The great PR graduate debate

4 Apr

It began with a letter from Kirsty O’Connor, one of our students, to PR Week (23 March 2007): ‘Forget English grads and hire PR students’ was the magazine’s summary. It was followed by a letter from Mark Ramsdale of the CIPR to the same paper (30 March) (‘PR degrees should be a recruitment must’). It then spilled into a blog debate.

I won’t speak up for what we teach PR students at university (I obviously have a vested interest). But I’ll say this. I’ve visited 55 organisations in the past few years to assess the performance of placement year students in a full-time working environment. On each occasion, I’ve listened to supervisors giving their feedback on the students’ performance.

I’ve sometimes heard criticisms of their writing skills; more recently, I’ve occasionally heard some comments on a lack of initiative. (I’ve also sometimes blogged about these problems.)

But I’ve much more frequently heard high praise (sometimes effusive praise) of their performance. On several occasions permanent job offers have arisen. Degree courses pose a range of problems; the working environment offers a different set of challenges. I’m always humbled to find how frequently our students can cope with and exceed expectations in the workplace. But then the jobs market (even the placement year jobs market) is a competitive place. Opportunity for all does not equate to success for all.

11 Responses to “The great PR graduate debate”

  1. A PR Guy's Musings - Stuart Bruce 04/04/2007 at 5:38 pm #

    The great PR degree debate

    TWL has an interesting debate going on the merits or otherwise of PR degrees. Richard Bailey has also chimed in (it was Kirsty O’Connor, one of his students who started it with a letter to PR Week). Personally I think

  2. David Phillips 05/04/2007 at 12:27 pm #

    So what do PR students learn? Is it critical thinking, the significance of organisation’s relationships and how they are managed and a review of a mass of skills sets involved.
    No, you don’t need a PR degree but in an era when at least two new channels for communication will be in use by 15% of the UK population between the beginning of an undergraduate course and its end, employers who look beyond PR degrees students will need a levening of the specialists to make a fist of modern day PR.

  3. David Brain 05/04/2007 at 3:51 pm #

    I just posted this on Stuart Bruce’s blog on this subect Richard:
    Interesting and timely post Stuart. Yesterday the London Edelman office was busy with our “boot camp” for our graduate intake. Every year, we take on about ten graduates (not necessarily from PR or comm’s courses). We invite about 30 here and then torture them for a day with exercises and see how they behave. I think we end up with about a 50/50 split of general grads to specialist degree types. I am consistenly impressed and humbled by the efforts and attention and sheer energy they all put into this process and I’m reminded that nowadays PR is a targeted career wheras most people of my vintage got into it as a distress purchase. And that is a big difference and I have to say I am massively hopeful about the future of the industry given the quality of those now entering and I think a big part of that goes to vocational degrees . . . but not everything. There will always be room at Edelman for the anthropologist or nuclear physicist if they have the right stuff.

  4. Serena 06/04/2007 at 2:15 pm #

    ‘Forget English grads and hire PR students’
    If a company hires me, they’ll get both 🙂
    Seriously, it’s an interesting topic and one well worthy of debate. The experience versus learning dichotomy is relevant to most industries. There are some things you learn better on the job and some in the classroom or through a book.

  5. Rajiv Harjai 08/04/2007 at 8:58 pm #

    I completely fail to understand the hue and cry (like TWL) over whether PR degree holders should be the only ones to be entitled to a PR job. Hasn’t the world already awoken to the notion of specializations in every field, which are now considered the order of the day. Isn’t it true that you need to hold an MBA degree for a management job, a teaching credential to become a teacher, a journalism degree to become an editor. So why should it be any different for PR degree holders. I think it’s only fair enough that only PR degree holders should be considered for PR jobs.
    It is getting too long, so here is the post

  6. Callie 10/04/2007 at 9:57 pm #

    Logically, individuals who are the product of a PR program will have an advantage in the PR field compared to those who didn’t have specific PR training, but this does not mean that the skills necessary to do what PR people do are exclusive to the PR degree.
    If we narrow the PR job market to only PR graduates, then we are narrowing the skill sets available to fill those positions. Because public relations is a field that can easily be interrelated with a myriad of other professional (and non professional) fields. Read my full post :

  7. Katy Marshall 12/04/2007 at 10:59 pm #

    This is certainly a topical discussion, but I happen to agree with Rajiv; would you trust a doctor without a medical degree? Of course you wouldn’t. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll trust a doctor with a medical degree either!
    I think this debate has sprung from the idea that traditionally, practitioners fall into PR almost accidentally and that qualifications in PR as a discipline, such as a degree, is a relatively new process.

  8. Colette Cordes 15/04/2007 at 12:11 pm #

    Being a first year PR student myself I believe that a degree in PR is definetly valuable asset when recruiting for a job in public relations.
    Many PR courses allow students to partake in a number of work placement opportunities allowing the students to put in to practise the skills that they have learnt, and are then able to learn from their experience.
    However creativity and motivation in my eyes are two very important factors to becoming a successful PR practitioner. Having a degree in public relations does not necessarily mean that you have all the essential skills required for a job in the PR industry.

  9. Michael Higgins 18/04/2007 at 1:36 am #

    A degree in Fine Art does not necessarily make you a fine artist. You can teach someone how to hold the brush, how to mix the paint, how to apply the strokes, and doubtless at the end of it all they will be able to produce a good painting. Whether it’s a Monet or a Michael though is another matter entirely.

  10. Donald Alexander 27/04/2007 at 4:52 am #

    Just came across this-90% of third year Charles Sturt Uni (Bathurst,Australia) graduates find quality employment within three months of completing their final paper, mostly in the Sydney market.The reputation of the CSU degree (the first to be started in Australia) has been maintained for over 20 years and enmployers actively seek graduates for their “job readiness”, writing skills and ability to think strategically (feedabck from a recent survey). As long as we stay relevant, keep in touch with the market,select quality entrants and employ staff with a lot of real world experience we should continue to deliver top class grads.

  11. Liam FitzPatrick 03/05/2007 at 7:31 pm #

    Don’t forget that Leeds attracts some of the best undergraduates, not everywhere gets the luxury of a quality in-take. But I doubt if many employers are able to work out the difference between the product of one of the better institutions and the rest. Result – wild and unhelpful generalisations.
    Doing PR is a relatively simple set of craft skills. Being a great PR is about judgement – surely that’s what you start to learn at university – but it’s a lifelong journey…
    But comparing PR to medicine….surely that’s not a realistic

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