Public relations, or PR, is a communication specialization primarily concerned with mediating an organization’s or an individual’s relationship with the general public and the media. PR professionals communicate on behalf of clients and employers, fielding media inquiries, holding press conferences, and crafting press releases and other types of content designed to generate publicity, shape public opinion, and foster constructive engagement between their clients and other relevant parties. In business, government, the sports and entertainment industry, and other areas where influencing public perception is a pressing concern, PR specialists may also be called upon to advise clients in areas related to strategic marketing, advertising, and brand and reputation management.
Working in the field of PR typically requires strong written, verbal communication and interpersonal skills, as well as an understanding of the relationship between the press and the public, and a familiarity with various communication tools and media platforms. While there are various ways to acquire knowledge and abilities associated with working in PR, a master’s degree in public relations or a master’s in communication degree with a PR specialization can provide students who are interested in pursing a career in the field with integrated professional training in the theories and practices of PR.
Students in a master’s in PR program cultivate written and verbal communication skills, study the relationship between the media and the public, use theories of interpersonal communication as a framework for analyzing various PR functions, and learn to deploy mass media technologies to effectively direct, coordinate, and manage PR campaigns across a range of platforms. These programs, which may be offered through schools and departments of communication, professional studies, and/or business and management, are designed to prepare students for PR positions and for career advancement in the field of public relations.
An online master’s in PR program is a program that offers all or most of the coursework required to earn a master’s degree in public relations online. These programs utilize distance-learning technologies to provide students with a convenient alternative to campus-based programs. Students in an online master’s in PR program are able to stream lectures, participate in discussion groups, communicate with instructors, and complete assignments using a secure Internet connection to log on to the program’s online learning platform. While some online programs may require students to attend a limited number of campus-based sessions (one or two per year), there are also programs that offer 100% of their instruction online.
Through independent research of master’s in PR programs, OnlineEducation.com identifies programs that provide training and instruction for PR professionals through online instructional methods. To be listed on the site, a program must be offered by an accredited, non-profit college or university and it must offer all or most of its coursework online. Programs that require students to attend more than two campus sessions per year are classified as hybrid programs and are not currently included on the site. Online master’s programs that provide PR training and instruction include programs with the following designations:
A master’s-level PR curriculum generally includes foundational coursework in communication theory and its relationship to the practice of PR, followed by classes that delve into specific areas of public and media relations and professional communication. Students in these programs typically survey the history of PR and its integration with other business functions, such as marketing and advertising; examine case studies in public and media relations; study media law and ethics; and learn to use quantitative and qualitative research methods to plan and assess PR campaigns. They take classes designed to cultivate written and verbal communication skills, and they learn to use these skills to influence public opinion, manage professional relationships, and coordinate strategic PR campaigns for individuals and businesses. In addition, many master’s in PR programs include one or two courses devoted to PR business operations, and some programs include a capstone project in which students demonstrate that they can apply what they have learned in the program to a real-world PR issue.
Curricula for online master’s in PR program vary by school, as do course names and descriptions. However, the following table provides a representative overview of the types of courses typically offered in online master’s in PR programs. The titles and descriptions are drawn from actual online program course offerings.
|Course Title||Course Description|
|Principles & Practices of Strategic Public Relations||An overview of public relations, its history and theories, and trends in the field as they relate to the practice of public relations today.|
|Public Relations Research||Applied research in the field of public relations, including quantitative and qualitative methodologies for measuring the effectiveness of public relations campaigns.|
|Communication, Media, & Society||An introduction to the current media environment and the relationship between technology, culture, and modes of communication.|
|Strategic Communication||The use of visual, verbal, and written media to shape messaging and influence opinion in politics, popular culture, business, non-profit advocacy, social movements, advertising, and marketing.|
|Political Socialization & Public Opinion||An examination of social science research into political socialization, opinion formation, marketplace behavior, and decision-making in the public sphere.|
|Crisis Communication & Issues Management||Strategies for managing public and media relations and coordinating communication strategies in times of crisis.|
|Knowledge & New Media||An examination of the knowledge environment that characterizes digital media, the production of new-media content, and best practices for online communication.|
|Brand & Reputation Management||Messaging and branding in relation to managing the public image and reputation of PR clients, individuals, businesses, and organizations.|
|Social Media Practices||An overview of social media platforms and strategies for monitoring and managing a client’s social media profile while using social media as a public relations tool.|
|Business & Finance in Public Relations||Organizational leadership, human resource management, financial planning, and budgeting for public relations department, agencies, and consultancies.|
|Ethical Responsibilities in Public Relations||The personal and professional ethical standards for the practice of public relations, including codes and guidelines for working with clients, the media, government officials, and the general public.|
Applicants to online master’s in PR programs are generally required to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Some programs may also require applicants to have completed several undergraduate prerequisite courses and/or have an undergraduate GPA of 2.5, 3.0, or higher. Some online programs may require applicants to have one or more years of employment experience in a relevant field. In addition to undergraduate transcripts, programs may require applicants to submit one or more of the following materials for consideration: GRE scores; two or three letters of recommendation; a personal goals statement; and answers to one or more essay questions. Finally, some programs may ask candidates for admission to submit to brief interviews, which are typically held via phone or video conferencing.
There are several variations in structure and format that potential applicants to online master’s in PR programs should take into consideration prior to submitting applications. These include: online instructional methods (synchronous vs. asynchronous instruction); enrollment options (full-time vs. part-time enrollment); and required campus visits. Each of these factors is addressed in detail in the sections below.
Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: These are the two primary methods for delivering online instruction. Synchronous instruction is analogous to traditional classroom instruction in that it requires students to be logged on to a program’s online learning platform at regularly scheduled times in order to view live lectures and/or participate in course activities. Asynchronous instruction does not have a real-time component and allows students to access lectures and other coursework at their convenience, 24-7. Synchronous instruction provides more structure, but less flexibility compared to asynchronous instruction. Asynchronous instruction offers more flexibility, but it requires more self-motivation on the part of students to keep up with lectures and assignments compared to synchronous instruction.
Full-Time vs. Part-Time Enrollment: Online master’s in PR programs are typically designed to accommodate students who have work or other commitments outside of school. However, some programs offer more enrollment flexibility than others. Students who can commit to 40 or more hours of schoolwork per week should consider programs that support full-time enrollment, which can lead to graduating in one-to-two years. Students who would prefer to spend less time per week on schoolwork should look for programs that have part-time enrollment options. It typically takes two or more years to earn a master’s degree in PR as a part-time student, depending on how many credits a student can complete per term. Some online master’s in PR programs have flexible enrollment, which allows students to choose the number of courses taken per term within certain limitations provided they complete the program requirements in a specified number of years.
Campus Visits: Some online master’s in PR programs require that students attend a limited number of campus visits in order to complete the program’s curriculum. These visits, sometimes referred to as immersion sessions or intensives, may include orientations, lectures, workshops, networking opportunities, and other activities that can be a valuable addition to online coursework, particularly for students who would like to meet face-to-face with instructors. However, campus visits, which typically do not last more than a week-to-ten days, require students to travel to a campus and may entail expenses in addition to a program’s tuition and fees. Whether or not an online program requires attendance at campus-based sessions is a factor potential applicants should explore prior to submitting an application to that program. OnlineEducation.com does not list online master’s in PR programs that require more than two campus visits per year.