Becoming a successful freelance public relations writer requires you to write persuasively and analytically. The key to persuasive writing is the key to good writing in general: know your audience. Public relations work requires you to address various audiences, such as:
1) Your customer base. Your customers already have some idea about what your client does;
2) Potential customers. Most won't know about your client directly, but they might be familiar with similar products, services, or programs;
3) The press. They are interested only in whether the service or product your client has to offer is worthy of mention in their publication.
When you get a public relations assignment, your job is to take in all the data related to whatever your client has to offer. Maybe your client is offering a new product line, a new community outreach program, or news about a change in ownership. Your job is to: 1) analyze that data for key points; 2) determine how the data might affect the marketplace and consumers; and 3) communicate the data in a clear, concise form.
Taking in the data is the easiest part. Your client should provide you with all the data you need, plus any contact information you might need to interview people for quotes, statistics, point-of-views, etc. You need to think about how to connect what your client is offering with the needs and desires of his audience.
Example 1: If a high-end brokerage firm wants to distribute a press release about their response to a recent rise in gold prices, you may need to research the stock market to determine what that means to investors. If you know your target audience, then you know exactly where to look to find out their typical concerns. Typical research methods may include Internet searches, investor forum posts, guides to investment, etc.
Example 2: If you need to generate PR aimed at a particular trade group or a segment of an industry, such as promoting a local cleaning service, then you need to brainstorm ways in which your client's cleaning service provides cheaper or better care than his competitors.
Once you've done the background work, writing PR is simple. Your client should provide you with all the pertinent information about length and venue. What you need to do is communicate the details, connect it to audience's desires, and present any information that links the audience back to the client with the use of contact information, store locations, event dates, and so on.
Since there's an expectation that PR is persuasive, advertisement-like material, you have slightly more leeway with the writing than you might with informative, research-based material; but again, the audience comes into the balance.
If you're writing a report on the release of a new video game aimed at a teen-centric gaming magazine, a dry style won't be of much use to you. If you're writing about the breakthrough of a new control chip for an overseas microprocessor, you don't want to make too many assertions about how this will "revolutionize the industry," or anything that a highly-trained engineering department can't back up. In general, stick to the facts as closely as you can. Your articles should have the blend of rational restraint and promotional zeal so you communicate effectively.
Where do you get public relations jobs? Corporate PR departments are your best bet for well-paying, steady work. Some large corporations will have their own in-house staff of marketing writers, and may not be interested in taking on freelancers except at certain times. Another good choice would be local non-profit groups, political organizations, or social clubs. These rely on effective PR to grow and thrive, and you can pick up a good deal of work from just one or two groups. A drawback to non-profits or other groups is they may not have a big budget or they may not be able to pay consistently. Make sure you trust the group before you commit to full-time PR work.
Above all, be careful of doing PR for individuals. This type of PR can be among the most enjoyable assignments, depending on your interests. Individual PR projects may include promoting someone's self-published book or writing press releases for a garage band, and so forth. The downside is individuals typically have little or no budget for PR, and they often want you to work for free, alleging that "it'll be good for your reputation" or that "once I get successful I can pay you." Never do PR work (or any freelance writing work) for free. It wastes your time and it won't advance your career, except for building a portfolio of writing samples. At worst, it can lower average writing rates to the point that good freelancers go out of business. It's not good for you, for your trade, or for your fellow writers. So don't do it!
If you have the ability to analyze complex material quickly and convey it clearly and persuasively into words that your audience understands, then you are on your way to having a successful career as a public relations writer.