How to tell if PR master’s degree is right for you

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Do you enjoy advocating for organizations and causes that are meaningful to you? Toward that end, do you relish the idea of regularly reaching out to members of the media and the public to shape how they perceive your clients?

If you answered “yes,” then a future in public relations (PR) may be right for you. However, once you’ve decided to pursue a PR career, there are many possible roads you can take to success.

A PR professional performs internet research.

Should you consider an advanced PR degree?

Unlike medicine or law, PR does not require its professionals to possess a specific credential to practice. An advanced PR degree is also not as well-known as, for example, a Master of Business Administration.

Historically, many PR specialists have not had PR degrees — or even degrees of any kind — and were instead recruited into agencies and other organizations based on their connections or general skills as communicators. Over time, though, the trend has been toward more education:

  • The 2018 PR and Communications Census from the PRCA found that more than 80 percent of PR professionals had undergraduate degrees.
  • Moreover, almost one-quarter (23 percent) had master’s degrees. In-house PR employees were more likely to have a master’s than their freelancer or agency peers.
  • Underscoring the trend toward greater credentialization in PR, 90 percent of employees ages 25-34 had degrees, compared to 64 percent in the 55-64 range.

What do students gain from earning PR degrees? Much more than just a credential to list on a resume. Let’s run through some of the core advantages of a formal education in PR.

  1. Increased salary outlook

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median PR specialist earned $59,300 in 2017. The BLS noted that these professionals typically have bachelor’s degrees in PR or in fields like English, journalism or business.

In contrast, the related position of PR manager had 2017 median pay of more than $111,000, along with a slightly better projected growth rate (10 percent versus 9 percent) for the 2016-2026 time period. While some of these managers have bachelor’s degrees, others have master’s degrees, which can be a requirement for the role.

Salary.com provides additional context for the BLS’ numbers by noting that while 64 percent of PR directors have a bachelor’s degree as their highest credential, a significant minority — 30 percent — had master’s degrees. For these individuals, the median salary was somewhere between $125,802 and $136,657, higher than that for directors with only a bachelor’s.

  1. Specialized skills development

Being a successful PR professional requires being versatile. You’ll need to not only be a good speaker, but also a talented writer and team contributor, with cross-disciplinary knowledge in fields such as marketing and advertising. A program like the Master’s in Strategic Public Relations (SPR) from the George Washington University (GW) provides this level of comprehensive preparation so you’re ready to take on ambitious projects right away. The GW SPR track has a wide-reaching core curriculum consisting of the following classes:

Strategic Public Relations: Principles and Practice
This course covers the evolution of key practices and tools in PR, paying particular attention to how new media platforms have influenced the PR profession. Students also gain insight into how PR is utilized by governments, nonprofit organizations and businesses.

Research Methods for PR and Public Affairs Managers
Successful PR campaigns are often based on extensive market research, including statistical analysis. The aim of this class is to introduce students to the relevant techniques necessary for applying research to actual projects.

Media Relations in a Digital World
This class examines a diverse range of issues related to the media’s influence on political, governmental and business-related interests. Special attention is devoted to the change brought on by the internet in general and by blogs and social networks in particular.

Fundamentals of Business & Finance for PR Professionals
In this course, students learn about the business side of PR. They become acquainted with relevant concepts from economics, accounting, human resource management, marketing and more to understand how PR agencies and teams operate from a financial perspective.

Ethical Standards in Public Relations and Public Affairs
The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) maintains a widely followed Code of Ethics for PR professionals. The popularity of the PRSA guidelines underscores the importance of ethical PR practices, which this course covers by helping students understand how to deal with ethical challenges and make sound decisions.

Sustainable Communications
This class dives into the ongoing corporate social responsibility self-regulatory movement, which encourages organizations to contribute to the social good. SPR students will learn about the communications challenges corporate social responsibility creates and possible solutions drawn from case studies, journals and original research.

Strategic Marketing Communications
There is natural synergy between PR and marketing, although the two fields have distinct aims. To ensure SPR students are up to speed on the latest in integrated marketing practices, this course covers everything from direct marketing communications to the use of podcasts for PR purposes.

Political Socialization and Public Opinion
This course examines how PR and public affairs influence the formation of political views and opinions. PR plays a pivotal role here by influencing what media outlets choose to cover and how they present their coverage.

Issues Management and Crisis Communications
Managing a crisis is a key aspect of PR practice. Conducted as a seminar, this course examines how organizations can adeptly manage their reputations as different crises and issues emerge.

A PR manager talks with a client.

Public Relations & Public Affairs Capstone Research Project
This is an independent research project that each student designs in cooperation with GW faculty. It serves a culmination of their research throughout the SPR program.

  1. A flexible learning environment

The fully online SPR program at GW gives working professionals real options in how they develop their interests in PR. They can earn a recognized degree from an accredited institution without ever having to set foot on campus. To learn more about the SPR track, visit the main program page today and request our free brochure.

Recommended Readings:

A Look at the Modern PR Landscape
Classes you can take in the GW Online Master’s in Strategic Public Relations program

Sources:

Salaries for Public Relations Director with a Master’s Degree or MBA
Public Relations and Fundraising Managers
PR and Communications Census 2018