Transferable skills for life and work – What you learn in a public relations degree

By Dr. Karen Conrad

Sure, I may be biased when I say that I don’t think there is a more valuable degree to earn than one in Public Relations. The bias comes because I teach in a Public Relations degree and research and work in the field. Public Relations has financed my life. It has fed and educated my children. Of course I am grateful for it.

But I can separate out my bias from the facts and they are that Public Relations is a huge global field of work that provides meaningful careers for its practitioners. If you work in Public Relations, you are involved with shaping the way the people and organisations that you work for conduct themselves.

You draw on your knowledge of communication theories, stakeholder relations, management, marketing, information management, social theories, media and society and advise people and organisations on how to manage their relationships and reputations. It is wonderful work that has the capacity to create real value inside organisations and for the communities and broader societies in which they operate.

Public Relations practitioners are involved in all facets of organisational conduct. They work to help organisations to achieve their goals and to meet society’s expectation of them.

Professional practice of Public Relations is far-reaching and consequently requires a broad knowledge base and skillset. Public Relations degrees are typically a blend of the acquisition of knowledge in key areas and the development of an understanding of the world and the learning of the skills required to do the job.

At Curtin, Public Relations is taught from a business perspective, acknowledging its vital role in organisations and commerce. Students complete general business subjects including economics, marketing and management and learn accounting so they understand ‘the language of business’.

They learn how to plan, implement and evaluate Public Relations activities and campaigns and to ensure their alignment to organisational goals. They develop their interpersonal and business communication skills and explore digital storytelling, internet marketing, cross-cultural communication and global perspectives on communication.

As part of developing the ability to be an advisor to management on issues that are critical to the survival of an organisation, Public Relations students also learn about ethics and governance and principles of corporate social responsibility.

They study issues and issues management, which is essentially the capacity to keep abreast of factors, mostly external to an organisation, that could potentially affect the organisation’s success and to formulate and implement appropriate responses to those issues.

As senior advisers, they will draw on all of this knowledge and skills to act as a ‘corporate conscience’ and bring to the attention of the executive team issues and concerns relevant to them that need to be considered. These include environmental issues that affect the industry they are in, for example the use of plastic bags and excess packaging, political movements they should be mindful of or participate in, such as #me too and climate change advocacy or concerns that society has over health issues including obesity and diabetes.

Sometimes, organisations will need to change what they do to better meet society’s expectations and it is Public Relations practitioners who will advise them. Think of McDonald’s banning upsizing of drinks and introducing salads to provide their customers with healthier eating options and local government organisations signing up to climate change protocols because that is what the people who live in their communities say they expect of them.

Getting back to my bias about the virtue and value of Public Relations degrees, you can tell from the description I have given about what students learn in a Public Relations degree and how they use that knowledge and skills in their work advising people and organisations that Public Relations is important work.

You may also have thought my description paints a different picture from what you thought Public Relations was and what practitioners of it do.

But these are not the reasons that make me think there is no more valuable degree to undertake. I think the real value of a Public Relations degree is not necessarily that it helps to equip you well for work in Public Relations but that its depth and breadth, its combination of developing communication skills and understanding about the world, make it useful for any career choice and for life in general.

As a graduate of a Public Relations degree, people have the knowledge and skills to work in most fields. Professional communication is required everywhere. But the knowledge base and skillset are transferrable and Public Relations graduates can work anywhere doing anything that helps organisations to achieve their goals. Or they can teach. Or run a small business. Or work in sales or marketing. Or write professionally. Or work in the media. Or enter politics. Or be social media influencers.

What is learned in a Public Relations degree are transferrable skills and knowledge for life and work. Degrees in Public Relations offer an excellent broad, general education that helps students to better understand the world and to contribute to it as educated citizens.

Curtin University Malaysia offers degrees in Public Relations. If your organisation is interested in hosting a Public Relations intern, I would like to hear from you at Karen.conrad@curtin.edu.my


Dr. Karen Conrad is an Australian Public Relations academic working at Curtin University Malaysia in Miri. She is the author of a book about the history of Public Relations in Australia and her PhD investigated how Public Relations is taught in Australia, uniting her two research interests of Public Relations and Education. Curtin Malaysia offers Curtin University’s course in Public Relations as part of a Bachelor of Commerce double major in combination with courses in either Marketing or Management. Public Relations is also a stream in the Bachelor of Communications programme.

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