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Decisions, Decisions: Customizing Your Future in the PR Industry

Posted At: December 11, 2008 1:14 PM
by Meredith Clements

Deciding whether to pursue a master’s degree or enter the PR field may be a simple one for some, but to others, the sense of confusion and internal turmoil is overwhelming.

In this article, I present both PR paths by dissecting the decision-making process and its aftermath. An interview with Courtney Wilborn, business specialist for PPTSolutions, provides a further examination of the M.A. route and its effects on her career.

The basis of the decision
In the highly competitive global market we live and work in, it is necessary that you, as a PR professional, are experienced with current topics and trends. The key to PR practitioner success is communication and information. If you gained these traits and understand the ongoing process through your classes and internships, then you may choose the immediate work path. If you feel you have more to study and want to explore PR practices in depth, then a master’s degree could be your best fit.

The relationship between clients and consumers is excitingly complex. So complex, that it is something to be studied and something to experience first-hand.

Which to choose? There is no right or wrong, simply a personal decision that will customize your future in public relations. So let’s jump on in and soak up the informative subject of master’s degree program vs. going straight into PR practice.

Getting an M.A. in PR
There are two options under this category. You may take part in a two-year thesis program or choose a one-year professional program. The main difference of the options is the length and the focus.

The two-year program allows the student to concentrate her focus on either public relations or advertising, and the one-year degree blends the two. Courtney Wilborn, business specialist for PPT Solutions, a graduate of the University of Alabama, chose to get her master’s degree before beginning her career.

During my interview with Wilborn, I found out how planning and academic drive got her where she is today. Wilborn decided at an early age to put herself on a public relations fast track. After receiving her bachelor’s degree, Wilborn chose to pursue the one-year master’s program.

“With each class, I learned to write concisely, and I mastered the art of ‘show don’t tell.’ I sharpened my ability to think strategically.”

The job world is competitive. Being well qualified and prepared places you ahead of the masses. Getting a master’s displays your commitment to the PR field in that you are willing to further explore theory and persuasion in order to become a skilled contributor.

The decision is made, but how do I get in?
Requirements for admission vary depending on the institution you wish to attend. Private schools may include certain items such as a writing sample or an extra reference, yet many state schools have a standard set of requirements.

This includes an application along with a small fee and three letters of recommendation (they prefer these to be written by past professors, but if you have a boss from you job or the head of an organization you volunteered for, feel free to make this one of the letters). It is best to choose people you are confident in and with whom you have a close academic relationship.

The next requirement is a letter of intent. It is best to include your career goals and why you would like to attend graduate school. It is helpful to incorporate certain aspects unique to the institution. This shows that you have taken the time to research their program.

Now that the paperwork is done, it’s time to hit the books. The GRE (graduate records exam) is a standard test that every applicant must take in order to gain admittance. Brush up on your vocabulary, reading comprehension and mathematics, and the exam should go smoothly.

Going straight into the field
So you decided to go for it – look out real world, here you come. For some of us, getting a job straight from college is an opportunity for a fist-hand “learn as you go” experience. Others hit the ground running, and do not look back. Many are able to do so through internships.

Courtney Wilborn opted to build her resume with on campus involvement. Creating press releases, media kits or SWOT analysis in and outside the classroom will not only impress potential employers, it will aid you in the future.

Now, it is time for the blunt, undeniable breakdown. School takes time and costs money. Money is rather difficult to come about. Loans take time to pay off – time you could have spent working in the first place. Who can deny this? Some argue that the end result is worth the financial turmoil, yet to many, it is simply not worth it.

In the fast-paced, global society we reside (and hopefully will work) in, interviews may be conducted via e-mail or phone. Through an intense examination of company Web sites, a Google search of the interviewer, lists of potential questions and brainstorming possible pitches, you could land your dream job.

The more realistic mentality of beginning a career at an early age can be advantageous due to diligence. The respect for the concept of working your way up goes a long way in the workforce. If you can take direction, learn quickly and demonstrate talent, it is likely that you could be in the same position the Masters student is once he/she enters the field.

The decision is made, but which organization to work for?
After perfecting your resume, you are confident in your job candidacy and ready to begin. But where do you send your resume?

In today’s economy, our society has developed the “lucky to have a job” mentality. Generations before us shared this viewpoint. For a while, however, we had broken away from the corporate ruling and placed importance on family and work environment. There is no harm in simply being happy for what you have, yet it is important to find a job you enjoy.

The luxury of a strong economy may not be around the corner, but entering the work force doing something you despise may be detrimental in the long run. So, before you find yourself taking pre-planned pictures following your commencement ceremony, do a little research.

Organizational environments and requirements vary depending on the job. For example, working within a major marketing firm can differ from a small, nonprofit job in that you may be in a large group divided into teams rather than a small team consisting of a few co-workers. Big businesses have thicker budgets, yet a small business may allow you to have more control on the spending.

Courtney Wilborn began her job at PPT Solutions one week after finishing school and has remained a satisfied employee ever since. Entering the field through a positive work experience is valuable when forming your future career goals. Through our communication, it is clear that she and PPT Solutions share a mutual respect.

Which path fits my needs?
No two resumes are alike. Similarly, no two bosses are the same. Potential bosses’ opinions on the master’s vs. straight into field subject vary just as much as an perplexed college student’s view.

Getting a master’s vs. immediate field work varies among individuals, yet no matter which path you choose, there is a common trait that potential bosses agree upon and look for: eagerness.

If you are continuing with school, you ought to be passionate about furthering your education. Wilborn spoke of her academic passion during her studies. She found the amount of theoretical study was intriguing.

After Wilborn was hired, her boss told her he was not too keen on the idea of hiring someone with little experience. However, it was her early-age drive and eagerness that convinced him of her qualifications.

If you are entering the job world, then do so with enthusiasm. Research all types of organizations, and decide where your PR abilities should be utilized. Internships and part-time jobs are a productive way to stretch your sea legs in this large, ever changing marketplace.

The question posed in the heading of this section cannot be answered by anyone but the individual doing the asking. There is no debate, only a decision that varies between individuals. It is up to us, as public relations students, to plan our personal career paths. Once customized, your PR path will prove successful following your commitment to eagerness and drive. In this discussion of master’s vs. immediate work, there is no better direction; each route demonstrates a contribution to the public relations field.


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