Tag Archives: hard skills

Journal of Public Relations Education, Volume 6, Issue 1

Note from the Editor-in-Chief:
We are pleased to share Volume 6, Issue 1, which offers our readers three research articles,
two teaching briefs and two book reviews. The articles cover a variety of topics: public
diplomacy training around the world, a comparison of expectations for PR graduates made
by practitioners at different levels in their careers, and suggestions for helping students
increase their knowledge and confidence in using statistics. We believe you will gain both
inspiration and guidance from the teaching briefs, as they explore multicultural training
through writing assignments and building recognition of the connections within and across
personal networks. Finally, the book reviews offer helpful insights into how these two books
might fit into your classes.

The editorial team expanded in November 2019 to include Dr. Kelly Vibber. We are grateful
to have her join us as Dr. Lucinda Austin transitions deeper into leadership within the
AEJMC PR Division. Dr. Austin has been a great help these past 2 years and will be missed.
I am thankful for this entire team, which invests countless hours into proofreading,
formatting and preparing each issue. Their service to the field is greatly appreciated. I also want to express my gratitude to our reviewers who offer useful advice through the blind-
review process and help us maintain a solid reputation. Thank you!

Emily S. Kinsky

Current Issue

Research Articles

Training International Public Relations Teams: Active Learning in a Multinational Context
by Bond Benton, Montclair State University

Curriculum Rebuilding in Public Relations: Understanding what Early Career, Mid-Career, and Senior PR/Communications Professionals Expect from PR Graduates
by Arunima Krishna, Donald K. Wright, & Raymond L. Kotcher, Boston University

Demystifying Data: A Constructivist Approach to Teaching Statistical Concepts Using SPSS
by Lauren Bayliss, Georgia Southern University

Teaching Briefs

Learning about Diversity Worldwide: How a Social Media Writing Assignment Provides Students with Multicultural Perspectives
by Arhlene A. Flowers, Ithaca College

Implementation of Active Learning Techniques in an Undergraduate Public Relations Course: Comparing Individual Social Networks and Brand Communities
by Corrie A. Wilder, Washington State University

Book Reviews

Public Relations Campaigns: An Integrated Approach
Reviewed by Brandi Watkins, Virginia Tech University

Teach Social Media: A Plan for Creating a Course Your Students Will Love
Reviewed by Natalie T. J. Tindall, Lamar University

Read the full issue here:

A publication of the Public Relations Division of AEJMC Copyright 2020 AEJMC Public Relations Division

The Journal of Public Relations Education (JPRE) is devoted to the presentation of research and commentary that advance the field of public relations education. JPRE invites submissions in the following three categories:

  • Research Articles
  • Teaching Briefs
  • Book/Software Reviews

Learn more by visiting the About JPRE page and the Authors/Contributors page for submission guidelines. All submissions should follow the guidelines of the most recent edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA).

Questions? Contact the Editorial Staff.

Curriculum Rebuilding in Public Relations: Understanding what Early Career, Mid-Career, and Senior PR/Communications Professionals Expect from PR Graduates

Editorial Record:

Original manuscript received July 16, 2019. Accepted August 29, 2019. First published online Jan. 21, 2020.


Arunima Krishna, Ph.S.
Arunima Krishna, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Mass Communication, Advertising, and Public Relations
College of Communication
Boston University
Email: arunimak@bu.edu
Donald K. Wright, Ph.D.
Donald K. Wright, Ph.D.
Department of Mass Communication, Advertising, and Public Relations
College of Communication
Boston University
Ray Kotcher
Raymond L. Kotcher
Professor of the Practice
Department of Mass Communication, Advertising, and Public Relations
College of Communication
Boston University


This manuscript reports on a survey of public relations practitioners about the professional attributes and job skills necessary for those who intend to enter the public relations field. Analyses compared differences and similarities between senior, mid-career, and early-career practitioners. Results indicate that writing, listening, and creativity are the three most significant skills aspiring public relations individuals should have, followed by the ability to think creatively, deal with an online reputation crisis, communicate effectively in today’s environment of disinformation, and build a crisis response plan. Results found statistically significant differences across senior management, middle management, and early-career respondents on items measuring some skills and attributes (i.e., possessing business acumen, creativity, research/measurement skills, new technologies, digital storytelling, and an understanding of how to best interact with public relations and outside firms).

Keywords: hard skills, professional relevance, public relations education, public relations roles, soft skills

Curriculum Rebuilding in Public Relations: Understanding what Early Career, Mid-Career, and Senior PR/Communications Professionals Expect from PR Graduates

Public relations education, now celebrating nearly 100 years in the United States, has come a long way since the first public relations course was taught at the University of Illinois in 1920, and the first degree program was offered by Boston University in 1947 (Wright, 2011). Over 1,200 universities and colleges today offer majors and/or undergraduate degrees in public relations, communication, public affairs, and other related disciplines (My College Options Research Center, 2017), and many others include public relations concentrations and minors in their curricula, reflecting the demand among students for formal training in the practice of public relations. With jobs in public relations projected to grow by 9% each year until 2026 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020), this demand for high quality public relations education will also increase. Therefore, it is imperative for public relations educators to design courses and curricula to reflect the needs of the profession and prepare students to enter the workforce with the key tools and skills they need to be successful in their careers. As Brunner et al. (2018) noted, “Staying current with what students will need to be successful is often a high priority for programs large and small” (p. 22), as it should be.

An important question for public relations educators is what these key skills and tools are and what learning outcomes educators should focus on when designing courses and curricula. To answer this question, programs employ a variety of tactics, including engaging with alumni, forming advisory boards, and encouraging faculty involvement in industry groups (Brunner et al., 2018). However, gaps between the needs of the profession and the skillsets of the recent-graduate workforce continue to exist (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2018), indicating perhaps the need for more rigorous, social scientific inquiry into the needs of the profession as perceived by the professionals. The present study is an effort to address this need through surveys conducted among public relations practitioners in the U.S. and around the world.

This study builds on the work of scholars such as DiStaso et al. (2009); Brunner et al. (2018); Ragas et al. (2015); and Auger and Cho (2016), as well as industry bodies like the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), to identify the skills important for the future of public relations practice. However, the results reported in this study represent a key point of difference from other survey-based investigations into the subject (e.g., DiStaso et al., 2009). This study not only presents a description of key skills and pieces of knowledge that professionals consider important for the future generation of communicators to possess but also includes an analysis of the differences and similarities between senior-level, mid-level, and early-career practitioners in what they consider to be priority skills. As we move closer to celebrating a century of formal public relations education in the United States, it is important to look forward to the next 100 years. Understanding what practitioners at different stages in their careers perceive to be important for the future of the practice may help provide further insight into how educators may need to design curricula and courses. Practitioners in different stages of their public relations career may have different experiences and lenses from which they think about what the future of the profession may look like, and unpacking differences or lack thereof in these professionals’ views may help underscore the importance of certain attributes over others. In the section that follows, we situate this study in current literature and explicate the overarching research question that guided our inquiry.


It has been 47 years since Scott M. Cutlip and J. Carroll Bateman addressed the 1973 business meeting of the Public Relations Division of what was then the Association for Education in Journalism (AEJ) about the “unsatisfactory and disparate state of public relations education in the U.S.” (Commission for Public Relations Education, 1975, p. 57). Cutlip, who some consider to be the father of public relations education (Wright, 1991), was a professor at the University of Wisconsin at the time, and Bateman, a noted insurance industry executive, was extremely active in the PRSA and the International Public Relations Association (IPRA). The Cutlip-Bateman AEJ report was the catalyst for the formation of the nation’s first task force that had both educators and practitioners take a serious look at the state of public relations education. Over the next half century, a number of groups—frequently called “commissions”—would meet and author various reports designed to set standards and ideally help bring improvements to public relations education. Although the focus of these commissions centered on undergraduate education in the United States, several specifically looked at graduate education, and a few had international intentions.

