Ask 100 PR professionals about their educational background, and you're likely to get dozens of different responses.
From the traditionalists who earned degrees in communications, PR, or marketing, to those who earned more obscure degrees in kinesiology or law, ours is a profession that readily embraces the diverse personal and professional backgrounds of its professionals.
This diversity tends to generate debate within the profession regarding whether a traditional communications and PR background is best, or if given today's global business landscape, future practitioners should pursue a business degree.
While each side has its merits and has clearly produced highly successful PR professionals, there is a common ground that can and should be pursued: a hybrid model combining courses in communications, PR, and marketing with a foundational curriculum based on core business disciplines.
As PR practitioners, it's our responsibility to understand how companies can best utilize engagement and influence with key audiences to help a business or organization thrive. Many of today's college-level communications programs are missing the boat in this regard, and, in the long run, that's to the detriment of the profession.
Lacking a solid understanding of core business attributes not only limits the long-term success of young professionals, but undermines the intrinsic value that PR can achieve at any level within an organization.
A hybrid communications–business education model offers a rigorous understanding of business concepts, including courses in business ethics, accounting, finance, management, and organizational behavior. This, in addition to thought-provoking courses in communications theory and strategy, media relations, social media, and content creation, is now required to become a successful 21st-century practitioner.
Merely being “PR-savvy” is no longer enough to understand how to effectively counsel executives and businesses that are engrossed in increasingly multidimensional and intricate markets.
Utilizing this hybrid model, the PR profession will become reinforced with new professionals who are attuned to the needs, concerns, and issues facing today's business executives. And that means PR will continue to have a strong role at the executive level, helping companies build and sustain vibrant businesses.
Gary McCormick is chair and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America.