Whether you’re a first year PR student, third year engineering whizz considering a career change, or recent graduate weighing your options, a career in public relations has appeal. While it certainly isn’t for the faint hearted- competition for jobs is fierce, and pitching to clients can be a battleground- building a life in the PR world means no two days will ever be the same.
So, you’ve done some preliminary research, and wondering if you’ve planned your education all wrong. You might currently be enrolled in a PR course and noticing some gaps in your preparation, or reading from a different textbook altogether.
Fear not: there are many paths to a successful career in PR. According to the latest State of the Profession figures, just 17 percent of public relations practitioners have degrees in PR or communications, while 57 percent have degrees in a different subject. Of the 32 percent of practitioners with a postgraduate degree, less than half have a masters in PR.
For those already enrolled in a PR course, or considering a department shift, you stand to learn a number of skills that may give you an edge over your alternatively-educated counterparts. From a course designed specifically for the public relations world, your lecturers are likely to push you in areas from professional practice, writing skills, marketing communication, and campaign planning and evaluation.
A PR degree is also likely to touch on the intersection of media and business in a way that other departments might neglect. Learning how businesses operates, how the media jungle works, and- especially today- how new media operates, helps PR grads hit the ground running. Whether you’re applying for an internship, graduate position or even a junior role with some responsibility, your future employer will rest easy knowing you’ve got the basics covered.
Still, a university degree is a huge investment- you might one day find yourself with a mortgage that pales in comparison with your student debt. When considering such an undertaking, it helps to be aware of the shortcomings of a public relations degree: they are far from the only ticket to PR career success.
“There is no better PR you can do in this industry than PR for yourself,” says Sam Holl, client service director at Kindred Agency. A career spent building and promoting brands means you have to prove yourself over and over again, and starting with your own brand is your best bet in this industry- something a lecturer in a hall of 100 students is unlikely to perfect for you. Network, network, network!
Ultimately, industry experience is everything. “Work experience, on the job training, is what’s really important for me as an employer, more so than a degree,” says Emma Streets, PR and social media director for Turn Key. Many people in the industry have climbed the ladder after bypassing the formal PR education route, with volunteering, work experience and transferable skills from other industries valued by employers across the board. PR is an inherently creative industry to work in- standing out is not merely a matter of standing up at your graduation ceremony.