Public Relations Education: A Matter of ‘Degrees’

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A Guest Post By Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA

I had the opportunity at the Public Relations Society of America’s International Conference in October to learn about a new initiative being undertaken by PRSA called the “MBA Initiative.”

As a former public relations professional now teaching the next generations of public relations pros, I applaud and wholeheartedly support this innovative approach to ensuring that future generations of business managers and others gain an understanding of the importance of public relations in successful business management.

Although some of my academic colleagues have expressed concerns about varying aspects of the program, I am wholeheartedly in favor.

Perhaps it’s because, unlike some of my colleagues, I had decades of public relations practice under my belt before diving into the world of public relations education.

Perhaps, too, it’s because, unlike many of my academic colleagues, I do not have a degree in public relations…or even communication, for that matter (much to the delight of my undergraduate PR students at Curry College!). My degrees are in English and Business Management…with the capper of an MBA.

My public relations “education” was thanks to the US Army Training and Doctrine Command’s public affairs internship program through which I gained hands-on education and experience in the art and science of public relations.

But I wanted to know more than just how to write news releases, plan and stage events, and interact with the media.

I wanted to understand how businesses operated…how business leaders thought…and how I might be able, as a public relations professional, to contribute to the success of a business. Thus the business degrees.

The result has been (although some might disagree) a successful career providing public relations guidance to a variety of organizations ranging from technology to health care and nonprofit.

The MBA Initiative is not intended to teach business leaders how to write a news release or pitch a story to the media.

Rather, it is designed to foster an appreciation for how public relations…the relationship aspect of the discipline…can contribute to mutual understanding between an organization and its many and diverse publics.

Research has shown that business leaders are beginning to recognize…sometimes through the “school of hard knocks”…the role that public relations plays in their success.

The MBA Initiative will help ensure that future generations of leaders will be better prepared to both communicate with their external and internal publics and appreciate the advice and counsel of their own public relations professionals.

I look forward to the continuing adoption by colleges and universities across the country of this program…and (hopefully) the continuing growth in positive interactions between business leaders and their publics.

Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Associate Professor of Communication (Undergraduate) at Curry College in Milton, MA. He also is Visiting Lecturer, Organizational and Professional Communication (Graduate), at Regis College in Weston, MA. Prior to his move into academia, Kirk practiced nonprofit and government public relations and marketing for more than 35 years in the US as well as Asia. Accredited by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), Kirk is a Member of PRSA’s national Board of Directors and has held leadership positions with PRSA Educators Academy and PRSA Northeast District as well as with the Boston and Hawaii PRSA chapters.


7 Responses to " Public Relations Education: A Matter of ‘Degrees’ "

  1. Kirk, I’m very happy to see Business Schools making the effort to include Public Relations into their courses. I’m currently studying at Syracuse University for my master’s degree in communications management, and the program incorporates business courses. This is invaluable information for me to be able to communicate with other departments, such as accounting, human resources and the executive level. I hope this shared learning, both for PR practitioners and MBAs, will help us all to understand each other better and make for stronger business practices.

  2. Thanks very much for your feedback, Monica. This is, indeed, an exciting time for all of us in public relations who understand the value that our profession brings to the management mix. Being able to introduce a strategic-level PR course into the management curriculum is an important first step in further cementing our relationship!

    Best of luck with your studies at Syracuse…I saw Bob Kucharavy and Maria Russell in San Francisco at the PRSA International Conference!

  3. Shyvonne says:

    Thanks for sharing this Mr Hazlett, I’m a PR practitioner from Trinidad and Tobago who just embarked on an MBA. I think it’s critical for the profession for PR practitioners to have business competencies and be able to relate to and ‘speak the language’ of business leaders. You’ve affirmed quite a few of my own thoughts on the subject.

  4. Great article Kirk! Indeed, PR specialists who have been in the game for a long time know that our efforts need to adapt to changes in the industry. The seemingly rapid changes brought about by faster response times and new communications methods can make the “seasoned” professional feel vulnerable. And when you’re collaborating with part of the new generation of professionals, the feeling can escalate. But there’s much to learn from each other and these lessons only benefit our overall performance and service. We recently posted an article on this topic which you can read here:

  5. Thanks for your feedback, Suzanne, and my apologies for the delay in responding. I truly do feel as though I learn something new every day that I go into the classroom…my students perceive my world (public relations) through a totally different set of lenses than I…and oftentimes they’re a couple of steps ahead of me!

    Learning is a never-ending…and ever-fascinating…experience, one that I have no intention of abandoning!

    Love Patricia’s “PR and Social Media” article! “Great minds….!” 🙂

    Thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing!

  6. Natashia Kerr says:

    Thank you so much for this article Kirk. I am currently a senior studying journalism with a concentration in public relations and a minor in communication studies at the University of Oregon. Although I do primarily focus on journalism and media classes every teacher, mentor and counselor have encouraged me to study under the school business and educating myself on a broader range then just my major classes. Even in my public relations courses we study a broad range of concentrations such as investor relations, crisis management and non-profit writing. Once I started both my PR internships I finally understood the importance of having business skills as equally important. The business is changing and as I am about to graduate and enter the actual profession I look forward to applying the variety of skills I have learned. Thanks again for the post! Great read.

  7. Thanks very much, Natashia. I’m delighted to hear that your Communication professors are encouraging you to expand your knowledge with business courses. I moderated a PRSA Boston/PRSSA program earlier this week on “Careers,” with a panel of newly-minted and seasoned PR professionals. The common theme from all speakers was “gain an understanding of how business works.” PRSA is working diligently to help business managers understand how public relations works for them; now we on the PR side have to do the reverse for OUR students. Best of luck with your studies, and thanks again for reading and commenting!

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