Question: What Can You Do With a Master’s Degree in Public Relations?

Answer: A master’s degree in public relations can prepare students for a range of careers that involve representing companies, individuals, politicians, organizations, and other entities in the public sphere, performing media relations responsibilities, and working independently or at the corporate level in public relations. Some of the common titles for public relations professionals include Communications Coordinator, Communications Manager, and Communications Director; Media Relations Manager; Event Coordinator; Digital Strategist; Social Media Manager; Public Affairs Coordinator; Crisis Management Agent; Corporate Spokesperson; Public Information Officer; Content Strategist; and Public Relations (PR) Director.

Students in a master’s in public relations degree programs typically cultivate professional written and verbal communication skills, study various facets of mass media, and learn strategies for coordinating, assessing, and managing the public profiles of individuals, companies, and organizations. This skill set has applications across various sectors of the economy and in many types of organizations, including corporations, government agencies, and non-profit groups.

The Field of Public Relations

Traditionally, public relations has focused on the management and coordination of campaigns and activities that raise, improve, and protect the public profile of clients and employers, whether they be individuals or organizations. This might include the production and distribution of formal press releases, brochures, and digital and multi-media products; generating publicity through direct contact with journalists and other media members; organizing press conferences and other public events; and fielding inquiries for information regarding a person, an organization, a program, or an event.

While these functions may be thought of as separate from marketing, advertising, and other paid forms of brand promotion, the emergence of integrated marketing communications (IMC) as a conceptual framework for coordinating various aspects of an entity’s public profile has blurred the lines between public relations and other activities that impact the public profile of an individual or an organization. As a result, PR professionals commonly coordinate their actions with marketing and/or advertising departments and engage in activities that are formally integrated into a strategic communication agenda or plan.

It is, however, important to note that working in the field of public relations may vary greatly depending on the client and the specific job responsibilities. Some PR professionals focus primarily on handling press inquiries and media requests, while others may specialize in coordinating public events for clients, and there are an increasing number of PR professionals whose primary responsibility involves managing the Internet and social media profiles of individuals and organizations. A PR professional who works for a political candidate may handle a range of responsibilities, including the preparation and distribution of press releases, setting up interviews with journalists, and/or holding formal and informal press conferences. A public information officer at a corporation, non-profit organization, or government agency might be tasked with creating content for brochures and/or websites, answering public inquiries, and/or helping to plan and coordinate events designed to create public awareness or further other strategic communication objectives.

Master’s in Public Relations Degree Programs

Master’s in public relations programs are one way to prepare for a career in public relations and they may also serve as a means to career advancement for those already working in the field. These programs offer professional training and instruction in various areas relevant to the practice of public relations, which typically includes persuasive written and verbal communication, digital media content management, press and media relations, brand and identity management, market and consumer research methods, and IMC strategies. Some master’s in public relations programs have core communication theory requirements, while others focus more exclusively on practical concerns in public relations.

The structure and format of master’s in public relations degree programs varies by school and by program, but full-time students can typically complete these programs in one to two years, while part-time students may take three or more years to earn their degree. In addition to traditional, campus-based master’s in public relations programs, there are many online master’s programs offered by regionally accredited, non-profit schools, as well as hybrid programs that incorporate online and campus-based instruction.

Careers in Public Relations

There are many different titles for PR professionals, which may vary depending on level of the position, the type of work required, and individual employers. The terms public relations, public affairs, media relations, and communications are used somewhat interchangeably in the profession. As a result, Public Relations Manager, Director of Public Affairs, Strategic Communications Coordinator, and Media Relations Director may be different designations for positions that require similar skills and entail some of the same responsibilities. The list below offers an overview of some of the more common job titles in the field of public relations, along with short descriptions of what that job might entail.

  • Communications Director: Designs and coordinates media relations campaigns for a client/employer, fields public and press inquiries regarding the client/employer, and oversees messaging and branding efforts on behalf of the client/employer.
  • Corporate Spokesperson: Represents corporate clients/employers in the public arena through issuing press releases, speaking on behalf of the client/employer at press conferences and in interviews, and acting as a liaison between the company/client and others.
  • Crisis Management Coordinator: Devises plans and protocols for handling public relations crises, coordinates the implementation of public relations efforts to mitigate damage to the client/employer, and handles press and public inquiries for clients/employers in times of crisis.
  • Digital Content Strategist: Develops and creates digital content for a client/employer, coordinates the publication of digital content, and promotes the online profile of the client/employer.
  • Director of Public Affairs: Oversees the public relations efforts and strategies of a company/organization, coordinates various public relations and marketing campaigns, and assesses the relative effectiveness of efforts to protect and promote the public profile of the company/organization.
  • Event Coordinator: Plans and oversees public and private events such as dinners, galas, fundraisers, information fairs, and conventions in order to promote the public image of a client/employer.
  • Press Secretary: Facilitates interactions between a client/employer and members of the media, writes press releases, fields interview requests, and coordinates press conferences.
  • Public Information Officer: Creates and disseminates informational materials such as brochures, fact sheets, web pages, and other media products for an agency/client, handles requests for information about the agency/client, and serves as a liaison between the agency/client and members of the press and public.
  • Social Media Manager: Manages the social media profile of a client/employer, which may include creating content on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and other popular online platforms.
  • Public Relations Manager: Handles various aspects of public relations for an individual/organization, including matters pertaining to press and media relations, brand and identity management, and public perception of the individual/organization.

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