To what degree?

29 Jun

Richard Millington asks (in a comment to this previous post) whether he should transfer to a PR degree (he’s currently on a PR placement during an event and marketing management degree).

First thing, I’m not an objective commentator as I’m paid to teach on large public relations programmes. Second thing, degree level education is about providing the tools to help people work things out for themselves. And Richard’s certainly smart enough to make the best choice (judging him purely on his presence on PR blogs). But what do I really think? Some of the following points are contradictory, but I believe them all…

  • The public relations sector still has a skills shortage, and good people continue to progress very quickly. This includes PR graduates, but doesn’t exclude others with talent and energy.
  • Degree education is still primarily about thinking and only secondarily about skills. Charles Handy, in his memoirs, quotes Scottish philanthropist Tom Hunter saying ‘I Do works better than IQ’. Handy adds: ‘experience without reflection, however, doesn’t help either.’ (Handy himself studied Greek and Latin – ‘Greats’ – at Oxford as a prelude to a successful life in management education.)
  • Lessons and experience should be tied together. I’m not embarrassed to state that the best part of our degree course is the year our students spend away from the classroom on work placements. (I follow some of their careers in my occasional contributions to Forward.)
  • Public relations is not a pure discipline. It’s an applied subject drawing on many others (social psychology, philosophy, media studies etc). Public relations depends on its organisational context so it’s up to you to choose your sector and interpret the lessons within this context.
  • You don’t need to be an academic to succeed in public relations, but I’ve noticed that there are many intellectuals amongst senior practitioners. (Read Neville and David, for example.) Education doesn’t stop when you receive your degree certificate: that’s when it really begins. You need to keep reading, well beyond the textbooks.

4 Responses to “To what degree?”

  1. Ed Lee 29/06/2006 at 3:40 pm #

    I’d have to say that a PR degree isn’t essential for a rewarding and almost successful career in Public Relations. My degree is in Politics and Anthropology (with a dissertation on New Labour’s 1997 Media Relations strategy).
    Comparing my career with an excellent friend and colleague, we’ve got to the same place in about the same time, she with a PR degree from Cardiff and me with my BA hons.
    If you have talent, drive and intelligence, it doesn’t matter what degree you have or haven’t got.
    Ed

  2. Richard Millington 30/06/2006 at 8:41 am #

    Thanks for highlighting this Richard.
    I’ve spoken to two people I work with here about the importance of PR degrees. One girl, 21, who recently went through a lengthy recruiting process to secure a new PR job, was never asked whether she had a PR degree. Another colleague, with ten years of experience in PR, has never been asked whether she has a PR degree.
    I agree with Ed that talent, drive and intelligence is more important than a degree, but will recruiters be able to spot people with these skills or will they begin filtering out people who had not got a degree?
    I’d love to hear from some employers.

  3. Richard Bailey 30/06/2006 at 10:58 am #

    I agree with you both. Only in a few specialist professions (eg law, medicine) is a specific degree or postgraduate qualification mandatory.
    Most employers of PR people now ask for a degree (ANY degree) because it’s an indication of commitment and achievement and it helps select out applicants. But they don’t select on what you already know; they select on your potential to learn.
    As an employer, I once faced a difficult choice between one candidate who had a PR degree and relevant work experience; and another who had a first class degree in an arts subject from an old university and no PR experience. It was a very tough call; perhaps you can guess who I chose…

  4. Karel 01/07/2006 at 8:52 pm #

    I’ve always subscribed to the view that apart from whatever education or experience you have, it comes down to how you, as an individual, promote and sell yourself. To me, PR is a lot about ‘common sense’, as opposed to ‘book sense’. Ever heard some academics who make you question whether they’re really thinking or if they’re caught in some alternate reality? Yes, book sense helps but ‘common sense’ is the critical factor, combined with talent, drive and intelligence to help you succeed.

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