Teacher’s Pet: Education vs. Experience

Lorena Laurencelle is currently a Public Relations student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. 

Her Question: What level of education is necessary to succeed in the public relations field? Is education more important, or is experience more valued?
Our Answer: Our team comes from a variety 
of backgrounds, experience and education. We look at both sides of this question by asking some with PR education backgrounds (Amalia and Meg) and some with PR experience (Natalie, Debra and Abby) for their advice.
Debra – President
I didn’t go to school for public relations. I have a degree in creative writing and started working when I was 14 years old and moved out when I was 18. I learned from experience. I took every lesson and like to think I got a bit smarter with each mistake I made. I loved to write, always had an easy time meeting new people and I spent years doing shitty telemarketing jobs where I honed my phone skills. Get good at what you love to do and you can succeed without getting a degree. Spend time in a really good internship or two and that’s going to do you a world of good in the PR world.

Natalie  – Publicist

I attended the University of Western Ontario, majoring in Media, Information and Technoculture and minoring in Comparative Literature and Civilization. While at Western, I also completed a Certificate in Writing. While I think that post-secondary education can be helpful in developing your writing and critical thinking skills, I don’t think that a B.A. is necessary for a career in public relations. At university, I learned more about my strengths and weaknesses and began to think that I wanted to work in PR. It wasn’t until after graduating and completing two internships that I knew that PR was for me.
Ultimately, my advice for anyone looking to get into PR is to volunteer/intern as much as you can. While being a good writer is a necessary skill for a good publicist, first-hand experiences are what make a great publicist. So much of what we do at rock-it involves events and the type of on-the-ground experience you get in a (good) internship is what I believe you need. Learn how to run a door, make a guest list, create a clippings package, etc. – these are the tasks that seem menial, but which are SO important to a functioning PR team. You can read about it in school, but nothing can ever beat real life experience.
Abby – Publicist
Ultimately, a bachelor’s degree of some sort is required to succeed; you need basic levels of writing, comprehension and time management to make it in any career. For PR, it boils down to a combo of natural skills and learned skills. For some types of PR, these skills are best learned in school. For others, they’re best learned in the trenches. If you are willing to work hard, ask smart questions, have great people skills and are a strong writer, you don’t necessarily need a PR-specific education. There are lots of related degrees that will help you out – English, communications, journalism, film, a technology background or even science can be relevant. It depends on what area of PR you’d like to work in. 
Communication skills are a must, so if they come naturally to you, then you’re likely able to make it without a post-secondary PR degree. If you’re not the strongest writer, take a few courses to brush up, or start a blog to develop your style. 
PR education never hurts, but landing a great internship, meeting people in the industry and participating in social media are the alternate route to making it in public relations.
Amalia – Assistant to the President
Having a bachelors degree and a certificate in PR (or something related) is very important. I think that having a PR-geared post-secondary diploma is something that will benefit you incredibly. The things that I learned on the first day of school (Algonquin College) are still getting me through the work day…so pay attention and don’t skip class!
Interning is something EVERYONE should do. I did three internships one summer, and it really paid off. Although the money isn’t great, you need to see it as a learning experience and an investment in your own future. They are paying YOU to learn.
Keeping in touch with former bosses and colleagues is also something everyone should do, especially in our field. Staying on someone’s radar is just as important as your experience, education and skill set combined.
Meg – Junior Publicist
After getting a B.Sc. and working in unrelated jobs for a couple of years, I went back to school for a post-grad diploma in PR. I definitely value that education – it taught me PR writing styles and other basics, and gave me an idea of what to expect in this business. I think a PR-specific education is a strong start to a career in this industry. Writing, editing and style are the base of everything we do, and a PR-specific education will prep you with that knowledge.
That being said, all the education in the world won’t allow you to succeed without real-life experience. Interning is hands down the best way to really learn the biz. I would be nowhere without what I gleaned from my time interning. An education is the foundation for the knowledge you gain from job experience. I continue to learn every day by watching the awesome and experienced pros I work with and listening to their advice and know-how.
In Conclusion: There’s no one right answer as everyone comes into this industry with different skills, education and experience to draw on. However, we all agree on the strength and importance of internships and that some form of education is necessary, even just to hone your writing skills.
Have a PR question you want answered? Send it to meg@rockitpromo.com. We’ll choose the best and answer it on our blog.