Are PR degrees of any value, or are they just a waste of time? It’s debatable…

Are PR degrees of any value, or are they just a waste of time? – that was the topic of one of our recent class debates. I myself am currenly doing an MA in PR, so my viewpoint is definitely biased, but let’s see what other people say. Is it true? Is it false? As always, the truth lies somewhere in between….

When you Google “PR Degree”, one of the first automatic suggestions is IS IT WORTH IT? The Internet is full of similar questions. What is the right answer?

Sadly, there is a lot of opinions out there showing that PR degrees may not be the best idea. A lot of PRs deem PR university education unnecessary, as what is taught at universities, is often outdated compared to the real PR industry world. What’s more, industry professional soften represent an array of background skills and knowledge, so PR degrees tend to be seen as unnecessary. As Stuart Wilson the CEO of MS&L points out, “Our industry is not an exact science and operates across various sectors, from healthcare to financial, so we need people with a broad range of educational backgrounds to keep us thinking outside the box.” (Wallace, 2009).

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image: Ellie Boggs

This seems to be a common belief. When recently attending the PRCA “Careers in PR” conference, a lot of professionals confirmed my preconceptions. A lot of them pointed out that it’s great to have a PR degree, but they would never hire someone based just on this. The issue here is what one does with the degree, how it’s used and what ELSE a graduate can boast about. According to PRCA, 43 per cent of agency heads claim a PR degree makes no difference when recruiting graduates. What’s more, 34 per cent say it actually makes graduates less attractive.”(PRCA, 2009). A CIPR survey published in PRWeek in 2014, shows that “only 39% of CIPR members thought an academic qualification was important for PR professionals to have (Minton-Taylor, 2014). The overall consensus is that PR professionals tend to prefer people with degrees other than PR.

Additionally, it needs to be underlined that PR degrees vary by university. According to Francis Ingham, PRCA director general, “as an industry, we need to take a long hard look at the quality of courses available -some universities offer excellent PR Degrees, but now is the time to be honest with ourselves, and to recognise that others do not. That’s a hard fact to swallow, but it’s a fact nonetheless.” (PRCA, 2009). Some courses are great, combining practical and theoretical knowledge, and encouraging students to take up internships. Some are not, as they fail to adjust and update course syllabus and they are focusing on theory and dry information, which could prove useless in future career.

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Image: The Telegraph

What my colleagues argued was that in PR it’s important who you know, not what you know. (Although I don’t quite agree with that, it’s an important argument to mention here). Some even argue that networking is indeed the most important part of the business (Olig, 2010). Statistics show that as many as “90% of open positions are filled as a result of networking” (University Career Services, 2011).

There is another side to the debate, though. According to Julia Hobsbawm, founder of Editorial Intelligence and professor of PR at the London College of Communications, when doing PR degrees “students get to know the history of comms, marketing, advertising and PR and all of this makes them better prepared for the world of PR.” Degrees give you time to see whether you’re able to grasp the basics of PR and offer basic knowledge and skills (just like the often-overlooked writing skills). “PR graduates also bring a great knowledge of how to do research, of which we are doing more and more.” adds Hobsbawm.

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Image: MuzzTech

What my colleagues pointed out is that PR degrees contribute to growing professionalisation of the industry. A few months ago we had an interesting discussion of whether PR is a profession, if degrees are not required to start a career there. My view on this is that PR definitely is a profession, but more people with PR degrees (mostly as second degrees) wouldn’t hurt at all.

To me, an MA in PR is the best of both worlds. I have done my undergraduate in International Politics and Intelligence studies and have gained great knowledge in the area. When choosing an MA, I decided to go more practical, and since a career in PR is my dream – that was an obvious choice. My course is accredited both by CIPR and PRCA and I feel like it was a good choice. However, a degree alone is definitely not an option. Work experience is crucial and if I want to start a great career, I need to prove that I have practical experience too. What MA gives me is a higher qualification and an opportunity I am able to do a big, independent piece of research – my dissertation. I find it invaluable and although I know a PR degree is not enough on its own, I would definitely recommend it to anyone considering a career in communications.

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References:

Gower, K. K., & Reber, B. H. (2006). Prepared for practice? Student perceptions about requirements and preparation for public relations practice. Public Relations Review,vol. 32, p. 188–190.

Minton-Taylor, R. (2014) Your PR Degree: Is It Worth It? Behind the Spin. Available from: http://www.behindthespin.com/news/your-pr-degree-is-it-worth-it

Olig, C. (2010). Career Corner: 5 Essential Steps For Successful PR Networking. PRSA. Available: http://www.prsa.org/Intelligence/Tactics/Articles/view/6C-041008/1010/Career_Corner_5_Essential_Steps_For_Successful_PR#.Vt0isfmLTIU

PRCA (2009). Degrees Vital for PR Career. 12th March, PRCA. Available from: http://www.prca.org.uk/?pid=407

University Career Services. (2011). Networking Basics. Available: https://careers.unc.edu/students/networking-and-social-media/networking-basics

Wallace, C. (2009). Careers: The pros and cons of a degree in PR. 3rd June. Available from: http://www.prweek.com/article/910679/careers-pros-cons-degree-pr#WJ2Xv1SKGKAMHJmo.99

Featured image: HERE

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