Always co-chaired by an educator and a practitioner, these commissions and task forces received considerable support from professional associations, not only in the United States but also in other English-speaking countries. In addition to the original report published in Public Relations Review in 1975, other major reports include A Port of Entry: Public Relations Education for the 21st Century (1999), The Professional Bond (2006), and most recently Fast Forward. Foundations and Future State. Educators and Practitioners (2018). When the present study was conducted, the commission was co-chaired by Elizabeth L. Toth of the University of Maryland and Judith T. Phair of PhairAdvantage Communications. Members represent PRSA and 14 other professional societies, four of which are located outside of the U.S. The current commission also includes 20 at-large members.

Over the years, these commissions have made recommendations that have impacted curriculum development at a number of U.S.-based colleges and universities. Many of these curriculum recommendations and changes are the result of research these commissions conducted with subjects who either taught or practiced public relations. Given the strong role the PRSA has played throughout the history of this commission activity, most of the practitioners serving as subjects in this research have been PRSA members, although, of course, other groups have been included in such research. Commission research conducted 20 years ago reported 35,000 students were majoring in public relations at nearly 700 U.S. colleges and universities (Stacks et al., 1999). Reporting on one of the most recent omnibus surveys conducted by the CPRE, DiStaso (2019) discussed the key knowledge areas, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that educators and practitioners surveyed in the study stated were expected from PR professionals and/or delivered by new PR graduates. The same report also explored important topics both professors and practitioners believed to be essential for curriculum. Practitioners in the CPRE report sample ranked writing, communication, and social media management to be the top three desired skills, and creative thinking, problem solving, and critical thinking as the top three abilities expected from PR professionals. The present study seeks to build upon this work and is therefore guided by the following research question:

RQ1: What skills and attributes do current public relations practitioners consider important for the future generations of communicators to possess?

Professional Attributes

Public relations academics have attempted to identify and rank the importance of professional attributes for nearly half a century (Ingram, 1975). Katz and Kahn (1978) developed a theory of organizations that called for similar studies in other occupational groups. As Johansson and Larsson (2015) have explained, the various roles in which public relations and communications professionals serve have been studied thoroughly.

The earliest work examining occupational attributes in public relations practice involved research conducted by Broom and Smith (1979) that led to a number of studies (Broom & Dozier, 1986; Dozier & Broom, 1995). Although initial reports about this research focused on four practitioner roles, upon reflection and clarification, their future studies suggested these two major roles: communication technician and communication manager (Broom & Dozier, 1986). Later work by Wright (1995) identified a three-role typology, adding communication executive to this mix, while a study by Moss and Green (2001) suggested five major roles. 

As Argenti (2016) and Marshall (1980) have explained, occupational expectations of public relations executives began changing in the 1970s, and a “new breed” of the public relations executive started to surface. Burson (2004, 2017), who PRWeek named “the century’s most influential PR figure” (“The 20 most influential communicators,” 2018, para 2), explained the expectation changes, noting that public relations used to only be involved in helping organizations answer questions about how to say something. Decisions about what to do, how to do it, and what to say were made by others. Over time, the most successful organizations have begun to seek assistance from public relations experts in making decisions about these questions. As a result, the public relations function has changed during the past few decades from something that mainly focused on media relations into an executive-level function that has become part of the decision-making dominant coalition of many organizations. These changes, and the need for them, have been discussed by Grunig (1992), Berger (2005), Gregory (2008), Bowen (2009) and others.

A field that once was not much more than publicity and public information now encompasses research, measurement, problem solving, crisis communication, organizational authenticity and more. Understanding more about what current public relations people predict will be important for future generations of practitioners to know will help public relations educators make more informed and effective decisions about curriculum and course content. Furthermore, understanding whether professionals at different stages in their career hold different perceptions of key future skills would help public relations educators understand the future of the industry from multiple perspectives and contribute to the design of more effective public relations courses and curricula. Therefore, the following research question is proposed:

RQ2: How do professionals at different stages in their career view the importance of various attributes and skills differently?


This manuscript is part of a broader collaboration between Boston University and PRWeek to understand the state of the public relations profession. Surveys were conducted among public relations practitioners using Qualtrics’ online survey interface. The survey consisted of 72 closed-ended questions and two open-ended questions, excluding demographic questions. Of those, 32 items asked the participants to respond to the question, “How important is it for the next generation of communicators to have skills/expertise in each of the following areas?” followed by skills such as “writing” and “ability to lead teams.” Participants’ responses to these 32 items formed the focus of this manuscript. All closed-ended items were measured on 5-point Likert scales ranging from “very unimportant” to “very important.” The survey instrument was developed by the authors of this study in consultation with PRWeek.

The link to the survey was sent along with an invitation to participate to all subscribers of PRWeek, as well as members of other PR-related organizations, both U.S.-based and global (i.e., PRSA, PR Council, the International Public Relations Association, and board members of the Institute for Public Relations). Reminders to complete the survey were sent to PRWeek subscribers at three time points following the first email. Survey links were also posted on social media (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), as well as in the form of a pop-up advertisement on PRWeek’s website. A total of 1500 surveys were started; however, given the length of the survey (~20 minutes), the survey had a high drop-out rate, yielding a total of 799 responses (N = 799). Of these, 296 (37.04%) participants reported being male, 479 said they were female (59.94%), while the remaining 24 participants either did not answer the question or said they preferred not to answer. The gender distribution of the sample closely mirrors the U.S. public relations industry, as women have been reported to comprise 65.7% of the industry (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018), making our sample representative of the field. The age distribution of the sample is reported in Table 1.

In terms of geographic location, 107 of our respondents reported being based outside of the United States, while the rest were located in the United States. The relatively low number of participants from outside the U.S. hindered our ability to perform comparative analyses between U.S.-based and international practitioners. The sample was, therefore, considered as a whole rather than analyzed by location.

Table 1

Age Distribution of Sample

Table 2

Distribution of Respondents’ Current Positions

Answering RQ2 necessitated classifying the respondents into three categories based on their current reported position. Based on discussions between the authors and PRWeek and the research team’s collective knowledge of industry practices (the third author of this study is the former CEO of Ketchum), participants were classified into senior management, middle management, and early-career practitioners. Toward the end of the survey, all participants were asked to report their current positions in their organizations and to choose one of 21 positions noted in Table 2. Importantly, 13.39% of our sample (n = 107) reported being either the chairperson, CEO, president, or founder of their own company/firm. Thirty-seven (4.63%) participants were chief communication officers (CCO), and 23 (2.88%) reported being either managing directors or general managers of an agency. The distribution of the positions held by the respondents is reported in Table 2.

Individuals classified as senior management included those who reported being CEO/chairperson/president/founder, CCO, MD/GM, executive vice president, or senior vice president  (n = 236). Vice presidents were classified as middle management, as were associate/assistant vice presidents, senior director PR/Comms, director PR/Comms, senior manager PR/Comms, manager PR/Comms, and specialist PR/Comms (n = 409). Account executives, account coordinators, senior account executives, account supervisors, and senior account supervisors were all categorized as early-career practitioners (n = 48). Of the sample, 105 respondents stated their current position as being “other,” precluding their classification into one of the three categories as we were unable to classify them accurately.

