PR Insight

Should PROs have degrees?

Date: 25 January 2012 09:45

Taking a degree is a costly investment, and financially isn’t worth making for some career choices. So is PR an industry that requires graduate-only applicants? Francis Ingham, chief executive of PRCA, is an advocate of giving everyone a chance bag PR jobs, whether or not they have a degree, and the PRCA’s latest apprenticeship initiative is working to seek out talent from all backgrounds: “For some PR employers, only a graduate will do. But for many others, attitude, creativity and drive are more important.”

Ingham adds that it is short-sighted to be focused on graduates: “Over the past decade or so, we have become obsessed with being ‘a profession’. I have no idea what that means, but I do know that we have expended much time and money pursuing its baubles. We have felt it almost insulting to attract anyone other than graduates. Thankfully, that foolishness has gone, and we wish it a long and permanent goodbye.”

 Yet there are many who insist on degrees. Pam Lyddon, CEO and founder of Bright Star Digital, has seen first-hand how some firms sort candidates: “Those who didn’t have a degree went straight in the bin. One place told me I was selected because I had a degree and I have been guilty in the past of receiving so many CVs the only way to narrow it down was to focus on those who are graduates.”

There are other ways to gain skills apart from obtaining a degree. Wendy McAuliffe, director at agency Populate Digital, says that whether they are gained through a degree, a more vocational qualification or work experience, subjects such as English, media, marketing and journalism are relevant to a starter PR role, and will help to ensure that the individual has some learning under their belt. This is useful also if they decide to change direction: “If once they get started, they discover they are more interested in an alternative segment of the media and communications industry, they will be better placed to move across.”

A good university degree may not be essential, but Nancy Prendergast, managing director of PR consultancy Tannissan Mae, believes it is a great preparation for working in a challenging PR environment. Prendergast suggests that PROs need to know how to ask the right questions and look for answers, while having the understanding to take complex ideas and shape them into clear and engaging content. She adds: “PROs have to be good communicators, especially good writers, and they need to understand the basics of technology, finance and business. Good universities teach these skills.“

It is not just the academic skills that universities teach. Prendergast says they also encourage self-motivation, accountability and conviction, which are “indispensable in PR where there is rarely one right answer, a singular strategy or clear-cut solution. Beyond that, three or four years at university should engender a broader cultural awareness, inquisitiveness and quite simply, growing up. University education widens horizons, and encourages a versatility essential to the job.”

Andrew Marcus, PR manager at the Museum of London, agrees about the value of a degree: “PR, at its most basic, is the presentation of ideas. There is no better training for this than three years at university where debates and discussions take place everyday. Presentation skills need to be coupled with an ability to persuade, which again becomes well-honed during a university education. You could say that an academic essay is nothing more than an idea presented in such a way to persuade the reader of the validity of your opinion. You could also say the same thing about a press release.

Is having a degree vital for a career in PR?

Alastair Turner, managing director of agency Aspectus PR:

“In the PR industry creativity and ingenuity are critical and sometimes taking the unconventional route can endear you to bored PR directors who have seen 20 graduates with indistinguishable media degrees. On the other hand, completing a university degree can set an aspiring PR on the right track, especially if they take a relevant course.”

Robyn Margetts, trainee PR executive at PR agency Publicasity:

“I believe that some skills you may have already when leaving school and the rest you could learn on the job, however in such a competitive market you need to set yourself apart. I did both, I read English Literature at Warwick University and completed work experience. This combination put me in an advantageous position when I was applying for jobs. It enabled me to make an informed decision about my career choice, build on the skills which my degree taught me and enter at a higher position than one would on leaving school.”

Amy Dutton, digital communications executive at Camelot Group:

“My degree cost £20k – and means years of paying off debt. But the more I progress in my career, the more I realise how much I know. There was a point a few years ago that it all just fell into place – the strategy, measurement, marketing, CR, public affairs, etc and how much the degree prepared me for working in a big organisation. “

Share this article

    This debate is an arid one. PR lacks diversity. We should welcome people from all backgrounds - educational and otherwise.

    Name: Paul Noble
    Date: 27 Jan 2012 09:13 AM

    PR is now a degree entry business. The 2011 PR Census found that 90% of those employed are graduates, with around 30% having PR or comms degrees. It is also positive that PRCA has committed to working closely with a group of university PR programmes. It's obviously a mixed economy for degree entry into PR but at Bournemouth University, we have continuing strong demand for BAPR graduates from the PR sector. Of the 52 graduates polled in November 2011, 48 were working in real PR employment (not interns) and the other four were also in real jobs (marketing, etc). Also there is strong interest in many PR programmes across the country from students with good A-Levels prospects. We aren't complacent in the coming world of higher fees but prospects for PR graduates from well-respected courses are sound.

