Opinion: PR students are the stars of tomorrow

Eight years ago, I wrote Cosmopolitan Guide to Working in PR and Advertising as a way of formally teaching myself about the profession I was so busy practising. Not having done a degree of any kind, I wanted to be sure that the theory and history of PR matched what I was doing for clients. Happily, for the most part, it did. I remember travelling to the University of Stirling, which has always had a great MSc in PR, but in truth it was a little too far from London to sensibly do more than admire the course from afar.

Yet in little under a decade there is now a PR degree in every corner of the land. The academic pursuit of PR has burgeoned to over 20 academic institutions with the IPR's seal of approval for around 50 degrees, masters and postgraduate diplomas.

Looking at the websites for each degree, I am struck by how hard they work to marry the coursework involved with the coal face of actual PR work. Most of the BA three-year degrees cite a minimum of half a term's work placement at a leading company or consultancy as part of the coursework.

I think this is crucial. Achieving dry academic excellence by itself is of no practical use to students or the market.

But combine the knowledge, the research and the case studies with an applied edge to real issues and you can always see the difference between a graduate of PR and a graduate of another discipline.

Perhaps the importance I attach to experience is why I helped develop an MA, rather than a BA, in PR at the London College of Communication where 'relevant work experience' is welcomed. Our current students include the head of PR at Lewisham Council, a senior consultant from private business and a press officer from The Guardian. All are highly impressive in their track records, as well as their clear-sighted enthusiasm for study and self-improvement, in this their chosen field.

Surely the PR department or consultancy of tomorrow should be judged as much on their commitment to taking PR graduates and their encouragement of continued education in PR as on the amount of business wins notched up? After all, good PR practitioners are the breadwinners and client satisfiers of tomorrow, even if they are only students today. Enrol or offer your staff the chance to today. We all have something to gain.

Julia Hobsbawm is professor of public relations at the London College of Communication. Kate Nicholas is on maternity leave.

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