All data analyses were conducted using Stata IC/14. ANOVAs were conducted to understand whether there were differences in participants’ responses based on level. Post-hoc analyses were conducted using Bonferroni’s test for pairwise comparisons.


To answer RQ1, the means of all 32 items were calculated and analyzed for interpretation. Table 3 contains a summary of the means for the 32 items related to the importance of skills in the future. As this table indicates, overall respondents ranked writing (M = 4.79), listening (M = 4.70), and creative thinking (M = 4.61) as the most important skills for aspiring public relations practitioners. This ranking closely follows that of the CPRE’s (DiStaso, 2019) report. The top three skills noted earlier were followed by the ability to deal with an online reputation crisis (M = 4.61), the ability to communicate effectively in today’s environment of disinformation (M = 4.61), creativity (M = 4.54), and the ability to build a crisis response plan (M = 4.49). The importance of new technologies for the future of the practice was scored lower than expected by our respondents. For example, the specific application of virtual reality was scored an average of 3.19, while that of artificial intelligence was 3.36. 

Table 3

Summary of ANOVA

To answer RQ2, responses from participants at different stages in their careers (senior management, middle management and early career) were compared using one-way ANOVA tests to understand the impact of professional level on reported importance of skills for the future. In the paragraphs that follow, we present analyses of all 32 items across the three professional levels (i.e., senior management, middle management, and early-career practitioners).

Of the 32 items, differences were found only for 10 across the three professional levels. Table 4 provides the means across professional levels of the skills found to be significantly different across levels. For example, the ANOVA for the importance of creativity was not statistically significant [F(2, 705) = .42, p = .658], indicating general agreement about the importance of creativity as a skill for future practice (M = 4.54; SD = .59). Similarly, the importance of multilingual abilities was not significantly different across the three levels [F(2, 704) = 1.45, p = .235]. Practitioners at senior, middle, and early levels were consistent in their consideration of the importance of multilingual abilities, the importance of which was found to be moderate rather than crucial (M = 3.43, SD = .82). Also, the importance of the PESO (paid, earned, shared, owned) framework was consistent across the three professional levels, with paid media registering the lowest means across the four [F(2, 695) = 1.52, p = .218; M = 3.69, SD = .91]. Unsurprisingly, participants across professional levels agreed about the importance of earned media, with little variance in means across the three groups [F(2, 697) = .21, p = .814; M = 4.38, SD = .70]. Writing skills [F(2, 704) = .80, p = .448; M = 4.79, SD = .49], the ability to build a modern crisis plan [F(2, 703) = .01, p = .995; M = 4.48, SD = .68], the ability to deal with online reputation crises [F(2, 701) = 1.49, p = .226; M = 4.61, SD = .60], and the ability to communicate effectively in today’s environment of disinformation [F(2, 697) = 1.20, p = .300; M = 4.71, SD = .59] were all similarly scored highly and consistently by the participants as key skills for the future of the public relations industry.

Table 4

Summary of Means across Professional Levels (significant variables only)

Ten items were found to have statistically significant differences across the three groups (see Table 4). To further investigate the differences across the three groups, Bonferroni’s pairwise comparisons were used as a post-hoc test. First, the importance of possessing business acumen was found to be different across the three groups [F(2, 708) = 8.97, p < .001; Mtotal = 4.41, SDtotal = .67]. Bonferroni’s pairwise comparisons revealed a significant difference between top/senior management (Msenior = 4.51) and middle management (Mmiddle = 4.30). Senior managers considered possessing business acumen to be more important than middle managers did. No significant differences were found between early-career practitioners (Mearly = 4.43) and the other two groups.

Having a global mindset was also found to be different across groups [F(2, 708) = 3.97, p < .05; Mtotal = 4.04, SDtotal = .80]. Specifically, early-career practitioners considered having a global mindset most important across the three groups (Mearly = 4.30) and significantly more important than middle management (Mmiddle = 3.98). Senior managers’ perceptions of the importance of having a global mindset were not significantly different from either group (Msenior = 4.07).

Another skill that revealed significant differences was research/measurement skills [F(2, 705) = 4.76, p < .01; Mtotal = 4.33, SDtotal = .68]. Although all three groups considered research/measurement as an important future skill, early-career practitioners reported the highest importance across the three groups (Mearly = 4.69) and were significantly different from perceptions of senior managers (Mearly = 4.26) but not middle managers (Mmiddle = 4.34).

In terms of new technology, while participants across groups did not disagree about the importance of the application of new technologies [F(2, 702) = 2.74, p = .065; Mtotal = 3.81, SDtotal = .87], differences were found across the groups about the importance of the application of specific technologies. The importance of the specific application of artificial intelligence, for example, was found to be different across the three levels [F(2, 699) = 4.71, p < .01; Mtotal = 3.37, SDtotal = .93], as were augmented reality [F(2, 696) = 3.71, p < .05; Mtotal = 3.21, SDtotal = .93], virtual reality [F(2, 698) = 3.42, p < .05; Mtotal = 3.19, SDtotal = .92], and Blockchain [F(2, 687) = 4.76, p < .01; Mtotal = 3.01, SDtotal = .90]. For all four types of new technologies, senior managers considered their application to be significantly more important than did middle managers, but no differences were found between early-career practitioners and the other two groups. The means for the application of Blockchain were particularly interesting, as early-career (Mearly = 2.87) and middle managers (Mmiddle = 2.91) considered it relatively unimportant for the future compared to senior managers (Msenior = 3.11).

Finally, senior managers and early-career practitioners considered it important for future practitioners to know how best to use PR firms and outside consultants in a dynamic, fast-paced environment more so than middle management did. Specifically, on the item, “[the importance of knowing] how to best use PR firms in a convergent, integrated, high velocity age,” [F(2, 693) = 6.67, p < .01; Mtotal = 3.96, SDtotal = .85], senior managers’ report (Msenior = 4.09) of its future importance was much higher than middle management’s (Mmiddle = 3.86).


The purpose of this manuscript was two-fold; first, we sought to understand the key skills and attributes that public relations practitioners consider important for future generations of communicators to master. Second, we wanted to understand the differences in perceptions of respondents at different positions and professional levels. Unlike similar studies that have focused mainly on mid-level and early-career practitioners, this research also included a larger than usual sample of senior-level practitioners, enabling richer analyses of such perceptual differences. Writing, creativity, and listening were found to be scored the most highly in terms of important skills for future practitioners to excel in, followed by creative thinking and managing crises both offline and online. Results found statistically significant differences across senior management, middle management, and early-career practitioners on items measuring these skills and attributes: possessing business acumen, creativity, research/measurement skills, new technologies, digital storytelling (see Table 4), and how to best interact with public relations firms. In the paragraphs that follow, we unpack the implications of this study.

Public Relations Hard Skills are Still Relevant

The results of this study echo the findings of several years’ worth of research into public relations education that writing is an essential skill for aspiring public relations practitioners (e.g., Barber et al., 2012; CPRE, 2015; DiStaso et al., 2009). The present study found that not only did writing as a skill score the highest level of agreement from participants about its importance, this agreement was consistently high across the three professional levels. As the CPRE (2018) has noted, “Educators and practitioners agree that writing is essential” particularly as platforms continue to emerge and evolve (p. 13). This finding also builds upon DiStaso et al.’s (2009) work that writing was an essential skill for entry-level applicants by examining whether such a requirement was considered important by those at the top of their profession as well as those just starting out. As demonstrated through the analyses of variance, writing was considered important regardless of professional level. The same was true for creativity, social listening, and expertise in earned, shared, and owned media (see Table 3). The ability to develop plans for both online and offline crises (see Table 3) was also considered an important skill across all three levels.

