With a masters in public relations, you could pursue a career in the world of digital media. You'll learn writing and research fundamentals, study PR case studies, work on management skills and learn more about international relations and crisis management.
Masters In Public Relations Campus Based Degree Programs
From television commercials to radio and newspaper ads, celebrity interviews in magazines, and even the images we have of a company or a brand, can be attributed to the work of public relations professionals. Public relations deals with creating and managing perceptions, sharing and disseminating information, and influencing the public.
The public relations field is dynamic and is a part of the larger field of marketing and communications it may offer many potential career opportunities and many industry options to pursue. In fact, the field is constantly expanding and evolving due to the various professional specializations, the diversity of opportunities to practice PR across various industry sectors, and the ease of starting a career in this field. The popularity of social media and digital communications has also created even greater opportunities in the PR but has also changed the traditional ways of practicing PR.
Potential Careers for Graduates of PR Master's Degree Programs
The types of positions available in the PR profession vary from industry to industry. Generally speaking, all PR roles interact with media to secure feature story placement. PR professionals also ensure that the brand or organization is being favorably portrayed in the media and in the public eye and that the image is consistent with what the brand aspires to represent and stand for.
In cases where the image or reputation is tarnished, the PR professional executes crisis communications with the goal of repairing the damage done to the public and to get positive stories out in the media. There are times where there isn’t any news or current event that a PR professional needs to get to the media or the organization is not faced in a time of crisis. In these instances, PR professionals work on a daily basis to share and disseminate information and to interact with the public.
In a typical day, a PR professional may be tasked with having to secure editorial or media coverage for a brand, personality, or organization and would be drafting press releases, crafting creative story angles, and pitching the story to target media for interviews, features, and story opportunities. This is the reason why PR professionals are required to have a strong rolodex of media contacts and be good at packaging and selling a story idea to media. Other regular tasks of PR professionals including having to work collaboratively with marketing, communications, and even sales so that PR can be used as leveraged.
Careers in this field offer a high degree of flexibility in the type of work environment that individuals work in. Many PR professionals work within an agency setting where they work on behalf of clients. Others work within a company or organization where their sole focus is on doing PR or advertising for their organization. For example, an individual can either work with XYZ PR or Advertising Company where they have multiple clients that they produce work for or they can work at Apple or American Airlines where their only focus is on doing PR or advertising for their company. Since the industry is large and presents low barriers of entry to newcomers, there are also opportunities for individuals to work independently on a contract or freelance basis, which is very prevalent.
Working in this field involves interacting with media, other experts, and the public. This field also often involves cross-coordination with marketing and communications professionals and most recently social media and digital professionals. A common trait of PR professionals is that they are a wordsmith and know how to package a story so that it is ready for media. They are also very strategic in how they manage public perception and are often very polished individuals since they usually act as the face of a company. On the other hand, advertising professionals must have an eye for creativity and be able to connect on an emotional level with their targets so that they are influenced and persuaded by the ad.
Common PR Master's Program Application Requirements
Since public relations and advertising are usually a specialization under business or journalism degree programs, individuals pursuing a master's degree in this field would typically pursue a Master’s degree in some type of business or communication program.
Regardless of the program type, master’s degree programs in public relations usually have test requirements, which can be the GRE test for general programs or the GMAT for business programs. Some business programs also offer the option to take either the GMAT or GRE test. A graduate program in PR may also have minimum experience and professional requirements and may request that a resume be provided in addition to a letter of recommendation and/or essay.
PR Master's Degree Program Curriculum
The primary educational goals of master's degree programs in this field are to advance the level of proficiency and mastery in helping to promote a business or image and to shape and influence opinions and public perceptions. These programs provide training on applying the fundamentals of PR in a real world sense. Students are taught how to craft creative messages, deal with crisis situations, manage public images, and interact with media. Depending on the program, some also offer courses that pertain to specific industry niches such as investor relations for public companies, public affairs for the government sector, and community relations for the non-profit sector.
Public Relations and Advertising Courses
While every PR master's degree program will differ in their course offerings and many offering a host of electives as options to supplement core courses, some of the common courses that students can expect include the following:
- Public Relations Research | an introspective insight into PR theory, history of the field of work and its evolution, as well as best practices.