    Name: Prof Tom Watson

    Date: 27 Jan 2012 09:17 AM

    Having worked for 5 years in technology recruitment in London and Sydney, I was given my break in PR by AxiCom, despite my lack of degree. I think if I had just come out of school then it would have been unlikely but with 5 years of relevant experience under my belt the prospects were better. After nearly 8 years of working from entry level upwards I made practice leader/director. A degree shouldn't be necessary but relevant work experience is vital in my view.

    Name: Matt Cross
    Date: 27 Jan 2012 01:34 PM

    Having a degree in a relevant discipline is 'nice to have' if you want to work in PR. However, being able to WRITE concisely, intelligently and creatively will always be the MAIN requirement. If you can't write, please don't come into PR - we have enough free-loading 'strategists' and 'issue managers' in the industry as it is.

    Name: John V. Wright MCIPR
    Date: 27 Jan 2012 04:11 PM

    It would appear that John V. Wright MCIPR doesn't rate reading and understanding as highly as writing. Prof. Tom Watson didn't say PR should be a degree entry busines; he said it is, based on the results of the PR Census report. I gather from the Blue Planet Comms website that John is an ex-journalist and, amusingly, his agency provides "strategic marketing and reputational advice". That must make him one of those "free-loading 'strategists' and 'issues managers' in the industry" then. There is no evidence that Blue Planet knows anything about social media or developments in PR over the past 30 years though. Of course you don't need a degree to work in PR - and greater diversity among practitioners is welcome. That should include the make-up of those taking degrees (whether in PR or not). But I do wish we'd stop presenting this industry as one best represented by ex-hacks who fell into PR and think that's the only route to a career in the field. The PRCA apprenticeship programme has to be more robust than learning from those who focus primarily on press release writing. Encouraging bright, intelligent young people to want to work in PR is a separate matter to whether or not it is a profession. Yes, we should have career paths open to those from other disciplines or who do not choose to study for a degree first. But why shouldn't anyone coming into PR then seek to learn by means other than following the advice of ex-hacks reflecting the "I didn't get where I am today..." attitude of grumpy old men?

    Name: Heather Yaxley
    Date: 27 Jan 2012 05:14 PM

    Ah Heather, bless you. What's wrong with being a grumpy old man, I say. And I welcome entrants with a degree as much as the next person - just don't think of it as a qualification for a career in PR. Once you have understood the craft of writing and can bring it to bear on behalf of your clients, often under pressure, then you can go on to engage with the strategic marketing and reputational advice that will help to make you an all-round practitioner. By the way, you will need writing skills for more than just media releases. We use them to precis comments for our Twitter clients (I KNOW - pissed old hack not so baffled by new technology after all, who would have thought!), pitch documents, film scripts, editing client magazines and even peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals. Look after that green banana, Heather, and I am sure it will look after you...

    Name: John V. Wright MCIPR
    Date: 27 Jan 2012 05:56 PM

    I have always thought that the qualification that best showed aptitude for working in PR was a Blue Peter badge.

    Name: Caroline Scotter Mainprize

    Date: 30 Jan 2012 10:04 AM

    Well if having a degree was mandatory, I would be well and truly goosed as far as having a career in PR. Thankfully the smart people in this industry realise that natural talent, passion and commitment can often count for more than a piece of paper.

    Name: Chris Klopper
    Date: 30 Jan 2012 11:16 AM

    I think a PR degree helps you to achieve far more than academic skills. Most of the course is usually practical, including public speaking and group presentations that push you out of your comfort zone. I personally gained a lot of self-confidence and learnt how to handle and work with people from all backgrounds. I don't think you can go into this field without any background knowledge.

    Name: Jessica
    Date: 30 Jan 2012 01:50 PM

    And the "Calm down, dear" award goes to ... John V Wright. Strikes me that a good long read of Heather Yaxley's excellent Green Banana blog ( would be highly instructive.

    Name: Philip Young
    Date: 30 Jan 2012 02:07 PM

    In answer to the question, yes if they want one. They certainly aren't necessary though.

    Name: Charlotte Stamper

    Date: 31 Jan 2012 02:22 PM

    A degree is not necessary, i know lots of people who have high paid jobs in the PR sector who have built years of experience from trainee positions.

    Name: Matt
    Date: 03 Feb 2012 09:39 PM

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