The majority of PR professionals working in the industry today did not complete a PR-specialized education in the way that lawyers studied law or doctors studied medicine.
Public relations as a university degree is a fairly “new” concept. So we interviewed PR teachers and graduates on how the industry benefits from a more academic approach.
Adrian Crookes, who works on the BA Public Relations degree at the University of Arts London, finds that “models and theories applied to specific situations help people do their job better – so why not study these in the first instance rather than working them out as you go along?”
He adds that he is not sure “at which point we stop being new”, given that “public relations has been around as a separate university subject in the UK for 25 years and in the US for a little short of 100 years.”
on competitive advantages.
Rudiger Thielmannn, who leads three masters programs at Leeds Beckett University, including Public Relations and Corporate Communication, believes that when it comes to PR education “PR students have an advantage of sharing more knowledge about the industry.”
Yet he also states, “that any graduate from other studies can catch up on this knowledge. It is a mix of passion, PR studies and work experience which ultimately combine to forming a competitive advantage.”
Adrian, coming from a background of radio broadcasting and management, underlines that “PR graduates will undoubtedly compete with Marketing, Journalism, English, History, you-name-it graduates in the job market.
PR graduates, should, however, have a better feel for PR having studied it and having experienced placements during their degree course, to the extent that they should have a competitive advantage at the point of entry and they should also be able to rise through the ranks quicker as a result.”
Zareen Siddiqui, a BA Public Relations graduate, started her career by interning for a film PR agency to working as a business development executive for an online platform. Her most recent job was with Unilever in the European Brand Development Department.
“As the industry is changing rapidly”, she says, “I think PR professionals with a PR academic background are able to successfully adapt to this change and are therefore one step ahead of the rest.”
Nevertheless, “PR today is still about the connection between an organization and its audience, and you can see that professionals without a PR academic background understand this and are practicing it.”
So if professionals from other industries or academic backgrounds understand the same concepts, why spend several years specializing in PR?
“One of the greatest advantages when studying PR is how the degrees prepare you for the ‘real’ world”.
All PR jobs require experience within the industry and you automatically get that when studying PR at universities, as a lot of the modules are very practical and include live pitch situations.
Zareen also mentions that she has personally benefited from being interested in different industries even though she sees a clear advantage in specializing in one particular industry.
Adrian sees why Zareen enjoyed the variety, as he emphasizes that “a broad understanding of the basics” to be best before digging deeper into specific industries. “That comes with on the job training”, Adrian says. “I don’t think the university can be expected to present ‘oven-ready’ automobile industry communicators, for example”.
on the importance of pr education.
Rudiger states, “It has never been as valuable to have a PR degree as it is today. The PR industry faces challenges such as engagement with stakeholders, which cannot be coped with by working through a manual.”
Adrian agrees that a degree in PR provides “a terrific foundation for a variety of different enterprises in an ever-evolving business and stakeholder environment.”
When asked to summarize the importance of PR education from a student perspective, Zareen answers: “it is crucial to understand the history of PR in order to anticipate the future of PR”.
And so, as the industry continues to hire people from all scopes of study, it is up to those with a PR degree to prove to the industry that PR education is as valuable as we believe.