PR industry vs academics: should those two worlds work more closely?

A similar narrative to the last event write-up — it’s a rainy evening in London and I’m getting off at the Southwark station. I’m finding my way to the Bankside-headquartered FleishmanHillard Fishburn, to join PRCA’s Academics vs Industry Debate. The audience of more than hundred will hear insights from those two words of the industry. Should academics and industry pros work closely with each other? How can they benefit each other? And is PR degree really needed to work in PR?

The event brought together fantastic representative of two worlds: academics and industry pros. Professionals were represented by Faith Howe, Head of Talent Development of FleishmanHillard, and Chris Owen — Director at M&C Saatchi PR. Academics’ side was taken by Dr. Nicky Garsten, PR and Communications Programme Director of University of Greenwich, and Robert Minton-Taylor, Senior Lecturer at Leeds Beckett University. The panel was chaired by Stephen Waddington of Ketchum.

State of the academia

Chris Owen kicks off the debate saying that the academic courses are too often theory-based, whereas it’s best to learn profession by practicing it. Nicky Garsten says that there is no single way of getting into the industry, yet doing a PR course is one of them. She also points out that it’s vital to study what you like, and what interests you. Faith Howe emphasises how important employing people from different backgrounds is, giving example of the FHF, who employ accountants, analysts, videographers, etc. Robert Minton-Taylor says that PR degree needs to have a practical element to it, mentioning the programme, in which Leeds Becket University cooperates with the corporations like IKEA.

There is no single way of getting into the industry, yet doing a PR course is one of them.

Professional development

Our chairman, Stephen Waddington, quotes the statistic of there being less than 3 per cent of the industry pros signed up for the professional development programmes organised by either CIPR or PRCA. Does that mean the poor attitude of the industry to learning?

Programme Director of Greenwich University points out that learning process doesn’t necessarily need to be done via those type of courses. Learning on the job is really crucial and beneficial, reading in the own time helps, as well. Garsten proposes that there should be an allocated reading time in the agencies. FleishmanHillard’s Head of Talent Development comments that within her agency the development is of a huge significant and FHF is signed up to the accredited professional development programme.

Stephen Waddington asks Chris Owen how does he learn new skills? Chris simply follows @wadds on Twitter. M&C Saatchi PR’s tech specialist also emphasises that curiosity is crucial in PR and it is quite often more important than CV.

How and do we teach soft skills?

Question from the floor asks how do we teach soft skills, such as creativity and being able to pick up the phone to call a journalist. Panel says that there are many ways, but some of those skills are not as easy to nurture. Some might not be as comfortable with the pitches to journalists, but PR industry needs all sorts of people. But then, is a skill to engage in conversation really a soft skill?


All in all, there’s a lot of potential for both academia and professional side of the industry. With the breadth and depth of academic research and insights from the practicalities of the profession from the pros, we can all benefit — universities can prepare great talent for the new challenges, PR pros can improve their work with insights gained from the academic work.

Did I waste three years of my life studying PR?

Amongst so many posts and tweets about PR degrees, I didn’t share my views on whether I think I’ve made a good decision to do my course. My route and decision were a bit different than anyone else’s. I was eager to study in London, and was always into media. PR sounded like a good career choice, and an interesting academic route. After three years, I’m happy with my selection and even more excited to be starting career in PR industry. Was this course really the only way for me to get into PR? Probably not. But thanks to it I got some basic information about the profession, got really interested in the variety of comms-related issues and managed to explore them. I got out there, gaining some work experience, and don’t think I could see myself doing anything else than this.

For more stories, check my Instagram — @marcelkl.


Follow PRCA on Twitter, and become a member (check student membership).
An archived live broadcast of the event can be found on Periscope.
You can also read Stephen Waddington’s piece, written after the debate.

If you have any suggestions, would like to guest post or give me a feedback, feel free to email me at kl.marcel [at], tweet me @marcelkl or see my LinkedIn. Thanks for stopping by, have a splendid day!