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Should PROs have degrees?

25th January 2012


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. “



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