What can you do with a public relations degree? The possibilities are endless. PR professionals work in all sectors, providing the specialized expertise that shapes communications strategies and helps organizations improve their images and reputations. Government agencies, private corporations, nonprofit firms and trade groups all need top-notch PR, and this demand has fueled a strong outlook for PR specialists. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected 9% growth in total employment for this profession from 2016 to 2026.
The 100% online Master’s in Strategic Public Relations (SPR) from the George Washington University (GW) can prepare you for a rewarding PR career in any environment and enhance your prospects if you already work in the field. The program focuses on integrated PR, the growing trend of bringing PR, marketing, social media management and more under one umbrella to address digital communications challenges and drive superior bottom-line results across the entire organization. With that in mind, let’s explore what PR entails today and which careers the SPR can open up for graduates.
What is public relations?
The Public Relations Society of America defines PR as a “strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” This definition is broad, but it still underscores what makes PR unique — i.e., relationship-building — and the importance of strategic planning in connecting it to other fields and projects.
PR’s focus on relationships helps distinguish it from the similar but distinct field of marketing. Both disciplines focus on engaging specific audiences across many possible communications channels. However, whereas marketing is all about driving sales, PR is more about improving perception, through the carefully calibrated messaging contained in press releases, blog posts, podcasts, etc. as well as the rapid responses so necessary in the era of 24/7 online connectivity.
Think of it this way: A successful marketing campaign will usually lead to an increase in conversions, while a successful PR effort will result in the more indirect benefit of a more potent brand. Since many individuals choose brands as much as they choose products, services or causes, it makes sense to pair PR with marketing.
The practice of inbound PR, which combines the varied content of PR with the measurement of marketing, is a prime example of how both PR and marketing are being integrated to better reach the right audiences. Many PR professionals now work in roles requiring this type of synthesis between PR and marketing functions.
Current careers in PR and how the SPR degree helps
The SPR curriculum provides a rigorous and diverse exploration of all major concerns in modern PR practice, including digital media relations, strategic marketing communications, sustainability communications and corporate social responsibility, and crisis communications. Through the study of these topics and the completion of a comprehensive capstone project, graduates of the GW SPR online public relations degree are well-equipped to pursue advanced positions requiring multifaceted expertise. Specific examples include:
PR specialist and PR/fundraising manager
These two roles have a broad range of possible responsibilities between them. In addition to preparing press releases and responding to requests from the media, a PR specialist might gauge public response to a campaign on social media, evaluate different marketing partners and promotions to see if they align with current PR efforts, and set up interviews with an organization’s leadership.
By earning an SPR master’s, a PR specialist can compete for managerial positions, since some employers prefer candidates who have a master’s degree. The BLS estimates faster-than-average (10%) growth for PR and fundraising managers, who had a median pay of more than $111,000 in 2017. A PR manager has similar responsibilities as a PR specialist, along with managerial tasks such as supervising teams, creating PR strategies and communicating directly with other executives.
Press secretary/communications director
Who is the public face of an organization? For many government agencies, it’s the press secretary, who fields questions from members of the media, issues official statements on current events and coordinates interviews. The similar role of communications director is more popular throughout the private sector. A director of communications will focus on crafting the right message for the organization, overseeing PR and marketing campaigns, holding press conferences and contacting the press about coverage.
These positions have strong growth prospects as parts of the BLS’ larger advertising, promotions and marketing managers category. Total employment is expected to grow 10% from 2016 to 2026. Median compensation was nearly $130,000 in 2017.
Social media director and digital strategist
Social networks from Facebook to Snapchat have reshaped the practice of PR, requiring specialized knowledge of how each platform works and what types of content are best positioned to succeed on it. Moreover, social media has raised the stakes for adept crisis management, since information can spread quickly on these platforms.
A social media director will oversee an organization’s social media accounts and manage everything from how its online posts/updates are scheduled to what type of language should be used to respond to inquiries. Along the way, they will work with digital strategists who assist in the development of online assets and branding. Given the huge audiences across the major social networks, making the most of an organization’s presence will require a mix of PR, advertising and content marketing. PR professionals who are capable across all these domains are especially likely to succeed in social media management and digital strategy.
How to get started with your SPR degree
The GW SPR is a rigorous and fully online master’s degree program designed for both current and aspiring PR professionals. Getting started is easy:
Take a look at the curriculum overview page for insight into the online SPR degree course load, and be sure to visit the main site, where you can answer a few quick questions to receive a free copy of our brochure.
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