Three Reasons to Get a Graduate Degree in PR

When I entered the field of public relations at the ripe old age of 22, I felt like a latecomer. I had just moved to Washington, D.C., for an internship in PR at a theater (as I thought I wanted to work at a theater, but did not know in what capacity) and quickly realized how exciting and creative PR could be. With no formal PR-focused education, I decided to take an introduction to PR class in a strategic public relations graduate program at The George Washington University, which turned out to be a great career decision.

PR is a field that doesn’t require post-graduate degrees, and professionals in the field have a variety of undergraduate majors and minors. A lot of schools do have PR undergraduate degrees, such as the Newhouse School at Syracuse, as well as PRSSA chapters. Many people, though, come to PR with a strong background in writing, speaking or community outreach and may be looking for more formalized training, which was exactly what I needed. Benefits from obtaining a master’s degree include:

Learning from classmates

Much of the knowledge I gained from attaining my master’s degree in PR came from speaking with my fellow classmates. In my introduction to PR class, filled mostly with part-time students with full-time jobs, I met people working as press secretaries for senators, account executives at PR firms, graduate interns in formal government postings, sole PR practitioners at non-profits and in a host of other positions. The class also included some less experienced people such as myself, but class conversations were more often carried by people with experience, and it was interesting to hear their thoughts. Though my classmates’ collective experience intimidated me, I appreciated being able to learn from the stories and ideas they shared.

Connecting to internship and networking opportunities

Experience is key in PR. Internships can help a new professional determine what kind of place at which he or she would like to work. (Agency? Non-profit? Government?) They can help a new pro get his or her foot in the door. Networking is also a good way to gain knowledge about the PR field in a specific area and meet people who can connect you to a job. Combining networking and the experience of obtaining a graduate degree is sure way to achieve success, and, in fact, networking and getting experience can be much easier to do through enrolling in a graduate program. Many companies may require internship candidates to be enrolled in a graduate program, such as government Student Career Experience Programs (SCEP), and university career centers often help connect students to internships or full-time positions. Graduate programs or university career centers often host helpful networking events as well, free to students. Take advantage of these if you enroll in a program.

Getting an edge on your resume

Toward the end of my graduate program, I began to look for a full-time PR position through the career center at which I worked. I found a position that required applicants to have either a certain number of years of experience (which I didn’t have) OR less years of experience and a master’s degree. Since I would had the degree, I was qualified…and got the job! In other situations, when your resume may look nearly the same as another candidate’s, but you have a master’s and the other candidate does not, you’ll come out on top.

The decision to get a master’s is a big one to make. Aside from assessing whether it will help you improve your job prospects, you’ll have to consider the cost–what program to choose (PR, communications, perhaps even an MBA), which schools to apply to, whether to go full-time or part-time and if you’ll be able to handle the work load. Try applying for a job at the school you decide to go to. After I started working full-time at GWU, my tuition costs were almost completely covered by the school. Whatever you end up deciding to do, make sure it’s something that will add to your career, that you’ll be learning new information that you didn’t know before and that you’ll enjoy the program. If you apply and get in, make sure to go out and have fun with your classmates—they’ll be your future colleagues!

Whitney GrayWhitney E. Gray, communications coordinator for CropLife America, an international trade association of agrobusiness companies. Hailing from the snowy state of New Hampshire, Gray has been working in Washington, D.C., since 2008. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in theater arts and American studies from Brandeis University and has a master’s degree in strategic public relations from The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management. Gray once served as the PRSA New Professionals Section membership co-chair.

Professional Development Brown Bag: Exploring Post-Graduate Options in PR

Is graduate school something you’ve considered? If so, will you choose MBA or Masters? What about getting your APR? Where does it all fit in? Do you start right after you graduate from college or after you’ve been working a couple years? For some it’s obvious, if you’re more in line with a business field, you’ll go for the MBA, but what about the rest of us? Our next Brown Bag, “Exploring Post-Graduate Options in Public Relations”, should help answer some of your questions!

We have the opportunity to hear from a panel of three guests: Arthur Yann (APR), Meg Kane (Masters) and Heather Read (MBA). Each of them comes from a different industry and will shed some light on their career and education path.

The Brown Bag will be held on Friday, September 23 from 2-3 pm. Remember, it’s free for PRSSA and New Pros Section members! Register here.

Arthur Yann, APR is vice president, public relations, at PRSA. In his 20+ years of New York agency experience, Yann has launched and revitalized consumer and business products, developed national and local media relations strategies, managed corporate reputations and crises and built brands. Yann holds a journalism degree from Ohio University.

