Why a Public Relations (PR) degree is worth your time and money

My parents have three sons. All three of us have achieved first class degrees, except mine isn’t in law or science, it’s a public relations degree. A degree I would describe as 50/50 academic and vocational. It’s for this reason that I’ve never had a problem with employment.

Before I graduated I had a job waiting and it’s been like that ever since. Every month I’ve had a salary hit my account as a direct result of PR related work. I don’t intend to boast. I’m from the University of Gloucestershire class of 2012 – entering education as the recession laid agencies to waste. The world hadn’t recovered on graduation.

Like most, I had little understanding of PR before studying. It was a last minute choice after my passion for computer science was extinguished after seeing a class of overweight sweaty males tapping away at computers during a university open day. I escaped to my true passion. The one I could not live without; writing.

A journalist at the University of Lincoln explained how most people live their life in a box: they drive to work in a box, type in front of a box, go home to watch the box, and then eventually end their life in a box. A life of a journalist would allow you to escape the box.

I was sold. However, had real concerns about choosing journalism as a degree.

So instead opt’d for PR after being convinced by the top-class teaching at the University of Gloucestershire. Crucially my degree also had the backing of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). An institution that is pushing the PR industry forward and isn’t afraid to join important debates. Alongside the CIPR was the PR student community driven magazine, Behind The Spin, of which I’ve just been made an associate editor.

My degree was probably cheaper than yours, tuition fees stood at £3000 a year (plus accommodation costs). Today a PR degree will cost you up to £9000 a year and that’s for an industry whose average salary is £33,680. Whilst other professions will earn you more, I’m willing to bet that employability in PR will be higher than other subjects such as law or English. Although this is an assumption.

My own course had a sandwich year, which was a one year placement in industry. Without a doubt this year is worth it. In my case I was earning a decent salary and could wave decent work experience on my CV to put me a step ahead of ‘academic experience only’ competition. My sandwich year also kept me in plentiful supply of cigarettes and alcohol for the final year of University! The first habit I’ve now kicked. The second has flourished.

So yes. Big success story. Sound the trumpets. A PR degree will give you glory, as it did for me.

Maybe.

I cannot praise the value of a PR degree enough but also realise that it’s been a while since I was a student – so how has the standard CIPR accredited degree changed? Also, the PR industry is changing so rapidly, is it possible that now other degrees are becoming more important for the survival of the industry? Ultimately, PR’s first aim is to win the budget battle in the company boardroom; by proving its value.

My role today is purely digital and social media. I work in an integrated team that offers online and offline solutions. Just because it’s integrated doesn’t mean that it’s balanced, digital projects keep coming. It may just be that the computer science degree I first rejected is becoming more important than my PR based skills. The amount of online data that digital teams need to chew through to reach client solutions is astounding and growing in complexity. PR degrees must offer in-depth digital marketing training; including social media, search engine optimisation and online advertising to be of real value.

So you tell me, are PR degrees still worth it today? I hope so. But only if digital accounts for 50% of work. And yes, the other half should all be about creative writing, media relations and researching.

I wrote this blog post after being inspired by Live Love Laugh PR’s ‘10 blog post ideas for PR bloggers

9 Replies to “Why a Public Relations (PR) degree is worth your time and money”

  1. Great post Michael. I’d add a couple of important points:

    1) The biggest advantage for formal PR qualifications actually begin to kick in later in your career as you get more responsibility for leading strategy the academic theory parts of it suddenly make you better prepared to see the big picture than someone who has learnt on the job. They might even be better at some of the tactical aspects of PR, but they’ve missed the critical thinking part which is essential to sound strategy.

    2) I’m not sure I agree with the 50/50 as many of the critical thinking and strategic aspects apply equally to traditional and ‘digital’ public relations and I don’t think it’s possible to divide them. More important is that digital is integrated into every single aspect of the course, which is isn’t yet happening.

    Disclaimer: I’m a visiting lecturer at Leeds Beckett University teaching mainly aspects of digital and social PR to mainly post-graduate students. I also teach the same on the CIPR Diploma.

    1. A valuable contribution to the post Stuart, thank you.

      Agree that digital needs to be integrated but the challenge I’ve found is trying to explain digital approaches in PR, without dividing it. If that makes sense?

  2. I’ve had a similar background to you, though I opted for the journalism degree to fuel my writing. I’m now currently looking for my first PR role having accumulated roughly 3-4 months PR experience. A friend of mine is completing a masters in PR and got me thinking whether this would push my cv to the top of the pile as it were and assist with the ever daunting interview.

    I wondered what your thoughts were on this? Was there knowledge you gained from your degree that you don’t think would have made itself apparent purely from work?

    1. The PR industry is always in need of good writing. I’ve only experienced PR education at an undergraduate level, but strikes me seeking a full-time role may be the best direction for you. Quite a few students these days are building strong online profiles through social media and blogging to get their CVs to the top of the pile. May be something worth trying, if you haven’t already?

      I gained plenty of initial knowledge from my degree but it’s been the clients I’ve worked with that have pushed my skills to the ‘next level’.

  3. As someone who has just completed a PR degree I would certainly say they are still worth it.

    During the course of my degree I was elected a a course representative and also sat on the faculty board as a student member – in these roles I saw how our course teams were incorporating feedback from the students, graduate employers and the wider industry to ensure our PR course was as relevant as it could be to modern practice as well as delivering good value to its customers (the students).

    While my degree did delve into digital, I think there is still some work to be done on improving both the breadth and depth of digital skills and knowledge covered by public relations qualifications. however, the degree I studied had also been designed to incorporate more of an emphasis on understanding business in a wider context and teaching core competencies such as basic accounting and HR than in previous years.

    This, I feel, makes today’s PR graduates more effective in communicating their aims, objectives and outcomes with clients (or the rest of the organisation if working in-house), and therefore be able to command more influence over the budget negotiations which, as you say, is an integral part of PR.

    I’m a firm believer in the value of PR degrees – even at the £9k rate – and will continue to advocate them as long as they are able to keep up with the rate of change in the industry.

    1. Well said! Couldn’t agree with you more. My own degree missed basic accounting and HR – a shame as these would have been useful. Managing budgets is something I’ve had to pick up on the job.

  4. I’m so glad my post inspired you! I totally agree with you, too. Not only does getting a degree open up wider employment opportunities, but also gives you 3/4 years of your life to live the uni lifestyle, eg spending money on not so healthy habits of cigarettes and alcohol..! 🙂

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