many people make because much of a communications officer's job is helping both their client and public attain satisfaction in their work, spending habits and lifestyle choices.

They are experts in the art of persuasion, however all facets of the media persuade people and that includes many more media professions than just communications officers. Communications work requires knowledge of broadcast and journalism industries and government procedures and laws. Accordingly, most communications officers specialize in a specific sector such as government or the environment.
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  Interests and Skills  
Communications officers always have outgoing personalities and they exude an aura of self-confidence. They are primarily communicators therefore they must be able to express ideas clearly and logically to appeal to their intended audience. They are persuasive and creative individuals with an understanding of human tendencies. They are quick thinkers and decision makers and must be able to deal with crisis situations and appease the public if a disaster occurs.

Communications officers must know the "ins and outs" of the company they are working for, including its philosophies and products. They are interested in different mediums of communication and know what types of media to use for different approaches. Finally, they are often quite competitive and must be able to handle public scorn and possible rejection.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Develop communications objectives and a communications plan
  • Identify the most effective and important audiences, the interests and concerns of the audiences, decide what to communicate to them and the best media to use
  • Arrange publicity for an organization
  • Create and maintain public awareness of their organizations' policies and actions
  • Facilitate communications within the organization between employees and management
  • Keep staff and clients up to date with company news
  • Conduct research (e.g. public opinion and attitude surveys) and communicate results to employer
  • Prepare and write speeches, media press releases, brochures, advertisements, reports, articles, newsletters and websites
  • Coordinate special events, conferences and promotions for internal or external audiences
  • Contact people in the media who might print or broadcast their material
  • Provide the public with information when it is requested
  • Typical workdays for communications officers are often irregular and subject to frequent interruption. Occasionally, they must be at the job or on call around the clock, especially if there is an emergency or crisis. They often work nine- or 10-hours days, meeting project deadlines, consulting with clients and devising media strategies. Considerable travel can be involved in the day-to-day activities of the job.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Communications officers work in both the public and private sectors. They are generally employed by different levels of government, social institutions including health organizations, and educational institutions, professional organizations and trade associations, financial institutions, public interest groups, businesses and PR consulting firms and political and community organizations.

  Long Term Career Potential  
The long-term career potential for communications officers is really promising. They are masters in the art of communications and persuasion and could work in any position where mass communications are important. Freelancing is an option for communications officers who have wide experience in both the public and private sectors and wish to move around in both industries, picking up contract after contract. These freelances may also decide to start up their own public relations consulting firm and contract out themselves on different projects.

There is a lot of room in the government and politics for communications officers, working for a political party or as a government affairs manager. They can also move into more creative positions such as creative writing, broadcasting, publishing, producing and even acting.

  Educational Paths  
There are a variety of ways to become a communications officer, yet there are no specific educational guidelines. Communications officers usually have university degrees or college diplomas in journalism or communications. However, since the industry is quite general, expertise in public affairs, English, business, marketing and advertising are also quite valuable.

Many universities and colleges offer degrees or diplomas in public relations. This is definitely a great starting point as such a program focuses on special courses pertaining directly to the industry. Internships at government communications departments or at PR firms are also a good idea for getting experience. Also, many companies conduct formal training programs for their newer employees.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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