Interestingly, the importance of research and measurement skills was the highest among early-career practitioners. Although the averages across all three professional levels were high (well above 4 on a 5 point scale), early-career practitioners considered research and measurement to be significantly more important than did the senior executives in our sample. Research, as CPRE (2018) has also noted, remains a “bedrock of professional public relations” (p. 14). One potential explanation for the higher scores on research and measurement from early-career professionals may be the emphasis on these skills in their own undergraduate or graduate curricula, as has been recommended by the CPRE, quite correctly so.

Furthermore, senior-level managers consistently considered new technologies such as AI, AR, and VR to be significantly more important than did middle managers. This finding is in line with Meng and Berger’s (2018) study, which found that Millennials reported lower levels of value for new technology than their managers thought they did. Based on this finding, senior-level executives, who have a broader insight into the profession and business at large, believe that these new technologies will play an increasingly important role in the public relations profession. On the other hand, senior managers’ relatively stronger emphasis on new technologies may simply reflect their own discomfort and/or inadequacies with such technologies. Regardless, although technology did not score very highly in this particular study, the need for universities and colleges to respond to this change in the technological landscape remains an important challenge, especially given the rapid speed at which technological changes take place. Technology, then, remains a “triple threat challenge” (CPRE, 2018, p. 14).

Our findings also echoed calls from industry leaders about the importance of public relations practitioners being literate in the language of business (e.g., Barber et al., 2012; Ragas et al.,  2015). Across all three professional levels, the importance of possessing business acumen was rated highly; however, of the three sets of professionals, senior executives scored possessing business acumen highest, significantly more than mid-level managers. It is possible that senior executives’ experience and broader worldview of the business world contributed to this difference. This particular finding holds meaningful implications for building public relations curricula, particularly for programs whose students may not have access to classes in business schools. Business literacy then needs to be built into basic curricula by public relations faculty so future generations are well-versed in the language of business, as recommended by senior managers. Perhaps one way for programs to incorporate this recommendation is to add business-related modules to both required and elective courses in the curriculum, such that students gain business literacy within the context of core PR concepts. Another option for PR programs is to collaborate with their counterparts in business schools and design blended, co-taught courses that may benefit both sets of students. This finding, and indeed, the recommendation for business literacy courses to be part of the core is slightly at odds with the CPRE (2018) report, which recommended business literacy as an additional area of study rather than as a part of the core curriculum. However, both the CPRE’s (2018) recommendations and the results of this study continue to echo the importance of incorporating business courses into public relations curricula.

Soft Skills

Several soft skills were rated highly as being important for future practitioners, similar to Barber et al.’s (2012) and DiStaso et al.’s (2009) findings. Specifically, the ability to lead teams and to develop talent were both scored highly across all three professional levels, echoing the findings of several public relations scholars (e.g., Berger & Meng, 2010; Ewing et al., 2019). However, despite its importance, effective leadership tends not to be a topic included in public relations curricula as an area of skill development (Auger & Cho, 2016).

Understanding the complexity of today’s global communication networks, too, was found to be important for future public relations practitioners to master. Additionally, respondents seemed to feel the pressure of the current media environment, and noted that the ability to communicate effectively in today’s environment of disinformation was a crucial skill that future practitioners will need to master.


As with any research endeavor, this study does suffer from some limitations. First, the results of these analyses are generalizable only to PR practitioners who are PRWeek subscribers or affiliated with the four industry groups whose members were invited to participate in the study. Second, although our focus is on public relations education in the United States, we did have some participation from respondents across the world. Future research may seek to investigate differences between practitioners’ perceptions of key skills across different countries and conduct comparative analyses. Third, although we have interpreted the findings for public relations education, our question asked about which areas future generations need to have expertise/skills in rather than what they need to be educated in; however, we believe our interpretation of the responses to be a logical extension. Fourth, the classification of participants into groups for analyses across levels depended on self-reported titles. Other variables, such as organization type and size, size of teams, etc., were not taken into account while performing the classification. Further studies should consider these factors in the classification of participants.

Finally, certain KSA areas highlighted by the recent CPRE report (DiStaso, 2019) were not included in this particular article as they have been reported elsewhere. For example, although DiStaso (2019) emphasized ethics as one of the most desired knowledge areas for PR practitioners, ethics was not addressed as a skill for future practitioners. This is because the importance of ethics was investigated in a different part of the survey where we asked respondents to report on key areas that were crucial for their current practice. Given that ethics education has been recommended by the CPRE for several years (DiStaso, 2019), it was not studied as a skill for future practice. Instead, we sought to understand how important ethics were to our respondents’ current practice, reporting on which would be outside the scope of the current article. Despite these limitations, we believe the findings of this study have significant implications for public relations education.


This study brings forth a number of implications for public relations curricula and course development. Some of the skills deemed to be most important for public relations practitioners have been taught for years in university-based public relations degree programs. The most pronounced of these is writing, which enjoys a long history of being a required PR course perhaps due to public relations programs historically being housed in colleges of journalism. Required courses teaching media relations, creativity, and creative thinking also enjoy a long association in PR education.

More recently, many university-based public relations degree programs have developed required or elective courses in subjects such as PR or communication research and measurement, crisis communication, new technologies, and global/international communication. However, this article highlights the importance of several additional areas of focus for PR programs to consider, including coursework on listening, digital storytelling, communicating effectively in today’s environment of disinformation, leadership, how to work effectively with PR firms and other outside consultants, and most importantly, business acumen.


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What Do Employers Want? What Should Faculty Teach? A Content Analysis of Entry-Level Employment Ads in Public Relations

Editorial Record: Original draft submitted to JPRE July 6, 2016. First revision went under review July 24, 2017; second revision went under review Sept. 26, 2017. Manuscript accepted for publication Feb. 5, 2018. Final edits completed July 19, 2018. First published online August 17, 2018.


Brigitta Brunner

Brigitta R. Brunner, Auburn University


Kim Zarkin, Westminster College

Brad Yates Headshot January 2018

Bradford L. Yates, University of West Georgia

We would like to thank our research assistants, Stephanie Held and Natalie Sands, for their help with this project.

What Do Employers Want? What Should Faculty Teach? A Content Analysis of Entry-Level Employment Ads in Public Relations


Public relations remains a popular major at the undergraduate level; faculty want to provide the best educational experience for their students to help them secure jobs. This research explores entry-level employment ads in public relations as a way to understand what skills employers want and expect new graduates to have. A content analysis of 199 entry-level employment ads posted to the Public Relations Society of America Job Center was conducted. Major findings include the need for graduates to possess not only hard skills such as writing but also soft skill abilities, such as time management, deadline orientation, and collaboration. In addition, it was found that few job ads specifically request that future employees have a public relations degree. Finally, although many of the ads that were examined call for a future employee to have the skills traditionally associated with the technician role, the authors suggest a new practitioner role has come into existence. This role, which bridges the technician and manager, is called the manager’s apprentice, and it requires knowledge of tactics and writing, as well as familiarity with measurement, social media strategy, and data collection.

