After A-Level results day, what does the future hold for professional PR and marketing qualifications?

By Ella Thompson, Senior Account Manager

There has been a lot of discussion and debate about the future of PR, but perhaps none so telling as the latest move by Bournemouth University.  From Autumn 2018, the University has announced it will no longer be accepting new entrants to its BA (Hons) Public Relations degree – a move that has sent shockwaves through the PR world.

Speaking as one of the 2011 course graduates, I have to say, the news comes as a surprise. Not only is the course at Bournemouth the UK’s longest-established BA degree in Public Relations, but it has become a hub of PR talent – producing a string of high calibre graduates that are sought after by companies and agencies alike.

And Bournemouth is not alone. The PR course at Edinburgh Napier University is also set to close, while the University of West London no longer offers one. So why are so many universities closing their doors to PR-only courses and what does this mean for our industry?

According to PR Week, the latest ‘State of the Profession’ figures show that just 17% of PR practitioners have degrees in PR or comms, while 57% have degrees in another subject. A quick poll around the office here at Whiteoaks paints a similar picture – only two members of the office have a degree in PR. So, is it just the case that PR degrees are no longer needed?

Not necessarily. There’s no denying that having a degree in PR certainly helps, but what I’ve learnt is that it isn’t a prerequisite for getting a job in PR. Instead, employers tend to favour particular skills and attributes in line with their company culture and any relevant work experience gained in a similar position. Of course, that’s not to say there’s no longer a role for the PR degree, just that a number of skills needed in PR – like communications and relationship building – can often be found across other disciplines too.

Instead of signifying what some may see as ‘the end of PR’, what the decision does indicate is a wider shift towards the integration of PR and marketing. In the case of Bournemouth, rather than standing as its own discipline, PR will now be included as an element in a wider marketing degree.

Speaking about the decision, Dr Darren Lilleker, who heads the corporate and marketing communication academic department at Bournemouth University, said the changes were being made “in line with industry trends and the integration of advertising and public relations into a broader communication framework”.

What this suggests is the fusion of three industries – advertising, marketing and PR – a trend we’re certainly seeing more and more among our client base. Long gone are the days when marketing and PR were viewed in isolation. Today, we’re increasingly running integrated campaigns for clients consisting of earned, owned, paid and shared media.

I believe we’re entering a new era of communication; one where the lines between marketing, PR and, to an extent, advertising, are increasingly blurred. The advent of social media and branded content means that no longer can the three disciplines be viewed in isolation.  And as, Paul Holmes, founder of The Holmes report commented “The PR industry will have to adapt to a world in which the lines between paid, earned, owned and shared media are not only blurring, but largely irrelevant in the minds of consumers”.

Our industry changes every day, and not all change is bad. In this new landscape, content is still king – and it’s in this environment that PR professionals have the opportunity to step up and take the lead. The main focus should be on achieving communication objectives through whatever means that might be.