This or That-Academic/Career Plan
March 27, 2013 2:13 PM   Subscribe

I have a degree in Communications and would like to further my education by obtaining a certificate in Public Relations. My ultimate goal is a career in crisis management/reputation management, but how do I actually get there? Also, which public relations program should I choose in order to further my education, get more hands-on experience, and network?

The first PR program is offered at a local community college
-There's A LOT of hands on experience which is great for someone like myself (I've struggled with studying ever since elementrary school)
-There's also a lot of network experience involved with this program including visiting agencies in Toronto, Ontario
-There is a 3 week placement which is required in order to complete the certificate (great opportunity to get my feet wet as the saying goes)
-This program covers a lot of different areas in the PR field (although I dislike event planning, but everything else sounds interesting!)

-I'd be required to take the following courses:
1. PR Writing-Part I
2. Print Design & Application
3. Media Relations-Principles
4. Principles of PR
5. Program Planning
6. Organizational Application
7. PR Communication Technologies
8. PR Writing-Part II
9. Portfolio & Career Development
10. Print Design & Application
11. Media Relations-Part II
12. Crisis Communications
13. Campaign Presentation
14. Advertising-Introduction
15. Special Events-Planning & Management
16. Field Placement (3 weeks)

On the other hand, the second PR program that I'm considering:
-The program is offered at a very reputable university
-The program might give me the opportunity to pursue further education (such as law school)
-It seems like there's a good balance between theory and hands-on experience
-It also seems like the program is more focused in comparison to the first program

-The program is part-time which means that it might take a bit longer to complete all of the requirements
-If my marks aren't good enough while earning the certificate, then I would be unable to complete the final project or internship (***)

-I'd be required to take the following courses:
1. Building Social Media Relationships
2. Business Management for Public Relations
3. Employee Communications
4. Final Project or Internship***
5. Introduction to Public Relations Practice
6. Issues & Crisis Communication Planning
7. Measurement & Evaluation in Public Relations
8. Media Relations
9. Public Relations Planning & Management
10. Public Relations Writing
11. Social Media Research & Techniques

My other question--how do I actually get to the point where I have a career in Crisis/Reputation Management. Do most people go to law school after earning a degree/diploma/certificate in PR/Communications? Or, is it possible to move up the PR ladder and eventually get a career that's specialized in the field of PR/Communications?

Thanks in advance!
posted by anonymous to Education (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I am a former crisis professional. Neither of these certificate programs actually certify you do to anything and would not enter into a hiring decision at the places I worked, especially given that you already have a comms degree. You shouldn't do either and, if you must do one, you should pick the cheapest one (because, again, they aren't valuable).

A few of the people I worked with were lawyers, but certainly not all, and it was certainly not a rule or anything. The lawyers were able to talk to corporate counsel - who you'll be dealing a lot with - a bit easier than the non-lawyers, but it wasn't that big of a deal. The way you get in the door is by, unfortunately, getting in the door. You will likely have to work for free (or for very, very cheap) for awhile - I made $9 an hour, in Washington DC, for six months before getting my first shot at a full-time job which paid a not-so-much-better $34k.

There are no shortcuts, no whiz-bang certificates or Master's degrees (I got my first job over someone who had just completed a Master's in PR with no experience). It's a sexy job where there are more sellers than buyers, so you'll need to do your time before getting a shot. Good luck!
posted by downing street memo at 2:25 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Communications PR person here, I would Nth downing st: Neither of these will really secure you the job.

I think it's also important to note that crisis PR is a real niche in the sector; you will almost certainly need solid experience in PR with an agency or in-house before you can really think about moving into this area - a qualification want really add a lot, they will want experience.

Further, I know many PR people who specialise in crisis management, but they don't do it exclusively - there are very few people who do it exclusively. In an agency, this plays out that you are the crisis management person (this person is usually senior and older; it sucks but clients like someone who projects a mein of tranquility and being a veteran). When a crisis comes up you are often put on the account, or given accounts likely to have crises, but you still do a lot of non-crises work, sometimes pre-emptive, sometimes just regular PR.

In-house, this means you will be the PR person on the Crisis Management Group, and the de facto manager for crises as they come up. You will liaise with executives and probably agency people working on it as well, but you will still be spending a lot of time doing "regular" PR.

As a corollary of this - and downing st memo may well disagree with me, on this one. My experience is in Australia and in relevant Australian sectors - but I would urge you to consider what kind of organisations have need of regular crisis management PR, and why they are prepared to pay so much for it. These are not childrens hospitals and charities. They are companies like British Tobacco, Exxon Mobil and Shell, resources companies, organisations accused of malfeasance and/or malpractice. And they will more often than not be asking you to - if not lie (and you will probably have to lie) - at least misrepresent their actions and priorities.

You will be representing impersonal, corporate interests that have possible broke several laws, and helping them cover their tracks, pretend their priorities are different, and doing so more often than not in direct contradiction to the public interests and what is arguably morally right.

As I say, this is just my experience, downing st may have another. I would personally hate to specialise in crisis management: emotions are high and people are very touchy; it's incredibly time-sensitive and you are under huge pressure to deliver; you are typically spinning (let's face it) colossal fuck-ups of one stripe or another, and PR is not like the memory-wiper from Men In Black - you will often get blamed if there's bad press or not a 180 turn-around; few organisations are truly regretful about what they have done and you are creating a false impression to the public about what the org knew (they may ensure you yourself don't know the real story), what they did, what they are going to do about it now.

Tough gig.
posted by smoke at 4:45 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Experience in communications and PR matters more in the field than degrees or certificates. It would be a better use of your time to get internships at organizations where you are interested in working or in your specialty. Most career paths, from my experience, go unpaid internship, internship, entry level job, job that requires slightly more experience, etc.

What types of organizations interest you? smoke has a good point but I had a different interpretation. When I think of crisis management, one thought that came to mind was working for an organization like a city's department of emergency management.

I work at a for a major international nonprofit in a mid-level communications position and I run a monthly networking happy hour with 900+ members. I can't think of any communications professionals with a law degree. I'm sure peers who work on Capitol Hill have law degrees but I definitely don't think it's necessary.

Focus on getting job experience. Then work on getting more experience. After that, try to get more experience.
posted by kat518 at 8:10 PM on March 27, 2013

I work in-house doing crisis communications and I urge you to seriously consider what Smoke wrote. It is indeed very stressful. Most of my colleagues have to leave the crisis comms role after less than a year because it is very hard on your mental and physical health. I'll be leaving soon myself.

Don't do either program. You don't typically start in PR doing crisis comms; even with all the degrees in the world, no reasonable company would trust you until you'd executed on a reasonable number of non-crisis-related campaigns. Get your start by interning, volunteering, and working at an agency in a "coordinator" or "associate"-level position, then work your way up.
posted by samthemander at 8:23 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I should also say this: I don't know anyone who works in PR who did not complete a 4-year university degree. And I know a lot of flacks. So my above advice assumes you've got that under your belt.
posted by samthemander at 8:29 PM on March 27, 2013

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