Applying Academic Public Relations to Professional Practice: Do Employers Value Public Relations Degrees?

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44094 Project Assignment October 2009 Applying Academic Public Relations to Professional Practice; Do Employers Value Public Relations Degrees? Contents: Introduction Definition of Terms Literature Review • Public Relations as an academic discipline • How do employers view Public Relations degrees? Methodology Research, Discussion and Analysis Limitations Recommendations and Areas for Future Research Conclusion References Appendix • Employer Research Findings • Educator Research Findings • Student Research Findings Introduction In his 2008 conference paper for Power and Place, Australian communications academic Mark Sheehan argues that (p3) “while employers may want the traditional academic traits that a university delivers, they also want graduates with knowledge of current practice.” His argument, reiterated by Tench & Fawkes (2004), sums up the current predominant tension in the teaching of Public Relations at universities; that of the need to produce graduates who already possess practical Public Relations skills for employment, while maintaining sufficient theoretical and analytical programme content to make Public Relations programmes genuinely academic. This report will therefore investigate the attributes of academic Public Relations education and employers attitudes towards PR education at university. Education is a dominant feature of most definitions of what constitutes a profession (L’Etang, 2002), yet the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) and other high profile employers are frequently quoted in the press maligning the value of a PR degree. For example, Cartmell’s (2009) article Agency heads unconvinced by PR degrees, Francis (2009) “we don't need PR degrees, we need PR apprenticeships” and Cowlett (1997) “employers are not impressed by PR degrees.” Many state that they view the academic and theoretical framework of a Public Relations university education as irrelevant. At the same time research undertaken by Tench & Fawkes (2004) indicates that 85% of PR graduates from Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) accredited courses obtain employment within six months of leaving university. Is it therefore the case that employers really do reject Public Relations education at university, or just a case of bad Public Relations from the sector? 2 Page 2 3 3 3 5 8 10 24 24 24 25 28 28 30 32

44094 Project Assignment October 2009 This report will explore this issue by reviewing the published literature dealing with Public Relations education and undertake primary research into the views of a group of employers, Public Relations educators and current undergraduates to determine the value of Public Relations degrees to the stakeholders involved. Definition of Terms Research into the definition of Public Relations by Harlow found that more than 472 different definitions of Public Relations had been in use between 1900 and 1976, yet academics and professionals still cannot agree on a single definition or exhaustive list of functions. Edwards, (2006) argues this is due to the relative youth of PR as a profession, as well as an academic subject, while Pritchard, Fawkes & Tench highlight that, without a central theory of Public Relations to utilise, (2006, p55) “new ideas, drawing on critical theory and other cultural and political approaches are being developed and taught as academics seek to expand the theoretical frameworks with which to critique Public Relations and its role in society.” Furthermore, as there is no single predominant definition of Public Relations, there is also no predominant application. Pritchard et al highlight that (p55) “emphases in [academic] programmes differ, from PR as a management discipline with an emphasis on strategy (in the business schools) to PR as an aspect of media activity with an emphasis on communication (media schools).” For the purposes of this report, Public Relations will be defined in accordance with the CIPR definition (adopted also in the UK by the PRCA...
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