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What do you need to study to get into PR? (and do you need a degree?)

We asked PR recruiters which degrees subjects are most useful for a career in PR, and to what extent a degree is necessary.

Public relations can be useful (and Chat GPT agrees!)

Matthew Robinson, senior PR and digital strategist at PR agency Definition “Some of the sharpest minds I've worked with boast degrees in fields as diverse as English, history, geography, psychology, and even engineering - the latter being especially useful in terms of bridging the gap between technical expertise and effective communication. In recent years, I’ve noticed more and more individuals joining the industry with tailored degrees in PR, marketing, or journalism, which perhaps reflects a growing recognition of the profession. These degrees no doubt offer a great foundation for aspiring PR pros, but in my opinion, nothing beats hands-on, real-world experience.”

“Out of curiosity I thought I’d ask ChatGPT what it reckons are the most valuable degrees for a career in PR, and this is what it suggested:

  1. Public Relations
  2. Communications
  3. Journalism
  4. Marketing
  5. Advertising
  6. Media Studies
  7. English or English Literature
  8. Business Administration
  9. Digital Marketing
  10. Psychology”

Journalism is a valuable degree

Lucia Barbato, CEO of agency Ilex Content Strategies: “Personally, I have a law degree, my business partner an Asian Studies degree. As an employer we have staff with a full range of education journeys, from school leavers to those with Masters under their belts.

“If you’re committed to a degree and a path in PR I’d say journalism is more valuable than a marketing or PR degree. The industry is crying out for good storytellers with business writing skills.

“The reality is very few people who join the industry actually intend to. It’s a path often found by happy coincidence.”

English Lit, philosophy, history, maths and science

Louise Stewart, team development director at PR-led digital marketing agency Tank: “The most useful degrees for a career in PR are those which develop outstanding language skills and provide the ability to contextualise society and its structure. We have hired graduates for our PR team with a range of degree backgrounds, but we find English literature, philosophy and especially history are excellent at developing those essential skills. As our agency becomes increasingly focused on digital, this now impacts on every hire we make. Analytical and data expertise from maths and science degrees are particularly important.

“We know that making those first steps in your career can be daunting, so we run lots of work experience opportunities and partner with local universities to give students a solid foundation of knowledge about what a career in PR could look like. Our digital teams also offer apprenticeships which support people who haven’t gone to university to develop their technical competence.

“Our team has such a broad range of skills and experiences, alongside mentoring and training programmes, so people will always have plenty of opportunities to learn across a range of disciplines when they get started regardless of their degree.”

PR is hard, but it isn’t rocket science

Chris King, joint MD of PR agency Wildfire: “I’m a PR graduate from Bournemouth. Did it give me any magic advantage over people from other courses? Not academically! But the yearlong placement in a PR agency in my third year certainly helped. It taught me what the job actually was and made me more employable when I graduated.

“When I’m interviewing junior candidates these days, I put little weight on what they’ve studied and where. I’m looking for relevant experience, ambition, and aptitude. What have they done outside of academia that shows grit and determination?

“My team currently has four grads. The rest come from all sorts of backgrounds like drama, English, politics, journalism, history, geography, and law. They’re all brilliant. PR is hard but it isn’t rocket science.

“There are many paths into PR. If you’re smart and interested, you can learn all you need to know and have a great career whether you’ve got a degree or did a PR apprenticeship straight out of school.”

You don’t have to be a graduate

Nadia Delgado, head of talent acquisition at PR firm Golin Group: “In the world of PR today, degrees no longer hold the same weight they once did. Whilst a related degree may provide a foundational understanding of PR principles, it's not the sole determinant of success. PR recruiters increasingly value candidates who possess a passion that fuels creativity and determination that fuels perseverance, as well as life skills like interpersonal skills and problem solving. Communication, adaptability, and networking abilities are also all key PR skills, but these can be honed through hands-on experience and personal development.

“Moreover, PR today encompasses a digital landscape, where skills like social media management, content creation, and data analysis often matter more than a traditional degree. So, whilst a degree can be beneficial, it's not a prerequisite for a successful PR career. The right agencies will continue to prioritise skills and traits that demonstrate your potential, making it possible to thrive in PR without a formal education.”

Ilex’s Lucia Barbato: “I think the PRCA apprenticeship scheme is a great route into the industry. It’s a fast track way to avoid the huge costs of a degree whilst learning on the job. It’s also delivered remotely so isn’t just limited to those lucky enough to be able to afford to live in London.”

Definition’s Matthew Robinson: "We've always believed that a university degree, whilst valuable, isn't the only ticket to success. When we hire, we're on the lookout for qualities like creativity, adaptability, and the sheer eagerness to learn, since many practical skills are best acquired whilst on the job. That being said, most degrees help people develop the crucial skills needed for a career in PR - problem-solving, creativity, attention to detail, critical thinking, and the knack for crafting compelling arguments.“

Clare Pope, head of clients and content at food and drink PR agency Sharp: “Our approach to recruitment is not defined by whether you have a degree or what kind of degree you have. For us, it’s much more about finding someone who is genuinely enthusiastic about PR and marketing, who takes an interest in what’s going on around them in the media and the industry itself.

“We have a mix of talents with very different backgrounds - accounting, teaching, a baker, the army, an event planner, and several PR purists, who have made their career in PR and marketing. The one thing we all have in common is a passion for food and drink and communicating, which is essentially at the heart of what we do.”

Vicky Marsh, senior group talent manager at agency Splendid Communications: “We have lots of brilliant PR experts, some of them went to university and graduated with degrees and some left school with a great education, hungry for work and a career. Recruiting for entry-level PR roles has evolved over the last decade and the most inclusive businesses won’t require a university degree to bring great talent into a team. We don’t even look at education. We review applications for our internship programme entirely on the basis of competency-based questions and not a CV. If someone sends us one, we have an applicant tracking system that ‘covers up’ their education details; we don’t want to know if you’ve been to university! We look for potential. A positive can-do attitude, drive to succeed and set of transferable skills along with a curiosity for the industry will get your foot in the door. Our advice to anyone thinking about whether to go to university is to consider the whole experience and what they’ll get out of it. Don’t just do it to get into PR.”

It appears that nearly all degree subjects can offer some useful skills. What is most important is not which degree that has been studied, but rather enthusiasm for PR and determination - many candidates may decide to use these qualities to head into PR without doing a degree first.

Further reading and listening:

These podcasts discuss PR degrees and why PR degrees need your help

These features further explore the topic of PR qualifications:

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