Key terms: public relations, employment ads, hard skills, soft skills, manager’s apprentice

What Do Employers Want? What Should Faculty Teach? A Content Analysis of Entry-Level Employment Ads in Public Relations

Public relations programs educate students with specific careers in mind and often make curricular decisions according to perceptions of industry best practices. To stay informed about best practices, programs often form professional advisory boards and urge faculty to be active in professional networking organizations, read trade publications, and follow industry blogs. Students are encouraged, if not required, to complete internships, and assessment reports may include employment data as a marker of meeting learning goals. Regardless of methods, staying current with what students will need to be successful is often a high priority for programs large and small. As the industry rapidly changes due to technology and other factors, not only are practitioners hard at work to develop ways to implement these changes into their strategies and tactics, but educators, too, are working to redevelop course content and topics (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2015).

Graduates entering the field of public relations come from a wide range of programs. Some have entire majors devoted specifically to public relations (e.g., Syracuse University, University of Florida, University of Georgia); some have tracks or emphases focused on public relations (e.g., Austin Peay State University, East Tennessee State University, Fisher College). Still, others have just a few course options within a broad-based communication degree (e.g., Mercer University, Southern Arkansas University, Troy University).  

Graduates from all of these types of programs commonly seek the same entry-level positions in public relations. Despite program size or accreditation status, it is important for all to understand what employers want and expect in new employees. This research explores entry-level employment ads in public relations as a way to understand which skills employers want and expect new graduates to have. A content analysis of entry-level employment ads can provide insight into what the industry desires in a new employee, which could be useful as programs contemplate curriculum for public relations classes and programs.

Employee Roles

When the topics of employment and job opportunities are introduced to students, discussions of the roles of technician and manager often ensue based upon the content of introductory public relations texts (e.g., Wilcox, Cameron, & Reber, 2015). Research about public relations roles was first conducted by Broom and Smith (1979) and was refined and expanded with the work of Broom (1982), Dozier (1983), and Dozier and Broom (2006). Broom and Smith (1979) examined the tasks undertaken by practitioners, and they developed five common roles: the technical service provider, the expert prescriber, the communication process facilitator, the problem solving/task facilitator, and acceptant legitimizer. Broom (1982) simplified these concepts, reducing the roles to four and renaming them the expert prescriber, the communication facilitator, the problem-solving process facilitator, and the communication technician. Dozier (1983) and Dozier and Broom (1995) further refined this work, noting how closely connected the expert prescriber, the communication facilitator, and the problem-solving process facilitator roles were. Because of this interrelated nature, Dozier collapsed the three roles into one, simply calling it the manager role.

Managers are part of the decision-making process and use research and measurement to develop strategies (Dozier, 1981; 1984; 1992). In contrast, technicians perform tasks, such as writing press releases, and work to complete tasks assigned by managers and clients; their work does not include strategy or problem solving (Broom & Smith, 1979; Dozier, 1992). While the manager and technician roles have been the standard since their inception more than 30 years ago, there is some research that suggests there could be new roles emerging (Diga & Kelleher, 2009; Neill & Lee, 2016; Vieira & Grantham, 2014). However, current textbooks rely on the dichotomy of the manager and the technician when explaining public relations roles.

Employee Skills, Knowledge, and Abilities

In conjunction with a discussion of the manager and technician roles, many textbooks also spell out the skills and abilities that are desirable in entry-level and advanced employees (e.g., Wilcox, Cameron, & Reber, 2015). Public relations educators and practitioners have worked together in summits, in meetings, and in the writing of reports in order to develop students’ key skills and abilities through curricula that will endure for decades (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2018). The first comprehensive report of the Commission on Public Relations Education was published in 1975; updates were made in 1987, 1999, 2006, 2010, 2012, and 2018 (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2018).

The latest report of the Commission, Fast Forward: Foundations and Future State. Educators and Practitioners, was released in April 2018. Like the reports before it, the report states that one of the major skills entry-level employees need is the ability to write. The new report, however, goes beyond suggesting that today’s public relations graduates be proficient writers by stating that they also need to be versatile and adaptable writers. The authors also note the importance of research, theory, ethics, and technology as necessary knowledge for today’s public relations practitioner.

The discussion of what makes for the ideal public relations program (i.e., one that provides students with the skills necessary for employment) has been ongoing. Historically, many practitioners have cautioned that public relations educators ignore the input of those hiring graduates in order to meet the demands of students and administrators (Wright & VanSlyke Turk, 1990). The authors of the 2015 Summit of the Commission on Public Relations suggested that educators need to do a better job of helping practitioners to understand the way universities work, resource limitations, and the intricacies of accreditation, certification, and core coursework requirements.

Some practitioners may believe recent graduates are not ready for the workforce. For example, Todd (2009) found PRSSA professional advisors did not believe educators were adequately preparing students for current industry and practice standards. In fact, these professionals suggested public relations curricula were out of touch and needed to put more emphasis on new technologies, technician skills, and entry-level positions. Further, they stated entry-level employees still lacked good writing skills and suggested more practitioners should be involved in assessing student work. Todd called for more engagement of academics and professionals to ensure students were gaining the knowledge and skills required in the workforce.

Similarly, the most recent Commission on Public Relations Education (2018) report suggests, “There are gaps, often significant, between what employers want, what they think new hires have – and educators often tend to rate students higher than do practitioners” (p. 15). Other research has also compared and contrasted what academics and practitioners believe about public relations education. DiStaso, Stacks, and Botan (2009) surveyed professionals and academics via PRSA, the Association of Women in Communication, Page Society, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, International Communication Association and National Communication Association to better understand the current state of public relations education. While both academics and professionals agreed that writing skills, especially those necessary to write press releases, are essential for entry-level employees, such skills often were not possessed by applicants. Both groups also believed it was important for entry-level employees to possess soft skills.

Hard skills can be thought of as those linked to the technical abilities and knowledge of the field (Robles, 2012; Woodward, Sendall, & Ceccucci, 2010). In PR, hard skills would include knowledge of writing, data analysis, social media, and measurement. Soft skills are characteristics, outlooks, and actions that help one to be proficient when working with people, communication, and projects (Robles, 2012; Woodward, Sendall, & Ceccucci, 2010). Robles (2012) suggested that “soft skills are the intangible, nontechnical, personality-specific skills that determine one’s strengths as a leader, facilitator, mediator, and negotiator” (p. 457). In public relations, soft skills are needed for improved communication, effective project management, and collaborative work relationships.

DiStaso et al. (2009) found professionals and academics agreed that entry-level employees should have skills, both hard and soft, including good attitudes, initiative, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, organization skills, interpersonal skills, flexibility, knowledge of media, knowledge of current events, creativity, the ability to take criticism, and understanding of basic business practices. Again, the findings showed that entry-level employees are sorely lacking in all the above skills, but they were rated especially low for knowledge of current events and business practices. Similarly, Auger and Cho (2016) found public relations programs are still lacking in requirements for business courses in the curriculum. These findings suggest that educators need to place greater emphasis on these areas and types of knowledge.

In 2010, PRSA leaders wrote a white paper based on the thoughts of delegates of the Leadership Assembly. This work identified what industry and educational leaders believed would be the most important skills and knowledge for future practitioners (Barber et al., 2012). Again in the white paper, leaders called for knowledge of business practice and literacy such as an understanding of financials, management, and international experience. While noting a decline in writing skills, these leaders said the core skills and competencies or hard skills of the field were still relevant and necessary. Among other skills, the group noted the need for technologic understanding, as well as emotional intelligence and knowledge of social sciences such as psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Adaptability, creativity, and understanding of design principles were also mentioned as necessary skills, especially when technology is involved (Jacques, 2015). Similarly, some stated that students should be skilled in public speaking and interpersonal relationship skills because executives will expect them to have those abilities (Jacques, 2012).

