Tag Archives: manager’s apprentice

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.


Auger, G. A., & Cho, M. (2016). A comprehensive analysis of public relations curricula: Does it matter where you go to school, and is academia meeting the needs of the practice? Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, 71, 50-68. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077695814551830

Bancino, R., & Zevalkink, C. (2007, May). Soft skills: Technical professions increasingly require a broader skill set, but career and technical educators can help their students add soft skills to their hard-core technical skills. Techniques: Connecting Education and Careers, 82, 20-22.

Barber, M.D., Couch, G., Darnowski, C., Johnson, T. L., Kazoleas, D., Kruckeberg, D. … Walton, S. (2012, March). The PR professional of 2015: Analyzing the future of public relations (2012, March). Public Relations Tactics, 19, 14-15. Retrieved from https://apps.prsa.org/Intelligence/Tactics/Articles/view/9652/1045/The_PR_professional_of_2015_Analyzing_the_future_o

Bristol, T. (2014). Flipping the classroom. Teaching and Learning in Nursing, 9, 43-46. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.teln.2013.11.002

Broom, G. M. (1982). A comparison of sex roles in public relations. Public Relations Review, 8(3), 17-22.

Broom, G. M., & Dozier, D. M. (1986). Advancement for public relations role models. Public Relations Review, 12, 37-56. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0363-8111(82)80028-3

Broom, G. M., & Smith, G. D. (1979, August). Toward an understanding of public relations roles: An empirical test of five role models’ impact on clients. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism, Seattle, WA.

Bush, L., & Miller, B. M. (2011). U.S. student-run agencies: Organization, attributes and adviser perceptions of student learning outcomes. Public Relations Review, 37, 485-491. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2011.09.019

Chen, Y., Wang, Y., Kinshuk, J., & Chen, N. (2014). Is FLIP enough? Or should we use the FLIPPED Model instead? Computers & Education, 79, 16-27. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2014.07.004

Commission on Public Relations Education. (2015, May). Industry-educator summit on public relations education Summary Report. Retrieved from http://www.instituteforpr.org/wp-content/uploads/CPRE20Summit20Summary20Report20July202015.pdf

Commission on Public Relations Education (2018, April). Fast forward: Foundations + future states. Educators + practitioners. New York: NY. Commission on Public Relations Education. Retrieved from http://www.commissionpred.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/report6-full.pdf

Dalley, S. L. (2014). Let’s take a trip: Exploring the effect of listening styles. Communication Teacher, 28, 1-8. https://doi.org/10.1080/17404622.2013.839046

Daugherty, E. L. (2011). The public relations internship experience: A comparison of student and site supervisor perspectives. Public Relations Review, 37, 470-477. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2011.09.010

Diga, M., & Kelleher, T. (2009). Social media use, perceptions of decision-making power and public relations roles. Public Relations Review, 35, 440-442. https://doi.org/10.1016/pubrev.2009.07.003

DiStaso, M. W., Cornish, N., Sheffer, G., & Dodd, M. (2018, April). Introduction: Development of the Commission on Public Relations Education report and the 2016 omnibus survey. In Commission for Public Relations Education (Ed.), Fast forward: Foundations + future state. Educators + practitioners. (pp. 37-43). New York, NY: Commission on Public Relations Education.

DiStaso, M. W., Stacks, D. W., & Botan, C. H. (2009). State of public relations education in the United States: 2006 report on a national study of executives and academics. Public Relations Review, 35, 254-269. https://doi.org/10.1016/jpubrev.2009.03.006

Dozier, D. M. (1981, August). The diffusion of evaluation methods among public relations practitioners. Paper presented to the Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication, East Lansing, MI.

Dozier, D. M. (1983, November). Toward a reconciliation of “role conflict” in public relations research. Paper presented at the meeting of the Western Communication Educators Conference, Fullerton, CA.

Dozier, D. M. (1984). Program evaluation and roles of practitioners. Public Relations Review, 10, 13-21. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0363-8111(84)80002-8

Dozier, D. M. (1992). The organizational roles of communications and public relations practitioners. In J. E. Grunig (Ed.), Excellence in public relations and communication management (pp. 327-356). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Dozier, D. M., & Broom, G. M. (1995). Evolution of the manager role in public relations practice. Journal of Public Relations Research, 7, 3-26. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15332754xjprr0701_02

Dozier, D. M. & Broom, G. M. (2006). The centrality of practitioner roles to public relations theory. In C. H. Botan & V. Hazleton (Eds.), Public relations theory II (pp.137-170). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Elmuti, D. (2004). Can management be taught? Management Decision, 42, 439-453. https://doi.org/10.1108/00251740410523240

Gallicano, T. D., Ekachai, D., & Freberg, K. (2014). The infographics assignment: A qualitative study of students’ and professionals’ perspectives. Public Relations Journal, 8, 1–23.

Gibson, L. A., & Sodeman, W. A. (2014). Millennials and technology: Addressing the communication gap in education and practice. Organization Development Journal, 32, 63-75.

Gordon, R. (1998). Balancing real-world programs with real-world results. Phi Delta Kappan, 79, 390-394.

