Is the PR degree going extinct? When I embarked on my university journey in 2016, I chose to study public relations because I thought it sounded cool. Apart from the information collected by skimming through university brochures, I wasn’t exactly sure about the content of a PR degree and its worth to the market.
This choice was especially challenging considering some of the latest publications on the industry. Companies such as IBM have challenged assumptions that college degrees are necessary assets for successful careers.
From a personal perspective, I have encountered many people asking me why I was studying PR at all. During an interview for an internship position in a Public Relations company, the director questioned the worth of having a PR degree and told me that he got into PR ‘by accident’, working his way through. I discovered later that he had a degree in archeology.
So what is the relevance of a public relations degree today? For me, it comes down to three things; competitive edge for job seekers, market respect and attracting a certain kind of person.
The PR industry is growing at an average of seven per cent annually, and its ranks have swollen to nearly five professionals to every single journalist, a ratio that has more than doubled over the past decade. While journalism is facing difficult times – Fairfax Media management’s recent announcement to cut a quarter of all editorial jobs comes to mind. As the industry is growing, the job market is becoming increasingly competitive with more professionals on the look-out for qualified students.
One of the arguments made after the recent 457 visa changes suppressing ‘PR Manager’ title from the skilled visa list was the surplus of qualified Australian students. In the future, it will therefore be nearly impossible to climb to the top of the PR professional ladder without the appropriate qualifications.
From a market perspective, hiring PR students is a testament to the value of the profession. Regardless of the growing relevance of Public Relations as a profession, the industry is not always labelled as fully mature because no consensus has been reached on how best to evaluate a PR campaign’s contribution to results. Hiring PR professionals who don’t have a degree could potentially contribute to the wider market questioning the profession’s value and legitimacy.
Finally, students that study PR are worth much more than their qualification. Most people drawn to PR possess skills beyond writing and research such as creative thinking, strategic development, the ability to communicate, open-mindedness and curiosity making them attractive on the job market. Gina Ramson-Williams, group talent director, Europe, at Weber Shandwick explained that she looks above all for inquisitive minds and drive when she hires PR graduates.
I was struck by the importance of creativity in the profession. A career in PR offers countless opportunities to be creative, not only in terms of writing but also in coming up with new ways to promote businesses and approaching new clients. PR is a profession which constantly calls for fresh ideas and lateral thinking so having those skills can be crucial to bring career success.
Having studied PR and had on the job training, my one concern is that educators work closely with PR operators on a regular basis to ensure the skillsets taught in PR degrees are always updated and kept relevant. PR continues to change so quickly, that a rounded practical education across social, digital, creative and strategy is essential.
Although some doubts prevail upon the future direction of PR in a fast-changing media environment, one thing is certain; PR degrees will not meet the same fate as the T-rex. Just like the PR market itself, the degree will adapt, evolve and flourish – rather than die out.