PR Education Grows in Importance

Not too many years ago, journalism degrees and media experience provided natural segues to public relations jobs.  In fact, that’s the transition I made from media to PR, and for many years most of my peers came via the same route.  That’s no longer the case today. 

Today’s New York Times tells the story about Mary Ellin Arch of The Richmond Times-Dispatch, who lost her newsroom job after working 29 years in the media. 

Like a lot of media people I’ve talked with in recent years, Ellin pursued a PR job and found that it wasn’t an easy transition.  She quickly realized she was competing with people who had PR degrees and relevant experience.  She eventually landed a job as spokesperson for the Richmond-area toll road, and enrolled in a master’s program in strategic public relations at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“I’m a real big fan of telling reporters it’s not as easy as you think,” Ellin says. “Working in the newsroom does not prepare you for a job in public relations.”

John Doorley, former head of corporate communications at Merck, a giant pharmaceutical company and currently director of the master’s in public relations program at New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, confirms that things have changed dramatically in favor of PR degrees. 

Like most of the business world today, John observes that PR has outgrown its second-tier status in the advertising and journalism curriculums where it has often been relegated, and emerged as a social science and business discipline of its own.  This development and the recognition of the trend by The Times bodes well for our profession.

6 thoughts on “PR Education Grows in Importance

  1. Ron, what would you say are the top 5 or so PR masters programs in the country? What about top programs that offer an online option for full-time workers?

    Thanks for the interesting blogging, just started reading a few weeks ago.

  2. I’ve tried to compile a list of the best grad programs for PR, but it’s impossible. Programs vary with each putting different weight on certain aspects of PR. One of the best measures of successful programs is alumni–who are they and where are they working? Perhaps others will weigh in with recommendations.

  3. I’m forever making the point that ‘when’ is as important a question as ‘where’.

    I did some teaching on a Johns Hopkins MA Communications program last year – and was hugely impressed with the caliber of the students – they were experienced practitioners as well as being academically curious. A winning combination.

  4. Five U.S. college PR programs are finalists in the 2011 PR Week Awards: Brigham Young, Georgetown, New York University, Syracuse and Alabama.

  5. I completely agree with this blog post. I love this quote from Ellin: “Working in the newsroom does not prepare you for a job in public relations.” Some people just assume that public relations and journalism, etc. are the same thing. Thanks to Ellin’s experience, people may know that the fields aren’t equal. I was once told that I didn’t really need a degree in public relations but that field experience would be equivalent to such a degree. I believe that my education in public relations gives me the appropriate preparation for a career in the public relations field. Too many people jump into PR jobs from the media industry and expect it to be the same.

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