Make your PR degree do more for you

The world of public relations is ever changing. Gone are the days where a degree would restrict one’s professional career. Three industries have more overlap than most may realize. Public relations, advertising and marketing are often confused as one and the same. Marketing and public relations especially, utilize many of the same skills. 

Many students who are getting ready for either summer internships or graduation still do not know exactly what they want to do. They’ve taken the public relations writing classes, learned strategic planning, and maybe they have even had brief exposure to graphic design. What they may not know is that any of these skills can be put to use in an industry that many confuse with PR, digital marketing. The two have many similarities, but students who have a background in public relations offer a unique skillset and can be an asset to a marketing agency.

How does one get into digital marketing from public relations? The answer is simple on the surface but requires plenty of hard work and sincere dedication. Skill diversity.

“Don’t be afraid of skills that you’re currently unfamiliar with. Try learning as much as you can, pick something that you don’t know how to do and force yourself to learn it… you’re capable of doing more,” says Adam Durfee, a public relations graduate from BYU, current Director of the Y Digital Agency and former VP of Wallaroo Media.

Advice from someone who has been there and done that

Durfee has always been a fan of learning as many skills as he has time for. That idea is also at the core of what BYU’s public relations program preaches. An analogy of cake is used when new applicants attend orientation once they are admitted into the program. The question is asked, would you rather get a plain cake with no frosting or candles for your birthday? The comparison being that just a degree in public relations is a plain cake, while a degree coupled with additional skills would be a fully decorated cake. Or would you rather have it all? Each addition to the cake is compared to a new skill learned while in the program.

If Durfee’s experience post-graduation has taught him anything, it is that skill diversity is key to setting yourself apart and succeeding. While he studied communications, he remained adamant that he is not limited to what his classes taught him in the professional world.

“Don’t let your degree dictate what you’re going to do professionally,” he said. His point being that there is so much overlap in public relations and other fields like digital marketing that students who are graduating shouldn’t feel like they are going to write press releases or do media outreach for their entire career if they don’t want to.

Students shouldn’t be afraid of stepping out of their comfort zones and learning new skills that may not be required for traditional public relations. Durfee suggests that students pick one or two skills that make them feel uncomfortable and learn as much as they can about them.

For him, that skill was coding. At first, he was intimidated at the thought of reading and writing code, and although he’s admittedly not an expert, he now knows enough to design websites and help clients build better SEO profiles. One candle turned into three and added to what he brings to the table.

Diversity is key

Digital marketing itself has a number of different careers, certifications and opportunities. Many who enter the field find a niche in one or two areas and make it their profession.

Skills like coding, SEO, graphic design, Google Analytics, videography, photography and social media advertising aren’t covered in-depth in most PR programs around the country but are all skills that can set you apart from the rest of the applicants and open doors for jobs that may not have been previously available.

Many of today’s experts are self-taught, like Durfee was. Google offers courses for free online that allow anyone who wishes to become more familiar with Ad Words, their advertising platform and become trained and certified.

For the cost of one class in college, Facebook offers its Facebook Blueprint Certification, which ensures that you will understand the ins and outs of its advertising platform.

Students have are in a unique situation and should take advantage of their situation. Many industry professionals are willing to sit down and answer questions. This is a great opportunity to pick the brains of those who know what will set you apart from other applications. They can also offer informed opinions on where the industry is headed and what will be in demand in the future.   

Even if digital marketing doesn’t seem like the right career path, being proficient in the Adobe Suite and understanding the basics of photography and video will allow prospective applicants to stand apart from their peers and be more versatile once hired wherever it may be.

For those that want to transition into digital marketing, Adam says that a degree in PR was essential to his success. Other marketing professionals seem to agree.

PR skills are essential in digital marketing

When asked about how the skills that Durfee learned in PR translated over into marketing he had quite a bit to say.

Perhaps the most important skill that the PR program taught him was strategic planning. He was already a strong writer and communicator but his strategic planning class helped him grow and think about things in a different way. His marketing campaign planning has strong elements of public relations and in his opinion, those elements make his plans more effective.

Durfee said that he would write down solution after solution and then think about all of the negative things that could be said about each plan that he would come up with.

That process is something that he still uses today. When making a digital marketing campaign Durfee will think about what others are going to say about it. What are the ramifications that it could have for the brand and will only submit plans that have been combed through the same way that his professor did in class.

Other industry professionals like Scott Gerber, an accomplished business professional asked several marketers what skills that they considered essential to success in the industry and what that they look for in prospective employees. Not surprisingly, many of these skills are those that PR students should be masters at by the time that they graduate.

Alex Frias of Track Marketing Group said that marketers need to possess “good copy and visual storytelling abilities.” PR is all about writing descriptively, correctly and telling a story. How else would stories get placed in the media?

Continuing along that line of thinking Nicholas Haase from Loot! said that he looks for those that have “an understanding of brevity.” Being able to cut straight to the point is something that good PR professionals are masters at because those who are reading their pitches are not going to spend any extra time attempting to understand the importance of a piece.

Don’t be limited

Whichever route you choose professionally, whether it be traditional public relations or digital marketing, don’t limit yourself.

“Public relations will never disappear… digital public relations has a place in digital marketing,” Durfee said. The traditional and digital worlds are always changing and evolving. This means that as a professional, you need to be as well.

Perhaps Earl Nightingale summed up the value of learning best, “One hour per day of study in your chosen field is all it takes. One hour per day of study will put you at the top of your field within three years. Within five years you’ll be a national authority. In seven years, you can be one of the best people in the world at what you do.”


 Nick Glover is a junior at BYU from Las Vegas. He is majoring in public relations and has a minor in business management. He has interned at multiple digital marketing agencies and has done everything from content writing and placement to SEO and social media advertising.  

Lead feature story credit Jessica Coombs/BYU.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *