PR qualifications are just a start

I can’t let the blogging debate about the value of public relations qualifications go without my twopennies worth.

makes some valid points that the “qualities that are vital in succeeding in PR include a decent level of intelligence, a willingness to learn, an ability to write, a proactive approach, a dash of confidence and some half-decent presentation skills.”   But that isn’t all you need – and the comparison with CEOs not having CEO-degrees ignores the training and qualifications many have gained (including MBAs). 

Those who rubbish qualifications do the many fine under- and post-graduates entering and working in the profession a disservice.  As notes the majority of those undertaking work placement receive considerable praise, despite not having yet finished their degrees.  The 4th year PR students that I work with at will be an asset to anyone smart enough to offer them a job.  

An undergraduate degree course in PR offers an excellent grounding in a wide range of areas that are relevant for modern public relations – which means more than simply media relations. 

Serena at  shows the level of commitment of many seeking to build a career in PR.  She is studying the CIPR Advanced Certificate (with at Cambridge), spending £1,900 of her own money (as are many undergraduates) to improve her potential in the competitive PR job-market.

Is she wasting her money?  What about those students I met in and the dozens of others around the world who have studied the by distance learning.  All these are seeking to improve their own abilities and the reputation of PR in countries dominated by old-fashioned “press agents”, propaganda and worse.

Stuart Bruce as ever has wise words regarding the necessity for those coming into PR from a different field to learn and develop, for example by doing the Diploma.

He also cautions that it is not helpful for PR to “pretend you can learn it all on the job”.  I worked in PR for a decade before first studying the CAM qualification and then moving on to teach the CIPR ones.  I had strong skills developed by colleagues working for major automotive companies, and I’d also read widely and attended practical training courses (including those run by , which I now organise).

What the academic perspective gave me (and continues to provide) was greater depth of understanding of the vocational aspects of PR, as well as a wider knowledge of  business management, communications, organisational culture and much more – all applied directly to PR management.  This not only reinforced my practical skills, but increased my confidence and abilities to work on a par with other management functions and debate robustly my recommendations with senior executives.

I don’t believe this is a one or t’other argument – if you don’t have a qualification in PR, then check out what you could learn.  My own view is that a post-graduate course in public relations is of great value for those with practical experience.  If you’d like to find out for yourself, I’d be happy to welcome you as a guest at my next Diploma session on 2 June at Guildford – where the class begins to integrate the wide range of theory they’ve studied so far into a strategic PR planning and management campaign.   

Of course, once you’ve made a commitment to PR education – the “do-withouts” accuse you of having an agenda.  But isn’t a position promoting ignorance and denying any benefits of studying PR equally one-sided?

PR qualifications are just a start – we need to keep up our skills and knowledge throughout our careers.  If you graduated 2, 5, 10 or 20+ years ago, things have changed.  New thinking is out there – there are some excellent academics researching some really useful areas that have practical benefit to practitioners.  In addition to the post-graduate CIPR qualifications, there are many good masters and doctoral courses.  There is also the  in July (one of many good conferences), where many thought-provoking and challenging academic and practitioner papers will be presented.

Everyone serious about working in PR needs to learn to improve what they do today – what they will need to do tomorrow – and reflect on what was done yesterday (since history and the development of the profession by those without the advantage of taking such qualifications is equally valide to study).

That’s what is all about – recognising that we never know everything and regardless of whether we have skills and knowledge gained from experience and/or education, it is not be enough. 

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

11 thoughts on “PR qualifications are just a start”

  1. I’d like to talk to people like me who are coming to the profession later in life perhaps after bringing up children. Are there many of us out here??

    Studying for my CIPR advanced certificate is absolutely brilliant and I’m hoping that it will help me land a good job.

  2. Jill – I know there are many on the Diploma (fewer on the Adv Cert), who are about to face Easter, like Christmas, working on an assignment, which is tough on families. Maybe we need to consider a support group for you guys.

  3. As someone who has spent a significant period of my life campaigning within the trade union movement and who is now working in PR promoting social housing in the UK I know the real life changing benefits education can bring to individuals and organisations.

    I have seen people who had never taken part in any kind of formal education, developing, flourishing and going on to make a real difference in the world.

    I am a member of the CIPR and am also a CIPR advanced Certificate student. (I am a mature student despite telling myself I’m not really)

    I started the Adv Cert course in October 2006 and have been applying the learning to real life since day one !

    Pr qualifications are a must because:

    whether anyone likes it or not formal qualifications can bring a degree of crediblity to an individual and the organisation that employs them either on an in-house or consultancy basis

    A good quality formal course can expose the student to a broad range of theoretical and real life knowledge of PR

    Real Life Experience:

    I believe the CIPR should faclilitate the opportunity for students to be mentored by PR real life practioners as an integral part of the courses.

    This could help address the concerns of some areas of the industry as to the ‘real life’ validity of CIPR courses and also perhaps demonstrate the willingness of the CIPR to engage with and recognise the validity of practical experience.

    I do not yet have a formal PR qualification.

  4. Mick – thanks for your views. I like the idea of practitioner mentors for students and as I am currently reviewing how we (Cambridge Marketing Colleges) can offer a more personalised study programme, I will certainly take this on board and look to integrate it from the next intake.

  5. Thanks for the mention Heather, nice to see this is topic is causing a bit of a stir as it shows its importance.
    Like the idea of PR practitioner mentors

  6. I have replied to your comment on my blog, thanks for dropping by.

    I still stand by my words with a bit of a compromise after reading your side of the discussion.

    I think this is the good end for this discussion. Let me know your thoughts on this.

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