Honeycutt, B. (n.d.) Looking for a flipped strategy? Try the gallery walk. Retrieved from http://barbihoneycutt.com/gallery_walk/

Hutchings, M., & Quinney, A. (2015).  The flipped classroom, disruptive pedagogies, enabling technologies and wicked problems: Responding to “the Bomb in the Basement.” The Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 13, 106-119.

Jacques, A. (2012, October). The PR classroom of the future: 5 educators share advice on teaching the millennial generation. Public Relations Tactics, 19, 12-14.

Jacques, A. (2015, October). School of thought: 3 pros on the state of PR education. Public Relations Tactics, 22, 16.

James, A. J., Chin, C. K. H., & Williams, B. R. (2014). Using the flipped classroom to improve student engagement and to prepare graduates to meet maritime industry requirements: A focus on maritime education. WMU Journal of Maritime Affairs, 13, 331-343. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13437-014-0070-0

Kim, C., & Freberg, K. (2016). The state of social media curriculum: Exploring professional expectations of pedagogy and practices to equip the next generation of professionals. Journal of Public Relations Education, 2, http://aejmc.us/jpre/2016/12/14/the-state-of-social-media-curriculum-exploring-professional-expectations-of-pedagogy-and-practices-to-equip-the-next-generation-of-professionals/

Kinsky, E. S., Freberg, K., Kim, C., Kushin, M., & Ward, W. (2016). Hootsuite University: Equipping academics and future PR professionals for social media success. Journal of Public Relations Education, 2, 1-18. http://aejmc.us/jpre/2016/02/15/hootsuite-university-equipping-academics-and-future-pr-professionals-for-social-media-success/

Klaus, P. (2010). Communication breakdown. California Job Journal, 28, 1-9.

Meng, J., Jin, Y., Lee, Y.-I., & Kim, S. (2017, August). Integrating web and social analytics into public relations research course design: A longitudinal pedagogical research on Google Analytics Certification. Paper presented to the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Chicago, IL.

Navarro, P. (2008). The MBA core curricula of top-ranked U.S. schools: A study in failure? Academy of Management Learning & Education, 7, 108-123. https://doi.org/10.5465/amle.2008.31413868

Neill, M. S., & Lee, N. M. (2016, August). Roles in social media: How the practice of public relation is evolving. Public Relations Journal, 10, 1-25.

Noll, C. L. & Wilkins, M. (2002).  Critical skills of IS professionals: A model for curriculum development. Journal of Information Technology Education, 1, 143-154. https://doi.org/10.28945/352

O’Neil, J., Moreno, A., Rawlins, B., & Valentini, C. (2018, April). Learning objectives: What do students need to know and be able to do for entry-level positions? In Commission for Public Relations Education (Ed.), Fast forward: Foundations + future state. Educators + practitioners (pp. 45-57). New York, NY: Commission on Public Relations Education.

Robles, M. M. (2012). Executive perceptions of the top 10 soft skills needed in today’s workplace. Business Communication Quarterly, 75, 453-465. https://doi.org/10.1177/1080569912460400

Schulz, B. (2008). The importance of soft skills: Education beyond academic knowledge. NAWA Journal of Language and Communication, 2, 146-154.

Stacks, D. W. (2016). Primer of public relations research (3rd ed.). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Steimel, S. J. (2013). Community partners’ assessment of service learning in an interpersonal and small group communication course. Communication Teacher, 27, 241-255. https://doi.org/10.1080/17404622.2013.798017

Swanson, D. J. (2011). The student-run public relations firm in an undergraduate program: Reaching learning and professional development goals through “real world” experience. Public Relations Review, 37, 499-505. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2011.09.012

Todd, V. (2009). PRSSA faculty and professional advisors’ perceptions of public relations curriculum, assessment of students’ learning, and faculty performance. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, 64, 71-90. https://doi.org/10/1177/107769580906400106

Tuleja, E. A., & Greenhalgh, A. M. (2008). Communicating across the curriculum in an undergraduate business program: Management 101 – leadership and communication in groups. Business Communication Quarterly, 71, 27-43. https://doi.org/10.1177/1080569907312934

Vieira, Jr., E. T. & Grantham, S. (2014). Defining public relations roles in the U.S.A. using cluster analysis. Public Relations Review, 40, 60-68. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2013.11.021

Wellington, J. K. (2005, August 1). The “soft skills” of success: Be it high tech, low tech, or no tech. Vital Speeches of the Day, 71, 628.

Wilcox, D. L., Cameron, G. T., & Reber, B. H. (2015). Public relations: Strategies and tactics (11th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.

Woodward, B. S., Sendall, P., & Ceccucci, W. (2010). Integrating soft skill competencies through project-based learning across the information systems curriculum. Information Systems Education Journal, 8, 1-15.

Wright. D. K., & Hinson, M. D. (2017). Tracking how social and other digital media are being used in public relations practice: A twelve-year study. Public Relations Journal, 11, 1-30.

Wright, D. K., & VanSlyke Turk, J. (1990). Public relations: The unpleasant realities. New York, NY: The Institute for Public Relations Research and Education.

Zhang, A. & Freberg, K. (2018). Developing a blueprint for social media pedagogy: Trials, tribulations, and best practices. Journal of Public Relations Education, 4, http://aejmc.us/jpre/2018/05/21/developing-a-blueprint-for-social-media-pedagogy-trials-tribulations-and-best-practices/