Meg Kane is currently an account supervisor for Brian Communications in Philadelphia, Penn. She holds a Masters degree in Strategic Public Relations and Political Rhetoric from the University of Maryland. Kane has worked on the agency side of public relations for more than five years, working with brands such as Tastykake and the Philadelphia Orchestra Association. Additionally, Kane served as the director of public relations for Mount Saint Joseph Academy as well an adjunct professor of communication at La Salle University.

Heather Read, MBA is an award-winning specialist in strategic communications and has 14 years of experience in business-to-business and technology PR and marketing. Read is currently public affairs program manager at DuPont, managing social media as it relates to issues and crisis communications. Previously, Read was the senior director of communications at Afilias. She holds a MBA from Temple University’s Fox School of Business and and is a certified Six Sigma Green Belt.

PRSA Jobcenter Adds Features Designed for New Professionals by Richard Spector

Recently I had the pleasure of managing PRSA’s Jobcenter redesign – with the help and guidance of some wonderful colleagues. We rebuilt the navigation and compiled information from all PRSA and PRSSA resources including advice based on PR Tactics articles, Forum blogs, comPRehension entries, HR consultants and resume guidance from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. What is the result? We now have an information-rich career center to set job seekers on a successful path for all career levels. If you are new to public relations, the entry-level and tools and tactics pages can provide a needed edge in this ever-changing economy. We based the redesign on answering a series of questions for new professionals.

How can I write the best resume? A resume starts with making a personal pitch through your cover letter. This letter is your chance to make a great first impression. The first two sentences of your resume should summarize your background, to tell the HR person whether to read on. Once you have reviewed more resume and career articles, you can sign up for a customized 21-page resume guide or a resume critique. You will be able to access these portions once you post a resume to PRSA Jobcenter.

How do I prepare for a job interview? As the saying goes, you only have three seconds to make a good impression, and we can help. The first bit of advice is of course to keep calm even when asked tough questions. PRSSA has a great synopsis of the types of interview questions you may be asked. Next comes the question of following up after the first interview. The growing importance of social media has made the “give to get” rule a necessity. Stand out from the crowd by sending the company you interviewed for a relevant article or helpful observations on improving their website. When you get to the second interview, prepare a brief customized marketing or social media plan. Throughout the process, also take note of your personal brand. This will help you present yourself in the best way possible.

What are the best resources to search for a job? Nowadays, the answer really is “everything.” An HR consultant mentioned a conversation he had recently with a job applicant. The applicant waited a year before coming to him. Why? They were searching for jobs only via social media. Using only one resource decreases your chances of finding a job. You can stay competitive by searching for jobs on job boards, LinkedIn and Craig’s List. The PRSA Jobcenter has some time-saving elements when searching for a job, such as signing up for job alerts or a job feed.

How do I land that internship? PRSSA can help you get started with internship realities for graduating seniors. They also offer perspectives on working for an agency vs. a corporation. Once you have landed that much-coveted internship, you will want to make the most out of your internship experience. The ultimate goal is to be hired for a permanent position, and advice from both PRSA and PRSSA can help.

How can I network most effectively? The best outcome from networking effectively is to have an employer at the company you wish to work for hand-deliver your resume to the HR director. But how do you make this happen? PRSA Jobcenter has a page to help you network like a pro. Set up a plan to network with intention, make networking an art and follow the essential steps for networking success. Best-selling author Andrea Nierenberg offers tips on Ways to Say “Thank You” along with the “ABCs of Networking“.

Finally yet importantly, always stay positive, and remember PRSA Jobcenter will have strategic guidance for you every step of the way. Whether you are looking to ask our panel of mentors a question, wish to attend graduate school or find a helpful webinar, we will follow your career from entry-, mid- to senior-level.

Richard Spector is the manager of client services at Public Relations Society of America.

professional development teleconference…Master’s Degree vs. APR (April 30, 2010)

As PR professionals find it harder and harder to gain employment in these tough times, many are asking themselves if going back to school for a master’s degree will make them more competitive or would APR accreditation be the better option. To help us answer this question, we’ve invited Laura Reilly, APR, to talk about her passion for learning during this month’s Brown Bag teleconference on April 30.

Laura is currently the director of communications for the Georgia School Boards Association.  Laura is active with the Public Relations Society of America and is involved in the accreditation process with PRSA. In addition, Laura has earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in advertising and a Master of Journalism degree.

