At some point in your career, whether you’re just starting to climb the ranks of agency life or you’re a seasoned pro with an executive title, you may find yourself grappling with the idea of pursuing a Master’s degree in PR. There are many benefits to getting an advanced degree in general: opportunity for higher earning potential, more specialized skills, and potential career advancement. But in public relations, is it really necessary to have a master’s degree to succeed?
Pursuing a Master’s Degree typically takes a considerable amount of investment, both in time and money, so you’ll want to be sure it’s really worth it. But is it? I say no. Here’s why.
As a veteran of the PR industry, I’ve had my share of exposure to various successful individuals in PR and they all had one thing in common (and it wasn’t an advanced degree): networking. The ability to build solid relationships with peers, leadership, and the media, is HUGE in PR. Arguably, PR is really the act of building, nurturing, and maximizing relationships, so it only makes sense that a part of your success is largely determined by those within your network.
If you’re seeking that extra edge and the ability to stand out among colleagues, look to your network. Evaluate who you’re connected to and ask yourself if your relationships could use some basic hygiene. Do you only reach out to people when you need something? Yikes. Drop a hello (authentically) or offer to grab a coffee or drink to catch-up. Need to expand your network? Consider participating in activities that grow and strengthen your network. Join a local PRSA group, hop in virtual Clubhouse rooms and join the conversation, or find other ways to mix and mingle and chat with influencers in the PR space.
When it comes to networking, remember the educational value of being in the company of others with different backgrounds and experiences outside your own. Be a sponge and soak up everything you can when intermingling with different people and don’t be shy in connecting with them down the road. Drop a connection on LinkedIn, follow them on social media, and stay in touch on a regular basis.
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PR is an art, not a science, so precision isn’t the name of the game. The fundamentals of PR can be learned when obtaining a journalism, communications, or marketing degree (and better yet above all else, actual job experience). Foundational skills like strategic communications, crisis management, reputation management, and oral, visual, and written communications are all taught in some form of fashion in different marketing degrees. And all of it can be applied to PR.
PR relies heavily on first-hand experience, especially since the profession is consistently evolving and the need for new skills come into play. So a steady stream of PR-related experience—from an internship and entry-level coordinator role through management and so on—is continuously built upon throughout the years, proving more valuable than any advanced degree in PR ever could.
Remember, PR is an extremely flexible, portable, and ever-evolving skill set, so what was learned years ago in college has likely changed during the years, too. To stay current on trends, one of the best habits to form is to look at platforms like LinkedIn Learning and to PR professionals that share their wisdom as ways to gain current insight into PR.
Obtaining an MBA on top of a marketing focused degree can give you the additional knowledge and edge needed to move into more company executive and leadership roles. And, it’s always smart to stay current with industry trends and new strategies by attending conferences and other events aimed at up leveling PR professionals.
Are either of these absolutely necessary to achieving your PR goals? And are you doomed to never moving into leadership if you don’t go this route? Of course not. There are myriad ways to obtain the skills needed to move into a leadership role, and most of it comes from direct experience and perhaps a good mentor.
But, should you decide you want to increase your business credo and be able to eloquently articulate business language, an MBA could be the right move. If anything, it separates you from the pack of other applicants when applying for a job. Plus, if you venture into other marketing domains and into more data-driven, financial, economics-based, or managerial territories, that MBA can provide differentiation and a competitive edge.
Obtaining a Master’s in PR may make sense, IF you want to change careers from a non-marketing degree to a role that requires a marketing (journalism, communication, or PR) degree. For instance, if you have a degree in biology, but you’ve decided you want to pursue an agency role in PR, your degree likely won’t transfer because you’ll lack baseline skills as dictated by a degree. In this instance, if you already have an undergrad degree and still need a related degree, you should look into an advanced degree that’s specialized in the area you want to venture into. But even in this instance, on the ground experience with an internship is still better, if it is available to you.
In closing, unlike other professions where an advanced degree is not only insanely advantageous, but necessary, an advanced degree in PR won’t make or break your career. Lots of factors come into play when determining a career path and its success and while there are many benefits to advanced degrees in general, the return must outweigh the time and financial investment.