PR Success Is More Than a Degree

Barry French

Here is a dirty little secret that will get some people mad at me.

I only very, very rarely hire people with PR degrees.  Maybe that is dumb of me, but I don’t look for whether people know the basics of communications.  After all, it is not rocket science.

What is rocket science is, well, rocket science.  If you are trying to do communications for a company that sells rockets, you better know a lot about rockets.

I am lucky enough to be an American who lives in England working for a company headquartered in Finland, with people working on my team in 40-plus countries covering the 150 countries in which we work.

When I look at who is successful and who is not, it almost always comes down to who understands the business and who does not.  It is never about who knows what journalist – that is usually the easy part, as journalists want information, and you control it.

So, my advice for career development?  Forget the PR seminars.  Focus on the business basics, so you can talk to your future executive peers.   Understand a P&L and a balance sheet – and be able to explain both.  Ensure you have a robust understanding of the market you want to work in – and what are the economic characteristics of that market.

Then, be sure you can both write and talk about it in ways that make it clear to others – not with spin or hype, but with facts  Then, come talk to me – I might have a job for you!

Barry French heads Marketing and Corporate Affairs at global telecommunications giant Nokia Siemens Networks.  He also serves on the company’s Executive Board. 

3 thoughts on “PR Success Is More Than a Degree

  1. So basically the only PR skills required in the rocket science industry is putting pen to paper and being able to respond to media queries for those info-thirsty media types? No strategic PR campaigns, no social media plan, no networking skills, no grasp of AP style or graphic design background to be able to present information and messaging in an attractive and desired manner? I understand needing to understand the product/industry one represents, as well as being able to speak to the C-Suite in their native tongue, but fundamental PR skills gained from a formal education should not be an automatic disqualifier. If that’s the case I am screwed – I plan on double-majoring in PR/advertising and journalism this Fall at DePaul University – the institution of the host blogger.

  2. If I understand correctly, I agree with what you’re saying. Basically, knowing the business side of things in addition to communications will get you a successful career. Conversely, only knowing PR campaigns, AP style, etc. might land you a job. It’s the difference in being able to write up a PR campaign, compared to understanding why each objective, strategy and tactic is chosen and how different parts work together.

  3. As a recent college graduate now pursuing my Masters in Public Relations, I often wonder if having it will help or harm my chance of starting my public relations career. From what I’ve read, professional opinions on this vary because a Masters degree can either enhance existing skills a public relations professional has or in my case, teach me skills I don’t have yet because of lack of professional experience except for interning. What you are saying is what I have been taught in my classes so far—to understand public relations, a basic understanding of business is necessary to stay current in the industry, as well as being able to write well. It’s not just about who you know but about what you know and how you can apply that knowledge through the skills you have.

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