In May 2015, the Commission on Public Relations Education held a summit with leading public relations practitioners to better determine what the ideal public relations education standards should look like (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2015). Practitioners at the Summit helped to develop a description of the ideal entry-level public relations practitioner. While the description included knowledge derived from experience and classroom knowledge, it also included soft skills. For example, certain personal traits, integrity, accountability, and a sense of ethics were deemed necessary. In addition, these participants said entry-level practitioners need to be driven and have intellectual curiosity, making them lifelong learners. Being able to collaborate, to listen well, to adapt, and to be sensitive to cultural and individual differences were noted as important interpersonal skills for entry-level practitioners. Additionally, the Summit participants also said self-awareness and assertiveness were key. The practitioners also listed essential skills for entry-level practitioners, many of which seemed managerial in origin. For example, solving problems, conducting and analyzing data, and making connections between how the world works and how those things affect the clients were among this list of essential skills.

Finally, the group also identified essential knowledge for entry-level public relations practitioners. Among the items mentioned were knowing the role and value of public relations and being able to explain this information to a client or employer; understanding how to measure public relations outputs; interpreting data and understanding analytics; knowing communication and public relations theories; understanding cross cultural and global communication and sensitivities; understanding how business works and how business acumen affects public relations, as well as knowing “the skills that are new to the PR professional, the things older professionals don’t even know yet” (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2015, p. 8.) To sum it up, one COO of a global corporation said the entry-level practitioner should: “Know how to write and speak. Know how to run a project and work as part of a team. Think globally” (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2015, p. 9). These recommendations are a tall order for both educators and students.

Research in Public Relations Using Employment Ads

Little research has examined job descriptions and the offerings of public relations programs. Auger and Cho (2016) conducted a content analysis comparing the courses taught within public relations curricula to descriptions for entry- and advanced-level public relations jobs. Their findings suggest that employers wanted to hire graduates with the ability to compose and author materials, the ability to speak in front of people, the ability to work with journalists, the ability to use emerging channels of communication, and the ability to develop tactics and strategies. Positions for people more advanced in their careers were more likely to require interpersonal, fundraising, research/measurement, and crisis knowledge, while entry-level ones had more emphasis on knowledge of visual communication.

Auger and Cho (2016) concluded that generally speaking, the current public relations course offerings were not only meeting industry needs for entry-level positions but also giving students the foundation they needed for advanced positions by including ethics, law, research, and globalization in course content. These findings suggest that a strong relationship has been built between public relations educators and practitioners (Auger & Cho, 2016). However, their analysis also stated that while educators are adequately preparing students for crisis, fundraising, and basic public relations skills, they still fall short when it comes to social and new media.

Auger and Cho (2016) stated some students are aware of this shortcoming, as evidenced by Di Staso et al. (2009), who found that public relations students feel least prepared for working with new technology, design, and layout upon graduation. However, Auger and Cho argued that this perceived knowledge gap regarding new and social media may be temporary because course curricula are evolving, and many professors are incorporating social media into existing course content even if stand-alone social media courses are not listed on curriculum sheets. Due to this shifting landscape, it seems there is still room for improving public relations curricula when considering industry requirements, and it is appropriate to investigate it further. This study will expand upon the work of Auger and Cho by further investigating the skill sets sought by entry-level employers. While Auger and Cho investigated a similar area of research, they looked at both curricula and employment ads; however, we looked only from the practitioner standpoint of what skills are being sought from our graduates.

Research Questions

When faculty approach curriculum planning, there are always questions about what new skills public relations professionals will need to be competitive. Professional advisory boards and trade publications provide some insight. However, a systematic approach to examining entry-level employment ads in public relations may answer questions about specific skills that are being requested of new graduates, which furthers the work of Auger and Cho (2016), and is needed to better understand how and if the PR curriculum is keeping up with the needs of the practice. Based on the literature and foundational framework examined, the researchers developed the following research questions to gain more insight into what entry-level public relations employment ads requested of applicants in terms of education and skills.

RQ1: What degrees are sought in entry-level employment ads in public relations?

RQ2: What knowledge/skills related to writing formats are sought in entry-level employment ads in public relations?

RQ3: What knowledge/skills related to social media platforms are sought in entry-level employment ads in public relations?

RQ4: What knowledge/skills related to design tools are sought in entry-level employment ads in public relations?

RQ5: What managerial knowledge/skills are sought in entry-level employment ads in public relations?

RQ6: What soft skills are sought in entry-level employment ads in public relations?



For a sampling frame of job skills and requirements, job postings from the Public Relations Society of America Job Center were gathered via a convenience sample. The sample included 199 entry-level employment ads posted between October 28 and November 18, 2015. Entry-level is defined here as requiring fewer than three years of experience. The unit of analysis was the job description of the PRSA Job Center website.

The PRSA Job Center website allows users to search its job postings based on “Organizational Setting.” The settings include the following: 1) corporation, 2) educational institution, 3) government/military, 4) independent practitioner, 5) nonprofit/association, 6) professional services, 7) public relations agency/consultancy, 8) recruiter, and 9) other. Our sample had the following distribution: corporation (n = 78), educational institution (n = 18), government/military (n = 3), independent practitioner (n = 0), nonprofit/association (n = 33), professional services (n = 13), public relations agency/consultancy (n = 28), recruiter (n = 9), and other (n = 16).

Measures and Coding Procedure

The coding sheet was developed based on the literature surrounding public relations education, practitioner wants/needs for entry-level employees, and soft skills. The coding sheet was used to assess the educational level, fields of study, the types of writing experience desired, soft skills, social media platforms, and design programs requested in each of the ads. The instrument consisted of 58 questions and was broken into sections to help guide the coders. For example, one section asked the coders to look for and code basic information about the job such as organization type and degree type. The other sections of the instrument asked the coders to inventory information about writing formats and skills, social media platforms and skills, design tools and skills, managerial skills, and soft skills listed in each ad.

Intercoder Reliability

The authors held two training sessions with two research assistants (one undergraduate and one graduate student) to review the coding instrument and code book. After these sessions, the two trained research assistants coded independently. At first, the research assistants conducted a pretest of 10% of the research sample to test the coding instrument for reliability. Discussion was used as a means to clarify inconsistencies. Using Holsti’s formula, the initial intercoder reliability was found to be 80.68%. Although this intercoder reliability falls within an acceptable range, the researchers refined the coding sheet and with these changes, the intercoder reliability rose to 89.2% (Stacks, 2016). One significant change between the pretest instrument and final coding sheet involved the structure of the skill lists. The first draft of the coding sheet presented the skill sections as long checklists, and because of that length, the coders were missing key terms. In response to that issue, the coding tool was revised, so the coders had to state whether each skill was listed in the ad with a simple yes or no format. By forcing the coders to look through the ad for each individual term, intercoder reliability was increased.


RQ1: What degrees are sought in entry-level employment ads in public relations?

Nearly three-quarters of the employment ads listed the bachelor’s degree as preferred or required (see Table 1). The ads were fairly open as to the specific majors requested. Forty percent of the ads made no mention of majors, with another six percent just saying “related field.” Communication (42%), journalism (27%), and marketing (34%) were the most commonly mentioned degrees. Public relations (17%) and English (14%) also appeared occasionally.

Table 1

Degrees Sought in Entry-Level Employment Ads

Brunner et al. Table 1 Degrees sought in entry-level employment ads

R2: What knowledge/skills related to writing formats are sought in entry-level employment ads in public relations?

