Businesses of all kinds need communications specialists at some point. A lot of executives and business owners, especially in smaller businesses, handle marketing and public relations functions themselves. But the larger a business gets, the more sophisticated and specialized marketing and PR become, and that’s when it pays to have someone well suited for the job.
What Is a Communications Specialist?
A professional communications specialist has a strong grasp of marketing principles, branding, and the development of advertising materials. A good communication specialist can help with website management, event planning, and advertising, as well as marketing and PR.
They often have a bachelor’s degree or higher in communications and extensive experience in the field. A communications specialist is similar to a PR specialist, but generally with a broader skill set, dealing not just with public relations but things like building brand awareness, getting internal employee feedback, or even crafting company newsletters.
Day-to-Day Responsibilities of a Communications Specialist
You might still be asking: but what does a communications specialist do, exactly? The answer is: a lot!
Some of the most common duties performed by a communications specialist include:
- Developing a communications strategy that’s in line with business strategy and being part of the company’s leadership. A communications specialist is often the public face of the brand, responsible for building a relationship between that brand and the public. That requires both strategy and leadership skills.
- Developing communications policies and procedures. A vital part of a company’s communications strategy is not relying on specialists alone; that specialist is responsible for shaping how others in the company deal with the public (and each other) themselves. It’s also important for the specialist to have a solid, consistent procedure for handling communications themselves.
- Media outreach and engagement, such as writing media releases, holding press conferences, and other public-facing activities.
- Create a content strategy and oversee social media communications. Social media has become an increasingly important part of any business strategy, and a specialist who knows how best to use it will find their skills in demand.
- Being the company’s spokesperson. This means not only being the representative of the company to customers and the general public, but also managing all external communications with stakeholders, business partnerships, the public, and government.
- Public relations and reputation management. Reputation management is particularly important in the age of social media, where common blunders can have far-ranging PR effects — another reason why strong social media skills are important to a communication specialists’s career.
- Handling event management and corporate sponsorships.
- Developing an internal communications strategy. As stated before: how employees deal with each other in daily operations is every bit as important as how employees deal with customers and the outside world. A solid communications strategy can not only increase morale and productivity, but help avoid internal strife, personnel problems, or even lawsuits.
Becoming a communications specialist doesn’t happen without a lot of education. Most specialists usually study communications, business, or journalism. A four-year bachelor’s degree is the most common (and recommended) path, with 57% of communications specialists holding a bachelor’s degree and 12% holding an associate’s degree.
After gaining a degree, it’s common for developing specialists to take on an internship, in order to gain entry into the field and gain some valuable experience. Since most management or director positions require several years of experience, taking on an entry-level position is almost inevitable. During this time, developing contemporary skills such as social media management will help aspiring specialists get noticed and move forward in their careers.
During this time, a common practice for many communications specialists is to get accredited with a certifying organization. Some employers expect this accreditation, and getting accredited, in turn, requires work experience — so these two goals tend to go together. Getting accredited most often requires paying a fee and passing an exam.
After their initial degree(s), some aspiring specialists choose to pursue a master’s degree in communication, which can dramatically increase career opportunities and salary expectations. A masters can be a key part of achieving a senior leadership position in a business. Only about 9% of specialists choose to pursue a master’s degree, which makes them both rare and in demand for the top positions.
What Skills Do You Need to Become a Communications Specialist?
- Good communication skills.
- Excellent writing skills.
- Strategic thinking.
- Tact and diplomacy.
- Digital communications skills.
- Management and leadership skills.
- The ability to work under pressure.
The average communications specialist in the United States can expect to earn about $52,000 a year. Salary can range from approximately $47,000 to $60,000 a year, depending on education, certifications, and work experience.
With the right degree, these salary expectations take a significant spike and in fact communications specialist is among the highest paying jobs in certain industries. For example, a specialist with a master’s degree working as a communications manager can expect anywhere from $86k to $147k a year, with an average of approximately $120k. Such positions can lead to even further career growth, possibly culminating in VP marketing positions.