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What is a Public Relations Degree?
Degree programs in public relations (PR) teach students how to deliver information from a business, organization, government body, or individual public figure, to a target audience. The curriculum differs from that of other communication sciences. In advertising and marketing programs, students learn how to design and develop communication pieces that clients seek out and pay for. Public relations courses focus on how to achieve image management, generate publicity, and earn positive media attention through press releases, press conferences, blogs, and a social media presence.
In short, public relations degree programs are all about persuasive communication. The coursework in these programs reflects this objective of PR:
- Fundamentals of Public Relations
- Fundamentals of Advertising
- Writing for Public Relations / Press Releases
- Speech Writing
- Image Management
- Developing a Public Relations Media Plan
Associate Degree in Public Relations
While associate degree programs in public relations exist, they are not particularly common. Also, it is important to note that most employers in the field look for job candidates with at least a Bachelor’s in Public Relations or a related discipline. Some companies, however, may hire associate graduates in entry-level or support roles.
Classes at the associate level often cover:
- General Organizational Communications
- Introduction to Public Relations Writing
- Introduction to Mass Media Communications
- Measuring Public Opinion
Bachelor’s Degree in Public Relations
A bachelor’s program in public relations prepares students to work in the field in positions like public relations officer, public relations specialist, market research analyst, and public relations and fundraising manager.
Many PR bachelor’s programs offer specialization options. These often include digital media, corporate communications, and political/public sector communications.
Core coursework commonly covers:
- Brand Management – branding techniques; emerging technologies; investor relations
- Writing for Public Relations – how to write for target audiences through print, electronic, and audiovisual media
- Media Law and Ethics – how to make ethical decisions in the public relations arena
- Media Relations – how to develop relationships with the press; how the press works; how to pitch a story
- Public Relations Strategies and Campaigns – how to plan a PR campaign from start to finish: contacting media, informing the public, creating slogans
Master’s Degree in Public Relations
Holders of a Master’s Degree in Public Relations have several career options. They may work as public relations managers or directors or consider jobs as journalists, reporters, writers, editors, social media managers, and digital communications directors.
At the master’s level, students can choose from a wider selection of specializations. These include international public relations, corporate communications, political/public sector communications, digital communications, marketing research and analysis, and non-profit public relations. Core classes expand upon the subjects listed in the bachelor’s degree section, above, and also include:
- Issues Management / Crisis Communication – how to manage issues and crisis situations for organizations
- Research Project – completion of a case study and original research
Doctoral Degree in Public Relations
The Doctorate in Public Relations is designed for students who wish to pursue a career as a researcher or professor. The curriculum at this level is not about learning new skills, but on researching theories and innovative ideas related to PR. Students’ focus, therefore, is on:
- Public Relations Research Methods
- Using Statistics in Public Relations
- Public Relations Thesis Research
- Human Behavior
- Philosophical Issues in Public Relations
Degrees Similar to Public Relations
While public relations is concerned with image and brand management, advertising focuses on creating the campaigns that achieve the goal of brand communication. Clearly, these two fields are very closely linked. The degree programs, therefore, share some coursework: principles of advertising, copywriting, media planning, and consumer behavior.
Most companies and organizations use some form of public relations to support their business goals. So, public relations and business degrees are naturally linked. Business administration or management, though, has a broader scope. It is concerned with more than public relations. Its mandate includes overseeing finances, staffing, and contract negotiations. A business administration degree program, therefore, teaches students how to plan, organize, and direct all the activities of an organization.
Mass Communication and Media Studies
Public relations degree programs have a fairly narrow focus. On the other hand, degree programs in communications teach broad skills that graduates can apply in media, public relations, and general communications and content writing work.
Journalism degree programs teach students how to report, write, and edit articles for broadcast or publication. They include classes in broadcast news writing, copyediting and design, reporting, and media law and ethics.
A degree in marketing prepares students to enter the creative business of promoting and distributing products and services to specific customer markets. Programs typically combine core courses in economics, finance, and business management with specialized courses in areas like marketing trends, applied marketing research, marketing communication, and digital marketing.
Skills You'll Learn
Students of public relations learn that the field is a demanding one, which requires a considerable skillset. PR graduates, therefore, come away from their studies with an especially wide set of skills that can be used in almost any walk of life:
- Verbal communication / public speaking
- Written communication
- Speech writing
- Press release writing
- Social media
- Cultural awareness
- Emotional intelligence
- Customer relationship management
- Attention to detail
- Time management
- Project management
- Stress tolerance
What Can You Do with a Public Relations Degree?
In today’s world, public relations is part of almost every business. It follows, then, that the number of occupational categories that PR graduates can explore is extremely wide, if not almost endless. Below is an alphabetical list of some of the kinds of enterprises that typically need public relations professionals.
- Advertising, Marketing, Media, and Publishing
- Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries
- Arts and Entertainment
- Banking and Finance
- Charity, Not-for-Profit, and NGOs
- Cosmetics / Beauty Brands
- Education Institutions
- Energy and Utilities
- Engineering – chemical engineering, civil engineering, geotechnical engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering
- Environment and Conservation
- Gaming / Casinos
- Hospitality, Tourism, and Events
- Information Technology
- Law Enforcement
- Management Consulting
- Manufacturing and Production
- Politics, Political Campaigns, and Political Groups
- Public Sector and Defense
- Recruitment and Human Resources
- Retail or eCommerce
- Sports Franchises
In each of the above sectors, there are opportunities to become part of a public relations team – as a public relations assistant, officer, specialist, consultant, executive, manager, or director.
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