Writing skills are consistently valued highly across many professions. Public relations is a writing-centric profession. Thus, it is no surprise that 70% of the ads listed writing well as a key to success. It is probably more surprising that 30% of the ads didn’t mention writing.

Public relations is not the same profession it was years ago. Therefore, the authors wanted to pay particular attention to any specific forms of writing mentioned in the ads as a way to understand what types of assignments might best position graduates for the job market. Table 2 shows how often 22 writing pieces appeared in the entry-level employment ads.

There were far fewer specific writing forms mentioned in the ads than might be expected. Only promotional materials (including brochures) and web content were found at least 50% of the time. Social media appeared in 47% of the ads. Strategic plans (38%) and press releases (27%) were also among those items more frequently mentioned. A common writing form that was not coded for originally, but seemed to come up frequently in the “other” category, was the newsletter. Through additional coding, the authors found newsletters mentioned in 23% of the ads.

Table 2

Writing Formats and Skills Sought in Entry-Level Employment Ads

Brunner et al. Table 2 Writing Formats and Skills Sought in Entry-Level Employment Ads

RQ3: What knowledge/skills related to social media platforms are sought in entry-level employment ads in public relations?

Social media appeared in about half the entry-level employment ads, but Table 3 shows that specific platforms were not often mentioned; however, Facebook and Twitter were noted in 14% of the ads. Social media management tools such as Hootsuite or TweetDeck rarely appear, with 93% of the ads making no mention of social media management tools at all. Similarly, social media analytic tools such as Google Analytics were also not common, with 84% of the ads making no mentions. Therefore, it is clear that while social media is a common expectation for new graduates, the specific tools are not being mentioned all that much.

Although Microsoft Office tools are not social media, this research did code for whether they appeared in the ads after the coders mentioned how frequently they were seeing it in the test batch. About half the ads mention Office and the specific tools of Word, PowerPoint, and Excel.

Table 3

Social Media Platform Experience Sought in Entry-Level Employment Ads

Brunner et al. Table 3 Social Media Platform Experience Sought in Entry-Level Employment Ads

RQ4: What knowledge/skills related to design tools are sought in entry-level employment ads in public relations?

The Adobe Creative Cloud and the specific tools included were mentioned in 28% of the ads. Photoshop (18%), InDesign (13%) and Illustrator (10%) were the most commonly mentioned tools. The research also looked at web design tools and platforms. Only 20% of the ads made any mention of either content management systems, such as WordPress, or HTML or other coding.

RQ5: What managerial knowledge/skills are sought in entry-level employment ads in public relations?

This research also looked at a wide array of managerial skills. Table 4 shows specific skills mentioned in the ads, including budgeting (27%) and event planning (19%). Project management appeared in 67% of the ads, speaking to the importance of developing that skill in undergraduates. Office management skills were only mentioned in 2% of the ads examined.

Table 4

Management Skills Sought in Entry-Level Employment Ads

Brunner et al. Table 4 Management Skills Sought in Entry-Level Employment Ads

RQ6: What soft skills are sought in entry-level employment ads in public relations?

Table 5 shows a wide variety of soft skills coded. Being collaborative and collegial topped the list, appearing in 67% of the ads. Organizational skills such as being able to multitask appeared in 59% of the ads. The other two most commonly mentioned skills are closely related to the first two. Thirty-nine percent of the ads specifically mentioned relationship-building and/or time management/managing deadlines. Other frequently mentioned soft skills in the “other” category were editing and proofreading, customer service, and analytical skills. Oral communication skills also showed up with similar regularity, suggesting the need for students to work on oral presentations of all kinds.

Table 5

Soft Skills Sought in Entry-Level Employment Ads

Brunner et al. Table 5 Soft Skills Sought in Entry-Level Employment Ads


While it is not surprising that entry-level positions require a college degree, it might seem odd to some that the ads in this sample were more likely to request a communication, journalism, or marketing degree than one in public relations. These findings support curricula that encourage students to enroll in a variety of courses across disciplines and to seek minors that will complement the knowledge and skills of their chosen major. These findings also raise questions about how well PR educators are communicating the value of the PR-specific degree. Public relations industry leaders have been cautioning academics and practitioners about the dangers of having people not trained in public relations working in the field since 1973 (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2018).

As has been noted, practitioners are concerned with entry-level graduates’ writing abilities. Perhaps this frustration is exacerbated by practitioners not insisting that job ads specifically require a degree in public relations, as well as by the employment of people who do not have classwork or degrees in public relations. According to DiStaso, Cornish, Sheffer, and Dodd (2018), “Many practitioners do not require a degree in public relations when hiring for entry-level positions. This means that the field is flooded with students who went to programs lacking a strong writing focus, no or a low barrier to entry to major, and students who did not get a public relations degree but want to work in the field” (p. 42).

Perhaps inviting practitioners to be more involved in education through guest speaking engagements, student-run firm advising, and advisory boards would help change this situation (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2018). If practitioners are more involved with public relations educators, they would better understand what is taught in the curriculum, and misconceptions about what is being taught could be cleared up more readily (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2015). Perhaps with greater practitioner involvement and knowledge of what the PR curriculum includes, we will see more ads specifically requesting applicants who have an undergraduate degree in PR, which ultimately helps not only academics but the profession as well.

The examination of the ads in this sample demonstrate that entry-level jobs are still written with a technician in mind. Technicians are employees who typically do not make decisions on the management level, but instead develop communication tactics and carry out the decisions and policies made by others (Broom & Dozier, 1986; Dozier, 1984). Similar to what other researchers have found, this research also finds writing is still the most highly desired skill for entry-level practitioners (Auger & Cho, 2016; DiStaso et al., 2009; Jacques, 2012; Jacques, 2015); however, the lesson from RQ2 is that the ads are far less specific about the types of writing needed in these entry-level jobs than might be expected. One possibility is public relations formats are perceived to change so rapidly that specific forms of writing may quickly become obsolete. Yet other possibilities are that the ads are written with the skill set of the person who last held the position in mind, or the ads are written by human resources personnel who may not be as familiar with the field.

The advent of social media as a significant part of an entry-level technician’s day puts practitioners and academics in a unique situation not only to need to be constantly on top of the latest trends but also to find interesting ways to use the latest platforms to engage publics. Although most of the ads reviewed for this study did not mention specific social media platforms, management software, or analytic tools by name, they did call for social media skills and knowledge. The need for social media knowledge among public relations students and practitioners is obvious. For example, a 2017 study by Wright and Hinson found many public relations practitioners reported spending up to a quarter of their working day using social media. Students would likely be well-served if they had a command of both social media platforms and social media analytic tools (Kinsky, Freberg, Kim, Kushin, & Ward, 2016; Meng, Jin, Lee, & Kim, 2017).

Despite the ads’ adherence to the traditional technician role, there also seems to be a trend to request management skills of entry-level practitioners. For example, 67% of the ads examined requested applicants have project management skills. Similarly, the list of essential skills put together by participants of the 2015 Summit of the Commission on Public Relations also mentions the need for managerial skills. Perhaps as more employers come to recognize the importance of employees with measurement skills, more entry-level positions will evolve from purely technician to that of a manager’s apprentice. This new role might still require the writing skills and familiarity with tactics of the current technician role, but add to it knowledge of measurement and social media strategy and analytics, data collection, and the development of preliminary reports. In this bridging role, a manager’s apprentice might be responsible for some decision-making, problem solving and policy related to social media and/or other areas. Even with this suggested additional role, the public relations manager would still be responsible for the public relations program, its outcomes, and problem solving; the public relations manager would still be the expert in the field who negotiates, plans, and strategizes the communication between organizational leaders and publics (Broom & Dozier, 1986; Dozier, 1984).   

