Maybe I’m being a bit of a pessimist or maybe I’ve just had enough experience of that to be able to say it clearly: Having a degree in PR stands for nothing in the world of business nowadays. But there’s hope… Or so I want to think. But here is my Harvard referenced opinion of it, not that referencing would stand for anything for an employer, but hey, I know how to do it.
A field which is regarded as synonymous with deception and manipulation, Public Relations is receiving more and more attention from journalists in regards to its legitimacy, in majority negative (which has worsened the relationship between the two fields) (Kirkova, 2012). Although moving towards a more unified view of what PR’s purpose should be in the corporate world, PR trade bodies (such as CIPR or PRSA) fail to depict on the two most important aspects in their attempts to define the practice: working for the benefit of society (the public interest aspect of the discipline) and ethics. The latter aspect is crucial for eliminating the negative perceptions and stigmas associated with PR practitioners, often called spin-doctors or flacks (Moloney, 2006). This is not to say that CIPR, for instance, does not have an ethical conduct for its members, but membership to this regulatory body is not mandatory for practitioners of the profession, therefore diminishing its impact on the practice.
Part of the reason that makes it difficult for PR to become a recognised profession is the fact that rigorous academic training is not a standard requirement for a practitioner, as it is in the case of the traditional professions (law, medicine, etc.). The CIPR’s most recent study about the PR profession’s status reveals that 61% of surveyed practitioners agree that professional qualifications in the PR field should be compulsory (CIPR, 2013). Even though this is a positive aspect that has made the agenda of PR trade bodies, current PR graduates find themselves in a vicious circle, where studies need to be complemented by experience, and not always vice versa. In essence, in the Public Relations field, the experience prevails, which cannot be said about other professions, where graduate or even post-graduate qualifications are compulsory.
In order to close the gap between academic and practical experience, more Universities try to integrate freelance projects that boost the students’ employability skills in their curriculum (Fallows & Steven, 2000). Therefore, there is hope for the norm to slowly change towards preferring practitioners with Higher Education qualifications in the PR field, who can demonstrate practical skills. Another implication of this is the increased competition, which would consequently encourage individuals to belong to a regulatory trade body.
The PR industry has seen effects of the economic downturn directly impacting budget awarded to PR campaigns in the public and private sector alike. So, whilst trade organisations, practitioners and academics in the domain of PR push measurement techniques in order to maintain the practice’s position in the market, the reality is that of an uncertain, changing PR economy. The differences between freelancing and staff work, as expressed by Kendall (2011) relate to stability and freedom. He argues that, whilst freelancers have more flexibility to chose the desired working time or projects, they lack the stability conferred by permanent staff work. Despite providing a good argument, which many find to be the norm nowadays, Kendall fails to depict on the previously mentioned aspect of economic instability and how this affects a practitioner’s decision to opt for a freelance career or contract work.
A paradigm shift can be seen in PR in terms of the stability and freedom which oppose the freelancing to permanent work contracts: More organisations will employ a freelancer for a singular project, instead of employing an in-house PR specialist or having yearly contracts with PR agencies. This might imply that the choice of being a freelancer or working on a contract basis is not a personal choice, but more one imposed by economic circumstances.
Where does that leave PR professionals that wish to emerge themselves into the PR world?
Refrences in the texts:
CIPR. (2013). CIPR 2012/13 State of the Profession: Annual Benchmarking Member Survey. CIPR
Fallows, S., & Steven, C. (2000). Building employability skills into the higher education curriculum: a university-wide initiative. Education+ training, p. 75-83
Kendall, L. (2011). Brilliant Freelancer. London: Pearson
Kirkova, D. (2012, March 18). Hacks v Flacks : Round 3. Retrieved March 18, 2013, from The Media Society: http://www.themediasociety.com/news/HACKS+v+FLACKS%3A+ROUND+3/182/
Moloney, K. (2006). Rethinking public relations : PR propaganda and democracy. 2nd ed. Abingdon : Routledge