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Perception is NOT Reality

by: Amber Parker

In America, the land of opportunity, a young scholar can go off to college and become whatever he or she desires. So what draws a college student to public relations? Why do some students change majors after only taking a few courses?

Thousands of undergraduates at hundreds of colleges across the country enroll in public relations classes each semester with no idea what they’re getting into. There is a disparity between their expectations and what jobs in PR are really like.

The Assumptions

To develop an interest in any field, you must have some exposure to it. In the case of PR, the type of exposure the media offers is rarely an authentic presentation of the multi-dimensional field.

Some assume public relations is a glamour-filled industry centered around celebrities and event planning. Others consider themselves “people persons” and intend to work face to face with the public all the time.

Then there are those students who decide to study PR because they presume it will be an “easy” degree to acquire. Some students blindly enter PR programs without researching the skills needed to attain a worthwhile job in the industry.

But is it fair to blame only the students for their skewed perceptions of what PR is really like?

I also blame television for providing a one-dimensional portrayal of PR professionals. Reality shows like “The Spin Crowd” on E! and MTV’s “The Hills” portray practitioners as high profile individuals, with fast-paced lifestyles who constantly deal with pressure situations.

The Reality

The truth is that public relations professionals work in many different capacities, ranging from Fortune 500 companies to agencies and nonprofit organizations. Entertainment PR ( and event planning are possible career options. However, the major difference between TV-PR and real life is that on TV they rarely show the typical office day of preparing a strategic plan, making pitch calls and updating databases. Most jobs in PR require that you sit in front of a computer most of the day with very little physical interaction with anyone besides your cubical buddy.

Television needs ratings so I understand why networks show practitioners in high-pressure moments, but it concerns me that people enter public relations with TV as their only frame of reference.

What will my generation do when there is an overflow of celebrity managers and sports agents? What will they do when they discover that a PR education requires journalistic writing, graphic design, research, law and campaign courses? How many will stand the test of time?

Students who are genuinely interested in learning the ropes, at some point, will have to put down the remote and pick up some real world experience.

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