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 most of the people commenting have got a point, but it’s not really such a clear cut issue.

Do you need a PR degree to be a good PR person? Of course not, you don’t even need a degree. What a PR degree does do is give people a head start in certain areas. A PR degree very much helps to set in context what public relations actually is.

One of the problems of moving into PR from journalism is that they’ve only got experience and expertise in one small part of public relations. It means they should be an excellent writer (sadly that isn’t actually always the case), with an eye for a strong story – but not always a full understanding of using communications to meet a business objective. I once remember working with an ex-journo who had a brilliant story idea that would almost certainly have made a decent splash in The Sun. She was right, it was a great tale. Unfortunately, it would have had almost zero business benefit. The time and other resources were far better spent on something more productive.

One of the big benefits of PR degrees is that they try to equip students with the ability to see the big picture and understand PR in context. They also teach the basics of many skills needed, they don’t do it in depth as that’s what experience and investment in ongoing training is for.

You can easily come into PR from a different field, but if you do you then you must start to learn and develop the areas you don’t know about – for example by doing the CIPR Diploma.

What you can’t and shouldn’t do is pretend you can learn it all on the job. That isn’t providing good counsel. If we are to hold our own with professionals such as lawyers and accountants, then we need the training and qualifications to back it up.