Public relations careers involve attaining free or low-cost publicity for an organization, such as in news conferences, press releases, and the like1.
Some undergraduate and graduate institutions combine public relations and into one course of study, while others offer separate courses of study for each discipline.
Earning a PhD in Public Relations
While a graduate degree in public relations and may help students develop a public relations or professionals skill set, it is sometimes difficult to decide how much graduate school is needed in order for a person to pursue their personal and professional goals.
A master’s degree in public relations may provide individuals with excellent preparation for a career in the PR field or in a related field. The master’s degree is focused on theories and concepts about mass communication and the public perception of brands. It also emphasizes the application of these ideas to PR in modern, real-world markets2.
The required courses for the master’s degree often include media, communications, research methodology, ethics, politics, strategic advertising, and the like3. Depending on the program, a thesis or passing a comprehensive exam may be required in the second half of the program as well. For a full-time student, the completion of the required courses plus any thesis or comprehensive exams will typically take about two years of full-time study4.
A Ph.D. program in public relations will delve further into concepts and theories, training students to work either in the field or in PR, conduct research on advanced topics in the field, or qualify them to teach at the college or graduate level5. Earning a doctorate degree in public relations could require anywhere from three to five years of full-time study, depending on the program; the first few semesters will be dedicated to the required coursework, and the rest of the degree will typically involve researching for and writing a dissertation6.
While students at the doctorate level are usually preparing for a career in higher education, earning a Ph.D. in public relations might qualify the degree holder for different career opportunities in the field as well7. Doctoral graduates of PR programs might be able to seek research positions at a university or in the field8, in campaign management, or as political strategists, among other options9.
Popular Research and PhD Thesis Topics in Public Relations
The field of public relations has many facets that could provide for excellent research, thesis, and/or dissertation topics. A few popular topics are outlined here.
Mass communication theory serves as a popular research topic in the PR sphere10, encompassing any aspect of the concepts and ideology behind mass media and their relationship to the media consumers. Researchers could focus, for example, on the various processes involved in reaching an audience, or on the changing responsibilities of the mass media as they relate to technological advances. Other topics in this vein could include aesthetics and creativity in media, the effects of the media on the consumers, or the practical application of specific theories, among countless others11.
Public relations statistics, another popular research topic in the field, could be a beneficial topic for those pursuing a specialization in the more technical and mathematical side of PR research. Research topics to pursue under the broad umbrella of PR statistics could include best practices in PR statistics; business forecasting; the importance of statistics for firms and organizations; or many more12.
Ethics in public relations is a popular research topic perhaps because of its overarching importance to the field. Research topics could include public trust; ethical practice for PR representatives; the effects of conflicts of interest; privacy and security in the media; and guidelines for fair competition13.
The sociology of mass media, the study of how the mass media affect people’s perception of themselves, each other, and society, provides many topics for research14. Among the many subjects to explore, researchers could focus on the differences between digital interactions and communication in person, for example, or the changing trends in advertising—namely, what people respond to most and how it changes over time. One might also research the effects of different types of media on people, how those types of media are designed to reach people, and how people perceive them15.
National Resources for Public Relations Ph.D. Students
There are many resources available for students and professionals in PR. Many academic journals provide research and news from the field, such as the Journal of Advertising (JA), the official journal of the American Academy of Advertising (AAA). Published quarterly, the Journal of Advertising promotes the development of advertising theory and the channels from theory to practice16.
The Journal of Advertising Research (JAR), published bimonthly, discusses research and development in fields related to advertising, marketing, and communications17.
The Public Relations Journal, published quarterly by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), is peer reviewed and electronic, and aims to promote research in PR and to advance the field as a whole by doing so18.
The Journal of Public Relations Research is also peer reviewed and published quarterly by Taylor & Francis. This journal promotes using any number of methodologies to foster scholarship and research in public relations theory, and encourages multidisciplinary approaches19.
For PR, the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) and the aforementioned Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) are PR organizations that offer professional development, conferences, and networking for members.
Myths and Realities about Public Relations
Although public relations is a popular field, many myths are in circulation about what the fields actually entail. Some widespread falsehoods are debunked below.
Myth #1: Public relations and advertising are interchangeable.
Fact: Although the fields go hand in hand, public relations and advertising are quite different. While PR deals with free publicity, advertising handles clients who pay for ad space—and these differences bring with them separate duties and skills20. Advertising is based more on creativity and organic content, while public relations involves manipulating content in the media.
Myth #2: A degree holder in public relations and advertising can only pursue a career as a PR or advertising representative.
Fact: You can pursue many things with a graduate degree in PR and advertising! Your graduate program may help guide you in understanding the ins and outs of business and interpersonal relations and in thinking and acting professionally. Such knowledge may be transferable across many different careers and industries. For example, a degree holder in PR and advertising might pursue a career in fields such as politics, media, communications, education, or law, among many others.
Myth #3: Public relations and politics are separate fields of study in many universities, so they must be unrelated professions too.
Fact: Public relations and politics are often symbiotic. The reason for this is simply that politicians and political campaigns would not be effective without a public relations team employing professional skills to provide the consulting, analysis, and decision making for the campaign21. The candidate’s image and how that image is perceived and disseminated is largely shaped by the public relations team. As such the popularity and success of a candidate can be in no small part attributed to the candidate’s PR specialists.
Myth #4: Public relations and advertising career opportunities are rare in the current economic climate.
Fact: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, careers in these fields are expected to grow steadily in the coming years, about as quickly as the national average22. Even for entry-level positions, which have become increasingly more competitive, the market is demonstrating growth23.
Public relations is a field that is constantly evolving, presenting opportunity potential as it grows. For many businesses and organizations, the growth of their brand lies in advertising, marketing, and publicity, and the PR and advertising consultants are the ones who help them achieve their goals.
Those who teach PR and marketing are important to the future of the field, too, as they train and inspire future PR and advertising consultants, businesspeople, marketers, teachers, managers, researchers, and more.
A graduate degree in public relations is a multifunctional degree that might qualify students to pursue potential career opportunities across many industries and careers. Whether you enjoy being in the spotlight or working creatively behind the scenes, an advanced PRdegree could give you an advantage in the job market and in the advancement of a career in public relations, marketing, consulting, teaching, or many more.