Why study public relations?

This is an article by Richard Bailey.
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It’s that time of the year again. New students are embarking on new courses, full of expectations. Yet this most obvious of questions is not that easy to answer.

I’ve put this question to my first year PR students.

They, remember, are the first year to be taking on greatly increased levels of debt to attend university.

So it seems an important question to address early on in their studies.

Their answers interspersed below broadly fit in to two areas. The first is vocational (or, if you’re an academic, instrumental).

Students tell me they’re studying PR because it’s an exciting field they hope to work in.

At first glance, this is a good reason. At a time of global recession, and with high levels of youth unemployment, it makes sense to ensure you will be employable at the end of your studies, and in a field where you have a realistic hope of repaying your debts.

“It’s an interesting subject about an exciting and expanding industry, with lots of opportunities for university graduates.” Kate O’Donnell

Last year’s new graduates were in many cases already working full time by the time of our graduation ceremony in July.

If they weren’t working in conventional public relations roles, then they had started working in hybrid digital marketing agencies.

In other words, there seem to be good prospects for PR graduates and industry change is creating new roles and opportunities for adaptable and ambitious young people.

But university is different from a training course.

While your course may cover the practicalities (such as writing and presentation skills), it probably won’t give you the most up-to-date lessons in media relations or digital skills (eg search engine optimisation).

It can’t: an undergraduate starting now may not graduate until 2016 – by which time the (digital) media landscape will be very different.

“PR allows me to be creative and use my writing skills, but with more chance of a job at the end than a degree in something such as journalism.” Ruth Wilson

Training is a by-product of a university course in public relations, but the course has a slightly different purpose.

The world is changing, so I need to study change.

The second group of first year students appear to recognise that they’re growing up in a world of increasing complexity. They told me about rapid change and of uncertainty.

“The world will never be short of problems, and therefore never short of a need for PR.” Niamh Spracklen

And, in similar vein:

“You tell me someone who doesn’t need PR and I’ll tell you why NOT to study PR.” Georgia Robson

It’s the complexity of the business, political and media landscapes that creates demand for problem-solving graduates. Complexity brings risk. Risk to reputation is one of the drivers behind growth in the international public relations business and people capable of coping with risk and complexity are needed.

“To become one of the few individuals with an accurate and rounded view of the world, who can bring something to every industry.” Cheryl Pearce

I can’t know exactly what tools you’ll be using in five or ten years time (a limitation of the skills approach mentioned above) – but I can know that you’ll be facing complex problems. Education, with its progressive problem-solving, should be a good preparation for the world of work.

“PR is a non-linear, open-ended subject that encompasses psychology, maths, English, the lot. What other degree offers so much?” Jack Clark

Some students are ready to embrace critical perspectives on public relations.

“PR is a fundamental function of any modern business. It can affect all aspects of a company’s function and therefore without acknowledging its importance we run the risk of letting it consume us.” Nick Horbowyj

Employers do not hire graduates for what they’ve learnt in the past. They hire them for their potential to learn in future. A degree does not guarantee you a job, but it helps get you the interview and so gives you an opportunity to impress and succeed.

In this analysis, learning is not a means to an end (knowledge), but rather a process of problem-solving. It shows your potential. It should help make you future-proof.

“Not only is PR a growing industry and so broad, but it’s a practical course that can offer invaluable work experience and life skills. It’s great fun too!” Emily Morris

I study because it’s interesting

In a world of high fees, few volunteered this approach (it sounds old-fashioned and rather dilettante). But if employers are picking you for your potential, not for what you’ve learnt, then to some extent it doesn’t matter what you’ve chosen to study. What matters is the passion you’re able to bring to (or get out of) your subject.

“I come away from university every day feeling like nothing else is as inspiring as what I’ve learnt that day.” Bethany Simpson

What matters too is the adaptability of a good graduate.

“It is a broad, exciting subject. It keeps you on your toes and you find yourself thinking of new ambitions every day, keeping you motivated.” Ghislaine Aldred

Public relations may not sound like a ‘hard’ choice at university (some assume it’s an easy course). Yet if you can demonstrate your interest in those forces that are transforming the business and media environments, and your interest in the relationship between communication and society, then someone will probably take an interest in you.

