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Research

This report of the Commission on Public Relations Education draws on the findings of five research projects conducted in the United States by Commission members:

  • A survey of public relations practitioners and educators. Randomly selected practitioners and educators were surveyed on the state of public relations education’s student outcomes and curricula at both undergraduate and graduate levels.

  • Personal interviews were conducted with leading senior practitioners and educators. Telephone interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of leading practitioners from corporate, agency and nonprofit public relations. They were asked their perspectives on public relations practice trends and how public relations undergraduate and graduate education could best contribute to improving the practice of public relations.

  • A survey of leaders of public relations firms. Members of the Council of Public Relations Firms were asked their perceptions of the value of public relations education as a hiring credential and as preparation for employment.

  • A survey of faculty advisers to the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). Advisers were asked in a Web-based survey about internships for public relations students at their colleges and universities.

  • A survey of leaders of public relations academic programs at colleges and universities. Program heads were asked to report on the growth and expansion of public relations curricula and enrollment at their institutions.

There was substantial agreement across the five studies and between practitioners and educators about what public relations students should study and learn, and about what public relations practitioners should be able to do at both the entry level and in senior positions. There also was substantial agreement between these 2006 studies and those conducted by the Commission in 1999 prior to its Port of Entry report.

What Skills Practitioners Need

This body of research findings indicates that the top-rated competencies sought in hiring entry-level practitioners are writing skills, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, a good attitude, the ability to communicate publicly and initiative. For practitioners at a more advanced level, research skills, the ability to handle the media professionally, work experience in public relations, knowledge of the role of public relations on the management team and knowledge of issues management are the most prized characteristics.

All too often, however, those competencies and skills are weak or missing in both entry-level and more advanced practitioners. Writing skills, understanding of business practices and critical thinking and problem-solving skills were identified as deficiencies in entry-level practitioners, while research skills, a global perspective and experience with a variety of cultures were problematic among more experienced practitioners.

What a Public Relations Curriculum Should Include

A public relations curriculum that would properly prepare undergraduate students to meet the expectations and challenges of public relations careers would, according to this research, include this essential course content:

  • writing and speaking skills

  • the fundamentals of public relations

  • strategic thinking skills

  • research skills

  • planning and problem-solving skills

  • ethics

  • the fundamentals of how organizations operate

  • liberal arts and sciences

There also was substantial agreement that public relations education should include an internship, practicum or other work experience in the field. The survey of faculty advisers to PRSSA Chapters indicated that virtually all public relations students complete at least one internship.

At the graduate level, the research showed considerable support for interdisciplinary study that might, for instance, include communication, management and behavioral science.

Trends Affecting Public Relations Practice

These curriculum recommendations were consistent with what both practitioners and educators identified as trends in the practice of public relations. The public relations knowledge and skills they identified as essential would prepare students to succeed professionally in the context of these trends:

  • the need for transparency and accountability

  • the increasing value of public relations to top management

  • the demand for public relations research methodology, measurement and metrics

  • globalization

  • an increasingly complex and difficult ethical environment

  • challenges to institutional trust and credibility

  • rapidly changing media

  • technological change

  • the increasing importance of internal audiences

  • the need for organizations to integrate their communication