- Legal and Ethical Foundations of Public Relations | insight on legal issues in PR as well as the duty to responsibly present accurate information to the public.
- Contemporary Public Relations | industry changes from traditional PR to a more dynamic PR practice that incorporates new forms of communication including digital.
- Media Relations | managing media relationships and interacting with them to secure earned media placement in media outlets. Media relations also deals with the dissemination of news, stories, and highlights to target media and journalists.
- Strategic Public Relations | this course also deals with how to execute PR strategy promote and advance organizational goals and shape the public as well as its function within cross-functional teams from marketing and communication to sales.
- Crisis Communications | the practice of repairing tarnished reputations, managing how an organization or brand publicly faces a crisis, and creating positive stories to change negative perceptions into positive ones.
- Writing for Media Professionals | how to create content that will effectively communicate news and information and present to media for coverage. This includes press release writing, messaging campaigns, and other forms of public communication.
- Public Affairs | this course deals with managing the relationship of an organization’s stakeholders and prepare students for careers in public service and public administration.
- International Public Relations | a study on the application of PR principles and tactics on a global level and how culture influences how PR is done.
- Investor Relations | a study on the practice of PR from a financial perspective for public companies and securities guidelines that must be adhered to and ethical issues in conveying and disseminating financial information.
- Advertising Theory | a course in the principles of advertising, communications theory, and how consumers respond to and are influenced by ads.
- Quantitative Research Methods | an overview of research methodology in advertising and understanding consumer behavior through consumer research (i.e. focus groups, demographic studies, surveys, etc.)
- Advertising Planning | a study on ad campaign development, the integration of promotional tactics, and concept development.
- Mass Communication | understanding persuasion, promotions, interpersonal communication, and communications theory
- Creative Development | a study on conceptualizing an idea into a story format and creating the visual output of the story in either video or print format.
- New and Traditional Media | a comparison of how media has evolved from being one dimension with traditional methods of communication and advertising (i.e. radio, TV, newspaper) to multidimensional with the introduction of new media (i.e. mobile, internet, social media) and how that affects how messages are disseminated and messages promoted.
- Copywriting | a course on persuasive and creative writing for ads and communications.
- Art Direction | a course on creating the visual concepts of an ad
- Media Planning | the practical application of advertising by learning how to create media plans, target media outlets based on demographic reach and other metrics, and scheduling media for broadcast, print, and digital.
Selecting a PR Master's Degree Program
Some PR master's degree programs are offered by a college or university usually through their business, journalism, or communications degree programs. The decision to choose one type of program over the other depends on specific preferences, the course selections, and the career aspirations of the student. There are also many online PR degree options, which offers the flexibility to take courses as a working professional. Graduate degrees in this field usually do not have a thesis or dissertation requirement nor do they have certification exam requirements.
Potential PR Career Opportunities
Career opportunities in PR might offer great flexibility to work in a variety of industries. From working in an agency to working within a corporate setting, government, or various industries including entertainment, consumer goods, technology, among a few, a student graduating from a PR master's degree program may find that they have a lot of options on the type of career path that they take. Typical career options that a professional can expect to encounter in this field can include the following:
- Account Manager
- Public Affairs
- Event Publicity
- PR Director
- Media Relations
- Non-profit PR
- Crisis Communications Manager
Experience counts for everything in this industry, and the best way to potentially gain access to a wide range of career opportunities is to gain experience. Knowing how to put into practice PR techniques and how to pitch media and manage image is only gained through experience; textbook knowledge can only go so far in this industry.
In addition to gaining experience, additional helpful tips to potentially help PR degree holders access potential career opportunities in this industry is through networking and by getting involved with industry associations. Networking provides opportunities to build relationships with media, which is important when it comes to being able to secure media and editorial coverage.
Networking groups and associations often also typically share industry news and resources as well information about job opportunities. Volunteering to work on projects pro bono especially for non-profit organizations will also provide practical work experience that graduate students can use to build their portfolio and their resume to expand the career opportunities available to them.
