Public relations professionals utilize a learned and practiced set of skills to control communications between their organizations and the public. Those skills can command an above average salary, making the degree attractive for students or professionals who are looking for a career change. On this page, you will learn how to earn a public relations bachelor degree online, how to use the degree after you graduate, and how to determine the right career for you.
Overview of Public Relations Degrees
Public relations is the development and maintenance of relationships between an individual or organization and the publics it depends on. Publics are a group of people who have a stake in the individual or organization. For example, a jewelry store could have a variety of publics, including customers, business groups, and diamond enthusiasts, among others. The interactions between the jewelry store and each group is critical for the store to succeed.
A bachelor's degree in public relations will teach students to figure out who their publics are, what they need, how to develop a strategic campaign to target them, how to execute the campaign, and how to get feedback to adapt future interactions. Classes also offer job-specific training, such as how to speak to a reporter, how to set up a news conference, and how to write a press release.
Public relations focuses primarily on writing, which means the information you need to succeed can be taught online. Most online programs do not require in-person attendance, but may require students to complete an internship.
People who are successful in public relations are multitaskers. They can juggle multiple projects and clients, like to face different challenges, stay on top of trends, remain in constant communication with members of media organizations, and can write in various formats, from informal blogs to press releases.
The digital era has opened the door for people who can reach a mass audience. Graduates who have a bachelor in public relations can find work right out of college, and their career prospects are strong. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests jobs in public relations will grow 9% faster than the average industry.
Many universities have limited spots available for public relations majors. Prospective students must maintain a competitive GPA to compete with other students and may need to submit a writing sample or a portfolio. Students may also need to write a letter explaining their educational and professional aspirations. Students who plan to pursue a bachelor's degree in public relations should take some lower level communications classes to increase their chances.
What Will I Learn?
Students earning a bachelor in public relations gain theoretical knowledge and technical skills to be successful after graduation. Sociology and psychology classes help students understand why people make decisions. Journalism classes teach students how to research and write. Mass communications classes offer insight into how students can interact with large-scale publics. Digital media classes teach students how to utilize social media tools as professionals. Core public relations classes require students to develop and implement communications campaigns, which will be the basis for most jobs after graduation.
Students earning a public relations bachelor degree online can expect to take approximately 120 total credit hours. These will be comprised of 12-25 elective credits, 40-50 general studies credits, 10-30 credits specific to the major, and 35-50 core credits. Other credits may be required for major-related electives.
Every public relations degree requires a different set of classes. However, there are several core classes you will find in most programs.
Introduction to Mass Communications
This class looks at the history of media and the future of communications with emerging technologies. Students will learn how media can influence society and how society can influence media. Professionals who understand the basics of mass communication are more adaptive to changing technologies and methodologies.
Writing for Public Relations
Public relations professionals write in various forms, including website copy, social media posts, newsletters, and press releases. Classes focus on technical writing and developing a narrative to advance their employers' goals. Students will also create portfolio samples that may be required for entry-level jobs or internships.
Introduction to Journalism
The best public relations professionals have the skills of journalists. Intro to Journalism teaches students how to recognize relevant stories, gather facts, and ethically present the information in ways that are easy to understand. Most classes teach the basics of news writing, and some teach television reporting.
Facebook posts, WordPress blogs, and podcasts are some of the tools public relations professionals use to cultivate relationships with publics. This class teaches students how to utilize digital tools to deliver impactful messages.
Ethics in Media
Students studying public relations learn how to connect with and influence people. Ethics classes take a detailed look at the ramifications of those actions. Professors use real-world scenarios to draw a line from the cause to the effect. Many ethics classes are combined with media law, which looks at laws and court decisions that affect decisions made by public relations professionals.
All public relations professionals must learn to speak in front of a crowd and in front of a camera. Students will learn how to deliver informative and impactful speeches, both written and ad-libbed. This class also teaches students how to speak to television news reporters.
What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor's Degree in Public Relations?
Public relations professionals work either as consultants with firms or in-house for organizations. Employees in public relations firms generally focus on specific tasks, media coordination, or social media strategy. Many companies have their own public relations specialists, who handle all aspects of the job. Larger companies have a team of people to handle the many forms of communication.
