Does PR need a strategy for practitioner career management?

Surprisingly there has been little attempt to consider the career management of PR practitioners – and as I felt it would be an appropriate area of investigation, it is the topic I have decided to pursue for my doctoral studies at Bournemouth University.

The topic fits within my Greenbanana concept of “if you are green, you are growing”, so I will use this blog to reflect thoughts emerging initially from the extensive reading I am undertaking, and in due course, from my primary research.

Research on careers in public relations has largely focused on role typology and other practical elements of what practitioners do, rather than consider the discipline from a strategic career management perspective. Given the recent growth of PR as an occupation, the challenges it faces from other disciplines, changes in the job market and ongoing moves to enhance professional status, this is an area where I believe new research will provide valuable insight for practitioners, organisations, educators and professional bodies.

I aim to explore the trend away from traditional “career ladder” linear models to emergent/adaptive strategies that can be implemented at the individual, organisational and societal levels.

I am also interested identifying factors that affect decision-making as part of career planning and management. Overall, the study should highlight future career challenges, and recommended solutions for the PR profession.

There is a large body of existing career development literature which I am reviewing alongside relevant PR work and wider reading – as ever with such topics, the connections soon take your thinking in lots of new directions. Feel free to make suggestions if you know of anything you feel may be relevant.

The graduate school at Bournemouth University offers a number of courses (such as speed reading) which are very useful. The University also has a great range of online resources – which are really helpful when working from home.

I am undertaking my studies on a part-time basis over the next five or so years, so the end goal currently seems a long way off. However, I know how quickly time will pass – although the “journey” will be full of valleys of despair and slopes of hope.

So I intend to use the Greenbanana blog to maintain my motivation and also to share some useful insight. This offers me a new direction for the blog – but also a guaranteed range of topics over the coming days, weeks, months and years.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

3 thoughts on “Does PR need a strategy for practitioner career management?”

  1. Hi Heather, I look forward to reading about your career transition and life in doctoral studies. I recently finished my doctorate in English literature, which might seem far afield for someone teaching PR, but actually provided great insight into broader (worldly) questions that are at the heart of all professions.

    In the US, there is an interesting (somewhat sad, actually) difference between PR Ph.D.s and non-Ph.D.s that is symbolic of the whole US-version of PR education. From what I’ve seen, many of the Ph.D.s have the degree and research, but are actually really light on practical experience. Thus, they teach from a more theoretical perspective. Students are often turned off by this, since they want to learn the skills necessary for success in the profession. I’ve seen a ton of padding of resumes by people with doctorates to make it look like they have actual PR experience, when in reality, they have next to none.

    Non-Ph.D.s may be treated as second-class citizens within departments, regardless of rank, etc. as a professional. A teacher without a doctorate might focus on the hands-on skills, which students enjoy, but (in most instances) never qualify for tenure, regardless of student placement in internships/jobs, teaching ratings, etc., simply because they don’t have the degree.

    Obviously, this scenario isn’t the same everywhere, but it is drawn from things I’ve seen and from people I’ve discussed the situation with. From a professional’s perspective, the thought of leaving a (high paying) position to go to grad school for 5-8 years to get a doctorate seems insane, particularly when the salary can never be recouped in academe.

    An academic with a doctorate has a stake in keeping non-Ph.D.s off the tenure track, because the degree is what keeps them in higher regard.

    So, the situation in the US is broken, particularly when one teaches a pre-professional degree like PR, journalism, and advertising.

    I look forward to hear about your triumphs and travails at Bournemouth. Will you get to work with Tom Watson? He’s first-class in every sense of the word. His championing of PR history is one of the most important things happening in PR scholarship globally.

  2. Thanks Bob. Tom Watson is actually my lead supervisor, which is really great for me.

    I agree entirely about ensuring a broader perspective – that’s one of the reasons I am keen to link the career literature and body of knowledge to PR. It would be great to also be able to bring something from the PR world into the career sphere also.

    We also have the pressure from academia in the UK to gain a PhD – but I tend to be with you on the value of any theoretical perspective needing the context of practical experience. I am fortunate to have a foot in both camps – as well as gaining enormously from the many practitioners I teach for the CIPR qualifications.

    We’ve also got an interesting development in the UK which is practice PhDs, which seems to me to be a good option for experienced practitioners who can apply studies to their work.

    I think that I may touch on PRs in academia both from the perspective of this as a career route (my sense is that the non-practitioner academics are seen as part of the “professionalisation” or maturation of PR – and as you say, is a defensive mechanism) and also how they influence the career decisions possibly of graduates.

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