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Professional and Pre-Professional Organizations

Students studying public relations in the United States have the opportunity to join a public relations organization before they are graduated. By becoming active members of a pre-professional organization or a student member of a professional organization, students begin to realize that they are part of something much larger than being public relations students on their campuses.

Together with their class work, involvement in such organizations helps them begin to see how and where they might fit into this profession. It also is the link between the classroom and their first jobs. And, by joining a professional organization’s student chapter, students are provided with opportunities to experience leadership. Finally, such professional organizations give students the opportunity to meet public relations professionals informally, participate in professional development programs and make contacts for internships and later jobs.

An Array of Organizations

The largest pre-professional organization, the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), offers membership or affiliate membership through collegiate chapters for public relations students. Many other professional organizations offer student memberships and have student chapters to aid in public relations students’ professional development. On an international level, students can join the International Public Relations Association (IPRA). And the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) has student chapters on some college campuses.

Many nation-specific professional organizations offer student memberships, including the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), which offers an associate membership to fulltime doctoral students at a reduced rate. (IPRA’s Web site www.ipra.org, contains a list of many of these professional organizations.)

Several U.S.-based national affinity and specialization professional organizations offer student memberships, such as the Association for Women In Communications (AWC), which has student chapters; Hispanic Marketing and Communications Association (HMCA); Hispanic Public Relations Association (HPRA); National Black Public Relations Society (NBPRS); National Government Communicators Association (NGCA); National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI); and the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA).

Many states and regions have public relations organizations that also welcome students.

...(P)rofessional organizations give students the opportunity to meet public relations professionals informally, participate in professional development programs and make contacts for internships and later jobs.

Two prominent academic societies provide many opportunities for public relations graduate students: the public relations divisions of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) and the National Communication Association (NCA). Many of the associate members of the journalism organizations that comprise UNITY (Journalists of Color, Asian American Journalists Association, National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association) are public relations practitioners. Depending on the proximity of the local chapters of these organizations, students should be able to meet local professionals and begin to make the transition from student to working professional.

Leading Organizations in Detail

  • PRSSA—By far the largest organization, with chapters on more than 270 campuses and a membership of more than 9,000, is the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). Each chapter is sponsored by a local professional chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). Undergraduate and master’s students are welcome.

    Members join through a chapter at their college or university in November or March. Students at schools without PRSSA chapters cannot join; however, the PRSSA 2005-2006 National Committee approved a one-year pilot program for PRSSA Affiliates. This program was designed for those students who are interested in public relations, but attend colleges and universities that do not meet the qualifications to establish a PRSSA charter. Affiliates receive certain PRSSA benefits, but are not considered members of PRSSA. Schools without Chapters are encouraged to apply for a charter if they meet the criteria.

    Schools with PRSSA chapters must offer at least five courses in public relations representing the core recommended by the Commission on Public Relations Education. They also must have at least one faculty adviser who is a PRSA member and a professional from the host PRSA chapter assigned as a professional adviser.

    Students gather in the fall for the PRSSA National Conference held in conjunction with the PRSA International Conference to learn about the latest developments in the profession. They meet with professionals in plenary sessions to hear major speakers. In the spring, the students elect their national officers at their assembly and travel with others in their chapter to regional conferences. The regional conferences provide an opportunity for those unable to travel to the national Conference. PRSSA members receive copies of PR Tactics, the same monthly publication sent to all PRSA members, and their own national newspaper, FORUM. All members may compete for individual scholarships and awards at the national level.

    PRSSA students can access the PRSSA Web site including PRSSA’s listings for internships and full-time jobs and they have access to sections of PRSA’s Web site. Additionally, members receive an e-mail of news stories related to the public relations industry.

    PRSA and PRSSA co-sponsor the national Bateman public relations campaign competition. Students, working in five-person teams, do research, plan and implement programs on their campuses on a topic announced in the late summer of each year. The top 10 schools are recognized in the spring, with the top three teams winning prizes.

    Graduating students who have been PRSSA members may join PRSA at a reduced rate for two years. Also, the application fee is waived for them.

    PRSSA headquarters is in New York. The URL is: www.prssa.org


  • IABC—The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) sponsors chapters on 40 college campuses in the United States and Canada. It boasts more than 1,300 student members. Students can join IABC as student members in locations where there is no student chapter. Student membership is open to all students working toward a degree or certificate and not working in the communication industry.