Top companies understand public relations professionals have an acquired knowledge and skill set to successfully communicate with their key publics. Students learn the foundations to succeed while earning a bachelor in public relations. Depending on the focus of their studies, students can enter the workforce with specialized skills, which qualify them for specific roles in a company or firm.
Public relations students learn how to build a strategic campaign, which is the backbone of coordinated communications efforts that include research, development, implementation, and monitoring a plan. Other classes give students skills that help make strategic campaigns more effective. An analytics class will show students which key public to target. Students learn how to build relationships with members of the media, which is important to reach key publics. A crisis communications class will teach students how to respond to the media when their campaign is derailed by a CEO's arrest. It is critical to know all of these facets of the job, even if they do not directly affect daily workflow.
Potential Careers and Salaries
Public relations professionals work in every industry, from music to automotive to nonprofit. They handle branding, crises, outreach, analytics, and anything else that relates to communicating with key publics. As professionals advance in their careers, they can move into new positions, which lead to more critical decision-making and responsibilities. Government and in-house company positions usually pay the most. Nonprofits often pay the least. Here is a look at some of the most common public relations positions with average salaries provided by PayScale.
Annual Median Salary: $51,414
Account executives work as consultants for firms. They are on the frontlines in the media world. They write press releases and articles, pitch stories to journalists, monitor media coverage, and brainstorm new ideas for campaigns.
Public Relations (PR) Manager
Annual Median Salary: $64,354
Public relations managers work as consultants at firms. They establish the overall strategies for an organization. They analyze data, handle crises, and prepare organizational leaders to work with journalists.
Annual Median Salary: $50,139
A communications specialist usually works in-house for a company, non-profit, or government agency. They do a little of everything, including writing news releases, event planning, and developing strategic campaigns.
Social Media Manager
Annual Median Salary: $49,163
Social media managers can work for firms or in-house. They create content for social media channels and track and analyze data that helps other specialists develop strategic campaigns.
Marketing Communications Specialist
Annual Median Salary: $50,504
There is one major distinction between marketing and public relations. Marketers engage consumers to exchange products for money. Public relations professionals engage their publics to influence their opinion. Despite this difference, many organizations combine the roles. Marketing online can affect a company's image, which affects the company's bottom line. Marketing communications specialists can expect to execute PR functions, such as writing press releases and pitching to the media. They also handle promotions and advertising.
Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Public Relations?
You do not need a graduate degree to succeed in this industry. You can rise to the top with a bachelor's degree in public relations without a master's or Ph.D. However, you must continue to learn new skills. Below are some ways to enhance your career after earning a bachelor's degree:
- Earn a professional certificate from a local or online university
- Take classes to learn programs and software such as Hootsuite, WordPress, Google Analytics, and Adobe Creative Suite
- Attend public relations industry seminars and conferences
There are reasons to consider a graduate degree as well. You will become a better researcher and writer through the development of a graduate research project. Plus, you can specialize your degree in areas like healthcare communication, nonprofit fundraising, political communication, or digital strategy.
Accreditation for Public Relations Bachelor's Programs
Make sure the bachelor's degree in public relations you are interested in is accredited. The Accredited Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC) endorses programs that use new technology, teach new practices, and focus on current public interests. ACEJMC protects you from schools that offer incomplete educational experiences. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) also offer endorsements for colleges and universities after rigorous evaluations. The USDE and CHEA do not accredit specific public relations programs.
Public Relations Professional Organizations
Public relations professionals can join organizations to help them further their careers. These organizations offer discounts for training through seminars and webinars. Members can network at events and awards galas. They can also access job boards and make connections with employers.
Public Relations Society of America
PRSA is the gold standard organization of the public relations industry. It has tens of thousands of members, with local chapters in communities across the country. Members can find free training, connect with other members in person or on message boards, and access thousands of jobs.
Hispanic Public Relations Association
The HPRA is an organization of Hispanic public relations professionals and students, established in the 1980s to help members of the community advance in the industry. There are now five chapters in the U.S. Members can find industry resources, training, and networking opportunities.
Institute for Public Relations
IPR is a nonprofit organization that does research to support industry professionals. It offers free information or a subscription service that provides insight into research that can be applied immediately.