And if you don’t find what you’re studying interesting, then you should consider your options. You’ve chosen the course; you’re devoting years to it and it’s costing you debt for years to come. You’re investing in you – so why not set high standards for yourself?


  1. dhevan marimandi says:

    Hi , My name is Dhevan Marimandi. i am a teacher in a school in South Africa and would like to start up a Public relations team at my school. I would like some material to give to my pupils to train them to become confident public relations officers.

    Any ideas or suggestions?

  2. Thank you for asking. My students have the following advivce for your pupils:

    We don’t know the age of your pupils or their level of knowledge, but think you could start with some doing.

    Your class could produce a newsletter or a website telling inspiring stories from the school and the region. (Think of your audience: parents, but also regional and worldwide).

    My students are offering a video summarising PR in simple language. Would this help?

  3. Hi, I am going to apply for an International PR course but I don’t know deeply about it. Could you please tell me after graduating from this course, what kind of jobs can I do? Thank you very much.

  4. siphokazi zweni says:

    i find PR very interesting ,although i didn’t know what to study for and my career choices has been changing every year,but ow i have finally decided on what i want to do.i don’t know much about it ,but i hope that at the university i will learn more 🙂

  5. Hey 🙂 #siphokazi zweni , please, say me where are you study PR? I’m in your position just now…

  6. Isatu Namina Sesay (Kargbo) says:

    I am a first year Student at Africa Graduate University Freetown, Sierra Leone. West Africa. a beginner of Public Relation Course . I am interested and hope to continue up to my final year. If I perform well does it makes me marketable with or without a job?

  7. Thank you for your comment Isatu Namina Sesay (Kargbo). I can’t comment on the public relations industry in Sierra Leone, but am pleased to report that graduates of public relations courses are able to find good PR roles in the UK. I wish you success with your studies and hope you’ll be able to gain some work experience along the way and make connections with (potential) employers.

  8. Nthabiseng says:

    I have reticently been appointed a public relations officer by my company. i do not have qualifications but i do have experience. I would like to start studying PR obviously because i believe it will make me better in my role. I have asked my company to finance my studies -they have requested me to write a motivation letter. i have been trying to write this letter for the past hour but i am struggling for some reason. Please can someone help me. I would really appreciate it.

  9. I would say that your motivation is personal to you – so no one can and should write your letter for you. But to be helpful, your letter should cover two key areas: ‘skills’ and ‘professionalism’. And thank you for visiting this site: we do aim to provide ideas and inspiration to those studying public relations.

  10. hello,

    I am trying to find an MSc in PR or Communications (strategic Communications) to study online. After not knowing my career pat for so long, a chance encounter has now set me on the PR/ Digital Marketing Route.

    However I don’t want a two year course. I just want a one year MSc along those lines listed above. I’ve literally spent the past 10 days searching to no avail.

    Can anyone please help? 🙁

  11. I don’t know where you’re based @polaroidsandpotions; nor can I give you a list of online courses that might be suitable.

    But I do know of an MSc in Corporate Communication at Leeds Beckett University that’s designed for practitioners. Teaching takes place by block release (two days every few months) and the study takes place elsewhere. So it combines some elements of face-to-face with distance learning.


    Hello, i’m 23yr. An applicant in one of the Nigeria Universities, Public Relations as my course of study. I find PR so interesting and exciting and just got a certificate in INTRODUCTION TO PUBLIC RELATIONS with ALISON Online study. will be so glad if RICHARD BAILEY will agree to be my course adviser.

  13. Very good point on when you mentioned that some courses in school of PR will not teach you the up to date media relations or digital skills. That’s why I find it helpful if students reach out to sources outside of school to learn about the skills that will not be taught to you, which can easily be found from online tutorials and educational programs online that are sometimes free like HubSpot. I find that knowing coding and inbound marketing are rich skills and knowledge that can help you explore other concentrations than just traditional PR. I graduated with my 2 years in Communication at a community college with the idea that just studying PR is what I need to go after but I find that in my location there aren’t really much PR opportunities but since going to my 4 year school and minoring in basically what is Digital Media/Marketing have inspired me to not limit my options in finding internships or jobs. That’s why I love Communication because it’s a broad field that has so many jobs that relate to the studies. Being well rounded in the things you believe you can be capable of are also good to employers.

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