History of Public Relations and Advertising
The field of public relations and advertising has evolved over the past few decades particularly with the introduction of computers in the 80’s, the widespread use of the internet in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and now with the global popularity of social media and digital communications. The field evolved from being purely about spreading messages and propaganda to now promoting and targeting consumers on mobile devices and on social media. Such evolution has changed the way professionals in this field work and the need to continually develop new skills and stay abreast of industry trends.
Earlier forms of PR and advertising could be traced back to the early 1900’s, during historical periods, and at times of war and major conflict. Consider images in old movies where flyers were distributed and posted at public venues to announce a bounty for a criminal on the loose. During slavery, many slaves and Quakers used newspapers to spread the news about the abolishment of slavery. Even during times of war, publicity and advertising helped to spread propaganda. As the industrial revolution sparked a manufacturing boom, the newspaper industry began to grow as press machines became more prominent and available. Today, there are hundreds and thousands of newspapers and magazines focusing on everything from local and community news to statewide and regional papers to national newspapers and magazines like People, Time, and Forbes and daily national newspapers including the New York Times, New York Post, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post, among others. The globalization of business has expanded media markets to also include international publications.
Today, the field has gained so much popularity thanks to pop culture and TV. Celebrity publicist flood media with news and photos of their celebrity client from everything as major as a new film or song that the celebrity is working on to news as insignificant as a celebrity having a baby or getting a new hair cut. The paparazzi has also helped to spread the popularity of the PR industry with images of them chasing down and harassing celebrities to be the first to snap the latest photo of a celebrity to cover it in media. From entertainment shows to music videos, everything has been driven by the creative and strategic work of publicists. Some would argue that the work of PR professionals has gotten more challenging since consumers now have the control of media at their fingertips and can spread news virally within seconds. Even celebrities have taken control of their own public images and have used social media and digital communications to do so.
Advertising clutters our television and radio airwaves with constant images and commercials every second. It is impossible to sit through a television show and now be bombarded by a constant barrage of commercials for food and restaurants, products, toys, and everything else in between. Now that social media has gained global popularity, advertising is now taking form in the shape of social media ads. This field has become a normal way of doing business that it is nearly impossible to image life without any type of advertising or media messages.
Historical Crisis Managment in Public Relations
There are good examples of strategically executed PR campaigns. From turning around a tarnished image to launching a new product, the work of these professionals help brands and organizations thrive.
- Tylenol crisis:
- In 1982, Tylenol faced a major crisis and it took the work of savvy and strategic PR professionals to clean up the tarnished image and restore consumer’s confidence in the brand. The crisis began when seven people died after taking Tylenol laced with potassium cyanide. As with an organization that has a PR department in place, the first reaction by the brand was to quickly pull 31 million bottles of Tylenol off the shelves, stop all advertising, and work with law enforcement officials in search of the killer. A crisis this significant would create a national fear and safety concerns from consumers. So crisis communications experts were deployed to reassure consumers of the safety of Tylenol products and that the brand was diligently working to ensure that this would not occur again. From advertisements on TV, radio, magazines, and newspapers to news coverage, press conferences, press releases, and public statements by the senior executives of the company, every technique was deployed to get the company through this time of crisis. Coupons were even promoted and advertised as an incentive to drive purchases. Eventually, consumers gained confidence again and the brand was able to bounce back, but it wasn’t without strategic planning.
- Apple iPhone launch:
- When Apple announces the release of a new product whether it is a new iPhone version, the iPad, or iPod, scores of consumers camp out at night around the country anticipating the doors to mass retailers opening so that they can rush and grab their Apple product before it sells out. All of that excitement, buzz, and anticipation is the work of not only smart marketing and good branding but also PR and advertising teasing consumers about the new product release with sales promotions and ads.
Students pursuing a graduate degree in Public Relations– whether in a traditional classroom or online – have a world the flexibility in being able to choose which path their career takes and the types of job roles they want to work in. As technology continues to evolve and new forms of media are introduced, new job positions will be created to keep pace with the changing industry demands. Today, new roles have been created such as Social Media Strategist and Digital Media Creator, and this puts more opportunities at the hands of new graduates.