We spoke with Laura about some of her education decisions and asked her to share the experiences she’s gained from them.

1. How has obtaining a master’s degree benefited your career?

I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Advertising/Design and a Master of Journalism. The two disciplines have merged nicely during my career and assist greatly in all marketing and communications efforts.

2. How has obtaining APR accreditation benefited your career?

The song, “The Climb,” describes it nicely: It’s not about what’s on the other side, it’s about the climb. Earning and maintaining an APR can be a career-long experience. I learned a tremendous amount about public relations through the process and I continue to benefit greatly through my involvement as an APR panelist and the maintenance process.

3. What lessons have you learned during your career and how did you gain this knowledge?

I’ve learned many, but one that resonates continually is that we have to listen first in order to be heard. That applies to the practice of public relations in that we must do research first before committing to a plan of action. I used to be much more subtle in suggesting this to my bosses, etc., but today I’m very assertive about this belief. Engaging stakeholders in the process can be scary, but it is always worthwhile. I learned this first through graduate school and the APR process, and then by watching the negative consequences when this is not done.

4. Why did you decide to further your education?

As an advertising design specialist, I watched others in the agency business formulate entire communications and marketing strategies. I wanted to be at that level of the decision making process.

5. Why did you decided to get accredited in PR?

It is always important to continue learning. I engaged in the APR process after I had five years experience and it was perfect timing. Going through the process helped me recognize that we’re never through learning from others. I don’t care who you are and how long you’ve been doing this work, if you open yourself up to it you can continually experience new aspects of our profession.

Laura Reilly, APR will be instructing our New Pros of PRSA Brown Bag teleconference, “Master’s Degree vs. APR” on April 30, 2010 at 2pm EST. To register, click here.

your PR career… PR Graduate School (Part 2: MBA vs MA/MS) by Janet Krenn

“The earning begins later.” That’s how one survey respondent described career advancement after obtaining her MS.

I had a similar experience after obtaining my MS in Journalism. I had the advanced degree, but the riches were nonexistent. It made me wonder, was I lacking the right degree or was I lacking perspective and experience?

I thought, it would have been useful to talk with those who had a graduate degree and several years of experience under their belt before I decided on a grad program. That thought led to my survey.

I asked 32 seasoned PR professionals with graduate degrees to help me put graduate school in perspective, and (hopefully) gain some additional insight for those who are still considering a graduate degree, In last week’s post, we looked at 24 pros with MA or MS degrees (Seasoned Pros Talk About Grad School, Part 1). This week, we’ll hear from 8 with MBAs.

Why get an MBA?

Just like those with MA and MS degrees, the respondents with MBAs decided to pursue graduate school for career advancement, personal development, or career changing.

Unlike their MA/MS counterparts, however, MBAs who cited career change, chose an MBA because they believed it would help them become more specialized in corporate communications or it would help them to move from one branch of corporate communications to another. (Those with MA and MS degrees cited changing fields as impetus for getting their degree.)

What degree differentiates you best?

Those with MBAs were much more likely to say that their degree has helped to differentiate them from their peers. 75% of those with MBAs said their degree was a differentiator, compared to 40% of those with an MS degree and 0% with an MA.

What should you consider when choosing a grad school?

If you ask those with MBAs, 75% say you should choose a program based on the quality and variety of the courses offered. MA or MS grads say, choose a subject matter you like the most.

Is there a credibility gap?

Those with MBAs were more likely to perceive that their degree gave them “credibility” in the work place. 75% MBAs thought their degree made them more credible than their peers. 25% of those with MA or MS degrees sited increased credibility.

Benefits of getting a graduate degree?

Half of those with MBAs believed business school gave them a new, useful perspective in their job. The most respondents cited a “new perspective” as a major benefit of having attended grad school.

There was less agreement among those with MA and MS degrees. About 20% said the degree hasn’t seemed to help them get better jobs or earn more money. The same number said they believe their graduate degree has helped them to earn more.

“If I knew then what I knew now, I would…”

To finish the survey, we asked our respondents to give some advice to our New Professionals members. Their advice is posted to our eGroups page, and available for PRSA New Professionals members only.

Some of the demographic info.
Overall, those who responded to the survey are experienced. Most have several years of professional perspective between their graduation date and today.

8 PR pros with MBAs. (See the job titles of those who responded to the survey. Job Titles of Those with MBAs)

Of these pros, 6 (or 75%) graduated more than 5 years ago. 7 respondents had more than 11 years experience in the PR field.

See the directory of schools our respondents attended. Directory of MBA Degrees