Press officers, sometimes called media officers, represent their organisation to the media. Encompassing both reactive and proactive functions, they deal with the national and regional print media, broadcast and online media.
Press officers respond to enquiries from journalists, write press releases, try to interest journalists in their organisation’s stories and campaigns, arrange for spokespeople to speak to the press, and monitor media coverage. Press officers usually work for large organisations though in different sectors, such as private sector corporations, public sector/government bodies and charities.
A press officer will typically:
- Answer phone calls from journalists, responding to their questions
- Check the press office’s email inbox for media enquiries
- Write press releases
- Phone or email journalists to try to interest them in the organisation’s press releases and feature ideas
- Devise and produce proactive media campaigns
- Arrange for spokespeople to speak to the media
- Monitor media coverage and prepare regular evaluation reports
- Attend press conferences or interviews with the organisation’s spokespeople
- Advise senior staff members on written responses to the media
- Proof-read and if necessary rewrite media statements
- Meet journalists and foster good relations with the media
- Write for and update the organisation’s social media pages
- Respond to the media during crisis PR events or negative incidents
- Occasionally be on call to deal with urgent media enquiries during evenings or weekends
First and foremost, press officers need to have excellent written and spoken English as both are prerequisites of the job. But on top of this, awareness of the media’s different audiences and sensitivity to how they are addressed, is important. Press officers need good interpersonal skills as they will constantly be dealing with enquiries from journalists and trying to ‘sell’ stories to them. They need to be persuasive, resilient and able to handle criticism. Press officers should be able to cope with pressure well and be able to meet erratic deadlines. They should understand the importance of social media and be comfortable editing and posting in social media formats.
An undergraduate degree is usually expected. The most appropriate subjects are English, journalism, media studies or public relations. Career qualifications, from the PRCA and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, can be helpful. For positions with multinational companies, a qualification in a second language, such as Spanish or German, is useful.
Many press officers begin their careers in journalism and this gives them the advantage of knowing what journalists want. Experience in any job that involves dealing with public requests can count. However, as this field is very competitive, work experience or an internship in a press office, newspaper or radio station, will boost your chances of getting the job.
Higher end salaries are usually paid in the private sector
Some press officers are employed on a temporary basis and paid a daily or hourly rate. Expect £100-£200 a day.
Normal office hours of 9.30am-5.30pm normally apply. However, press officers are often expected to attend events outside of regular hours. They also occasionally have to be on call for media enquiries during the evening or weekends. This is usually done on a rota system.
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A press officer's perspective
Being a media officer for The Wildlife Trusts is all about highlighting the importance of nature in our lives, and how we’re working with landowners and communities to save and restore what’s left of the wild and natural places across the UK.I work for a small central team supporting a movement of 47 individual Wildlife Trusts - so there’s no shortage of extraordinary stories to share with the media.
My work involves liaising with colleagues to identify news and feature opportunities at a UK level, providing background on case studies that illustrate our work, writing releases, letting journalists know about newsworthy projects (and arranging visits) and identifying and writing tailored pitches.
- Emma Robertshaw, media officer, The Wildlife Trusts