Another area students may need to be familiar with is design, including design programs. The need for design can probably be tied to the type of public relations the students see themselves pursuing. Those students aiming for agencies and larger corporations will likely work with graphic and web designers. However, students interested in smaller nonprofits and independent consultancies will likely need to rely on themselves for basic design tasks such as brochures, posters, and simple websites. Educators and practitioners alike believe knowledge of design is helpful (see Gallicano, Ekachai, & Freberg, 2014); however, they rate this knowledge as less necessary than skills such as writing and research (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2018). “While these skills may still be important in smaller organizations that do not have their own production facilities or can’t afford to outsource production, the ability to communicate using appropriate messages and channels appears to be more important than the packaging of those messages” (O’Neil, Moreno, Rawlins, & Valentini, 2018, p. 55). Perhaps in the future, educators will find more ways to infuse design within the existing curriculum or build relationships across their respective campuses, so students can take supporting classes in areas such as graphic design.

Other qualities desired in entry-level public relations practitioners include soft skills such as the ability to meet deadlines, collaborate, speak in public, and build relationships. Soft skills have moved from knowledge that is “nice-to-have” to a “must-have” for employers (Bancino & Zevalkink, 2007, p. 22). In 2010, Klaus reported that approximately three-quarters of continuing employment accomplishment is contingent upon malleable abilities, whereas merely one-quarter of long-term job success was attributed to hard skills. While hard skills are already part of university curricula, soft skills need more emphasis to better prepare students for the workforce (Wellington, 2005). Going forward, a challenge for faculty will be helping students identify ways in which they can document soft skills on their resumes, especially if job ads specifically call for such skills. In addition, it seems students with proficiency in Microsoft Office programs should include them on their resumes based on the findings of this study.

Recommendations for the Classroom

From a curricular standpoint, public relations faculty can stand by the idea that good writing is good writing, regardless of the particular form (Jacques, 2015). New modes of writing can be learned, if the basic skills are already there. Therefore, it seems appropriate for educators to continue to teach AP Style, grammar, and sentence structure, but they need to balance assignments requiring students to write traditional pieces such as promotional materials, press releases, and features with assignments focusing purely on writing for social media platforms, such as Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and general web content. Faculty need to continue to develop social media classes (Kim & Freberg, 2016; Zhang & Freberg, 2018), as well as find ways to introduce such content across all current courses (Auger & Cho, 2016). By including lectures and projects related to analytics, proper use of social media, and the writing, design, and presentation of social media content, any shortcomings in these areas would be addressed.

Faculty need to find ways to integrate both hard and soft skills into assignments, assessment, and classwork in order to create a more well-rounded graduate (Robles, 2012). Getting students out of the comfort zone of lecture can help them to practice and develop soft skills (Bancino & Zevalkink, 2007; Dalley, 2014; Schulz, 2008). Soft skills are best taught using experiential, authentic, and integrated learning, such as when the faculty member takes on the role of a coach rather than a lecturer and guides students through assignments that require teamwork, writing, and oral presentations (Elmuti, 2004; Gordon, 1998; Navarro, 2008; Noll & Wilkins, 2002; Tuleja & Greenhalgh, 2008).

To encourage students to develop the soft skills and other qualities most wanted by industry leaders, faculty could also use techniques associated with the flipped classroom (Gibson & Sodeman, 2014; Hutchings & Quinney, 2015). In the flipped classroom, class time is used mainly for application and analysis rather than lecture. By building motivation among students, they come to class prepared by having completed assignments, and the classroom can more closely resemble a functioning workplace where faculty take on the role of a facilitator who guides students through active learning experiences that help them to build their professional talents (Bristol, 2014). Additionally, the flipped classroom helps students to develop skills such as leadership, collaboration, communication, and problem solving (Chen, Wang, Kinshuk, & Chen, 2014; James, Chin, & Williams, 2014). Faculty could task students with assignments and projects focused on measurement, making connections among the global context and their respective assignments, conducting and analyzing data, developing goals and objectives, and refining their storytelling skills to better prepare them for the workplace (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2015).

By developing such assignments, students would not only have the safety of the classroom while making mistakes and learning, but also would take part in peer-to-peer education while being guided by a faculty member. Students could be asked to participate in gallery walks in which they reflect upon and offer constructive criticism to their peers. Gallery walks help students to synthesize and evaluate the work of their peers through movement, reflection, analysis, group discussion, and writing (Honeycutt, n.d.). This activity can mirror the team dynamic common to many workplaces.

Students could also conduct micro-teaching assignments on topics such as professionalism or globalism to further reinforce public speaking skills and adherence to deadlines. Students could also be tasked with reflecting upon the ethics and responsibilities surrounding their own work to further develop them as professionals. Finally, students could be asked to help develop rubrics and other assessment tools for assignments, so they can learn more about what quality work is and how to judge it. Therefore, the flipped classroom might be a key to developing the entry-level employee that industry leaders dream of hiring while helping students to be ready for the manager’s apprentice role they could encounter in the workforce.

Some final suggestions are for faculty, with the help of practitioners, to develop soft skills seminars for students to take before interning. By eliciting the help of internship supervisors, faculty could find ways to build students’ knowledge of and confidence in their soft skills. Internship supervisors could also be called upon to help assess soft skills as part of their feedback about interns (Daugherty, 2011). Community partners and clients working with students on long-term projects could also help assess these areas (Steimel, 2013). Similarly, student-run agencies under the guidance of faculty and/or practitioners could also be a place where students learn about and further develop their soft skills with assessments specific to this skill set built into any feedback materials (Bush & Miller, 2011; Swanson, 2011). Finally, practitioners could assist faculty with building soft skills knowledge in students by providing workshops, talks, and/or webinars on the topic through professional organizations such as PRSSA.

Limitations and Future Research

Although these data are interesting, they are only based on a convenience sample of online ads posted on PRSA’s website. This sample not only excludes ads found in other media, but it could also exclude those organizations unable to pay posting fees such as small organizations, particularly represented by the nonprofit sector. In order to answer the research questions posed by the authors, only entry-level ads were reviewed; therefore, little information has been gained about the skills and knowledge necessary to move to the next level of employment. A follow-up study should examine job ads targeted to middle- and senior-level practitioners in order to complete the picture of what skills and knowledge public relations practitioners need throughout the life of their careers.

Finally, this research vein could be further explored using qualitative methods, such as focus groups or in-depth interviews. Focus groups and/or interviews could be conducted with those people who are hiring entry-level public relations practitioners. This step would help public relations educators to better understand not only what employers want in entry-level public relations practitioners, but also why they desire such skills and qualities. Similarly, qualitative and quantitative methods could be used to gain insight into the experiences of newly hired entry-level practitioners to understand their interview and job search experiences, as well as to determine what skills and knowledge they draw upon to complete their daily work. These lines of research could help educators when developing courses, course content, and curricula to prepare students for the workforce they will encounter, thereby strengthening the relationship between educators and practitioners.


In conclusion, it seems that faculty can best meet the needs of their students and their future employers by being aware of the knowledge and skills that are called for in entry-level employment ads. In addition, faculty should build strong alliances with their local practitioners to further gain insight into this aspect of their work. Perhaps a final suggestion is for faculty and students to closely examine entry-level job ads in the classroom and determine ways to take students from undergraduate to employed public relations practitioners.


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