Feisty Little Devils: The PR Education Debate


The PR Education DebateWell goodness, the PR education debate has sure become an interesting discussion over on IABC’s Advocacy Commons… not surprisingly, someone with a PR educational background (me, myself, and I) didn’t necessarily agree with someone who went the general route (our mysterious friend only to be known as “Anne“). Oooh, shocker.

I dared to express my opinions on the matter (because I never do things like that), which essentially amount to this:

As far as I’m concerned, we’re in a day and age where there’s no excuse for a non-specialized degree unless you’re not sure what the hell you want to do with your life or are more concerned with having a fall back plan than building expertise in a field. Also as far as I’m concerned, people who choose that route show a lack of dedication to the chosen profession (assuming they even had one) compared with those who do specialize. The only exceptions would be those who pursued things like English or Communications degrees back before there were PR degrees available in their schools or areas (so no offense to them).

My opinion doesn’t just come from PR work, although there’s enough to be said right there. There’s already enough confusion between PR and other communications disciplines. Having more general programs not only doesn’t fix that problem, but it exacerbates it. My opinion also comes from my side work as a freelance business writer, where I’m extremely heavily networked in the freelance writing community, including with mentoring those new to the field.

That’s another prime example of people thinking something general like an English degree is the right path, when it’s usually not. As a writer, and this may surprise you, most client’s don’t give a rat’s ass if you can string together pretty sentences on par with the literary greats with perfect grammar. What they want (and what they pay more for) is a specialized expertise in their niche or industry. If someone needs to hire a medical writer, who you do you think gets paid more: a good writer with an English degree or a so-so writer with a medical degree? The med specialist wins hands down… perfect writing is what editors are for. But like I said, that’s just another example of why I feel the way I do.

I don’t care if people agree with me, and frankly, I don’t care if my opinions offend them. I’m free to have my opinions and they’re free to have theirs. I won’t apologize for them. At the same time, I fully expect that people are going to disagree with me, sometimes quite strongly. Hell, if everyone agreed with me, I’d be bored out of my f*ing mind.

One commenter (“Anne” – apparently she’s not confident enough in her own opinions to fully disclose who she is) really took offense to my feelings on PR education. Apparently my “attitude is doing both employers and job-seekers a disfavor.” Well Anne, I’m honored that my opinion means enough to piss you off.

Seriously folks, I’m flattered. But here’s how I see it…

A) If you’re really that confident in your skills and education, then the opinion of little old moi isn’t going to matter in the slightest to you, nonetheless to “employers and job-seekers” on a grander scale.

B) If you want to rip into someone else’s opinions, at least have the balls (metaphorically of course) to take full credit for your comments.

In all honestly, I couldn’t care less where you went to school or what you studied unless you were applying for a job I happened to be recruiting for. In that case, my standards are my own. If you’re content with your background, then be content with it. If you’re not, improve it. Whether or not I personally feel you show a dedication to the field shouldn’t be enough to get you worked up unless you’re at least an itty bitty bit unsure yourself. The only people you need to prove your qualifications to are yourself, your clients, and potential employers.


  • David Reich says:

    Jenn, I dont’t disagree that you can enter p.r. and do a good job at it no matter what your educational background has been.

    Since writing is generally an essential skill for most p.r. work, some exposure to good writing — whether from English or writing or journalism classes — certaionly can’t hurt. Likewise, exposure to basics of p.r. through classes in college is also helpful, although not essential.

    I think some exposure to p.r. in college would be good for anyone majoring in a business program, whether it’s marketing, finance, management. There’s a chance that during their business career they’ll have interaction with the p.r. function, and a better understanding of it can only help all involved.

  • Jenn says:

    I certainly agree that at least a little bit of PR study in college is a good thing for those studying aspects of business. It would help to alleviate a lot of the misconceptions about what we do, and would help to understand the differences between different similar types of communications (as Judy Gombita recently mentioned to me, the often confused public relations vs organizational communication).

    I also think that anyone majoring in something general like communications should at least have to take a class (you can’t be a communications expert if you don’t know enough to differentiate between different fields in the collective disciplines). I remember having plenty of comm majors in PR classes with me. The problem is that the introductory classes they take are nowhere close to enough to really prepare them for a career in the field by themselves.

    I’m certainly not saying that PR students shouldn’t study writing and other communication courses as a part of their overall curriculum targeted at building a PR expertise. What I am saying is that I believe wholeheartedly if you put someone with a primary specialist background up against someone at the same level whose education was focused on a generalist approach, that the specialists tend to be more valuable to clients up front, and make more, and frankly I’d personally consider them better-prepared to enter a market. And that’s not just my opinion in reference to PR professionals… specialization can be important in a very wide variety of career choices.

    Can someone without a specialized education, over time, build experience that helps them to specialize? Sure. But learning all you can about a profession, especially something like PR with a rapidly changing environment, will always be the best route in my opinion. And others have different opinions. That’s what makes the world “interesting.”

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