    Campus chapters enjoy the support of a faculty adviser, who is a member of IABC, and a chapter liaison from the sponsoring chapter. The faculty adviser can serve both roles for IABC.

    Students receive the monthly Communication World magazine and CW Bulletin, and have access to Job Center and to selected parts of the IABC Web site. They are welcome to attend IABC’s international conference for professionals at a special student rate.

    Members may compete in the Student “Gold Quill” competition. This competition recognizes excellence in critical thinking, program planning and evaluation.

    The IABC application fee is waived for graduating students who join an IABC chapter, and they receive a discount on IABC professional membership dues.

    IABC headquarters is in San Francisco. The URL is: www.iabc.com


  • IPRA—The International Public Relations Association (IPRA) welcomes students as members of the professional organization at a special student rate. It does not sponsor student chapters. Member students can access case studies, conference papers and Frontline articles from IPRA’s Web site.

    IPRA headquarters is in the United Kingdom. The URL is: www.ipra.org


  • The Global Alliance—The Global Alliance, an umbrella organization that includes representatives of more than 60 national and international public relations organizations, also has an interest in developing relationships with student organizations. PRSSA is one such organization with whom the Global Alliance has developed a relationship. The Global Alliance member organizations from around the world have programs for students that vary greatly, but are nonetheless aimed at fostering a connection to the professional bodies in public relations.

    Founded in 2000 and incorporated in 2002, the Global Alliance has grown to be the voice of the profession on a global scale. Through the Global Alliance, students in affiliated organizations can gain access to a network that reaches more than 160,000 professionals throughout the world.

    For more information, please see: www.globalpr.org.


  • HPRA—The Hispanic Public Relations Society of America (HPRA) is a nonprofit organization that serves communication professionals in the Southern California area. HPRA’s mission is to provide career advancement opportunities for individuals from entry to senior levels in the public relations, marketing and advertising fields. HPRA does not have a student society, but offers a student membership rate and a scholarship program to undergraduate students pursing a degree in public relations or related communication fields.

    HPRA headquarters is in Los Angeles, California. The URL is: www.hpra-usa.org


  • NBPRS—The National Black Public Relations Society (NBPRS) serves its members through initiatives such as career development and training, program enhancements, chapter mobilization, networking and scholarships. NBPRS does not have a student society, but offers a student membership rate to those currently enrolled in a public relations/communication program at an accredited college or university. Student members are encouraged to attend its national conference, which offers professional development, resume enhancement and networking opportunities.

    NBPRS headquarters is in Hollywood, California. The URL is: www.nbprs.org


  • AWC—The Association for Women in Communications (AWC) supports 38 student chapters across the United States. Serving public relations, journalism and other communication disciplines, AWC has a combined professional and student membership of 4,000.

    Student chapters all have a faculty adviser and, where possible, a professional chapter liaison.

    Students compete for scholarships through AWC’s Matrix Foundation. Students are welcome at the professional association’s annual conference at a special student rate and receive the quarterly Matrix and the monthly InterCom newsletter. Student members have access to job/salary survey data and the Career Center on AWC’s Web site.

    Students have the option of affiliating with a student chapter (where available) or a professional chapter. And graduating student members can join AWC without paying the application fee.

    AWC headquarters is in Severna Park, Maryland. The URL is: www.womcom.org

Other Professional Opportunities for Students

  • Student-Run Firms—Any college or university can start a student-run firm. The idea is to allow students to work in groups to tackle real problems and opportunities for local clients. Some universities, such as Howard University, have incorporated their student firms into their curricula. However, most student- run firms are operated through PRSSA chapters. PRSSA promotes this within its chapters and annually gives an award for the best student-run firm. PRSSA offers a national affiliation for qualifying chapter firms. Some clients pay for the firm’s services; other projects are done pro-bono. Information on how to begin a student firm is available at www.prssa.org. Other information that would aid in developing a public relations firm is available from the Council of Public Relations Firms, which is a trade association for public relations agencies, www.prfirms.org.

  • Other Student Opportunities—Many other professional organizations offer professional development, scholarships and awards for students, even though they may not offer student memberships. An example is The LaGrant Foundation, which offers internships and scholarships to minority students pursuing public relations. The Council of Public Relations Firms offers resources for career development; PRWeek offers a student-of-the year competition, and the Arthur W. Page Society offers students internships, a case study competition and other career resources.