What education are PR firms looking for in new recruits?

Kerri Birtch poses the question on the Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms Weblog, “What level of of education is necessary or valued in the PR industry?”

Personally, I look for people who have at least an Honours BA. If the candidate possesses a graduate degree, I’ll spend extra time talking with her about her studies and what she drew from the experience of gaining a graduate degree. What I am looking for in this is the “extra spark” of insight, self awareness and maturity of thought.

How about a PR certificate? This can give an edge to one of two otherwise equal candidates because it gives me some assurance that the entry level prospect has been exposed to the mechanics of PR.

But more than anything, I’m looking for analytic and problem solving skills. PR consultants s must be able to listen to our clients, draw out relevant facts and assemble them in a coherent assessment and proposed solution. The outstanding consultant will draw on a set of PR tools. But she will also not be restricted by them. She will have a broader exposure to communication, sociology, and business that will enable her to find an effective solution to a problem.

That’s what I look for. How about you? What do you look for in a new hire for a public relations job?

  • Granted, PR and marketing are still separate disciplines (although I believe them to be converging), but my experience with marketing has been that many marketers (and some of the best) have no formal training in the field. Consequently, the first thing I look for when recruiting is experience (there is, after all, no substitute).

    The second thing that I look for is familiarity with the industry or product/services being marketed. After all, if you are a consumer of the product/service, I believe that you are more likely to have an intuitive grasp of (1) the value thereof, and (2) the mindset of the other consumers of that product/service. Subsequently, you are that much more equipped to engage the marketplace on whatever level is most appropriate.

    Of course, in this day and age, I also look for experience with blogs, other social media, and the principles of SEO. As I’ve heard you say in the past, Google is the new front page.

  • I agree on the university degree… not so much for what they learned, but for their ability to learn. I also look for their familiarity with the tools. You learn a lot in a PR Certification, but in my experience, you learn even more by doing volunteer work and educating yourself on the media, on politics, on social media, on design, on writing by doing it yourself.

    In my opinion, every good PR pro needs to be a renaissance person. If you don’t know a bit about everything, you can’t be an effective communicator. I don’t personally put a lot of stock in a graduate degree, unless its a very specific communication role.

    Education is important, but being over-educated is as bad as being undereducated in my mind. There’s a fine line between the quest for knowledge and delaying life.

  • As a recent graudate who gained an entry level position last summer, I have to say that my awareness of how the media ‘works’ and my online communciations knowledge – and how the two link together – really helped me get the job.

    I also agree wtih Ryan – “Education is important, but being over-educated is as bad as being undereducated.” PR agencies need people with ‘real world’ experience. How else will they know what people want to hear about and what makes news?

  • Hi everyone and thank you for your responses.

    The reason I posed the question is because I’ve recently been accepted to a Master of Arts in Communication and Technology by distance education at the University of Alberta.

    I have an undergraduate degree in Online Journalism from Ryerson University, and I’m currently taking the PR Certificate at Ryerson but I’m wondering if it would be worth it to pursue an even higher level of education.

    CT, I can completely understand where you are coming from – I’m currently in a marketing position at the University of Waterloo, but I have no formal education in marketing or business. So you’re saying that experience and industry knowledge come before education, but is there a minimum level you look for?

    And Ryan, I am looking in to volunteer experiences as well – I was just offered a position as a Marketing Co-ordinator for a division of non-profit organization for children here in Waterloo.

    I also can see the downsides of being over-educated. But I part of my excitement about this program is that it is geared towards working professionals and allows the participants to choose topics they are interested in for class projects. I’d certainly like to explore the use of social media in Public Relations a bit more!

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  • Kerri,
    I look for a Bachelor’s in anything because with it comes basic critical thinking and writing skills.

  • I’m writing a post in a similar vein about web strategists… it makes me smile when I see F100 companies looking for social media strategists or community managers with an Ivy league MBA… from my experience these are exactly NOT the folks that have the experience and insight to deliver innovative and effective modern web marketing.

    I look for a combination of experience, demonstrated track record of getting results and an ability to talk in-depth on issues of importance to my clients. Agreed, the undergrad degree is important – but not the most compelling factor. My undergrad is in Fashion (Ryerson 84) and I now am a partner in an Interactive Services Practice in a consulting firm.
    My career path was:
    Fashion Design> Fashion Marketing>Retail Sales and Marketing> Ecommerce> Web Development> Web Strategy and Consulting

    I know it sounds like I’m the “Legally Blonde” of web – but its a typical story I see (at least in the US) most web professionals have a non-traditional background.

    Similarly, some of the best PR folks that I know of in the Silicon Valley do not come from traditional paths… they really embrace participating in the conversation as PR: they understand the convergence of PR and social media and they walk their talk – they blog, they use social networks, they understand that they are no longer controlling the conversation.

  • A lot of students from my school are now being trained using the problem-based learning strategy. I guess the industry has shifted gears. These days, they are looking for people who can really apply their skills and knowledge to a problem or a situation. This gives students more freedom to think and is basically a good training for life outside the classroom.

  • Kelly

    I’m starting this september in a Bachelors of Public Relations with 3 terms of co-op at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax. In most of these comments you talk about any undergrad and then possibly a certificate in public relations or a masters in something, but would just the BPR be enough to receive an entry level position in a company?

  • It is refreshing to be able to hear someone distinguish the characteristics that must be present in a pr candidate. I have been in the real estate industry for five years and realized I have been a professional problem solver that has learned to listen between the lines rather that read between the lines. I have many transferable skills but have not had promissing feedback from pr recruiters and temp companies. I am currently on a pursuit to apply my transferable skills and personal interest to a pr career. After going through the process of branding myself I found myself helping others to do the same. I have always had a strong interest in marketing, branding, and pr, and I am debating if I should get an mba but after reading your comments I realize it’s not really necessary. Thanks for the insight.