What Makes the Quintessential PR Pro?

What makes a public relations professional successful? Is it a strong academic background in public relations or former newsroom experience?

Many current PR professionals are former journalists that bring their past newsroom experience to their current jobs. The bachelor’s degree in public relations is relatively new, but the dramatic rise PR degree holders within the past 15 years prompts the question: who makes the better PR professional, journalists or graduates?

This very debate has been raging on ragan.com over the past week. On August 3, Debra Caruso wrote a post entitled, “What makes a good PR pro: A degree or a journalism background?” As a former journalist, she concluded that it is a journalism background that cultivates a nose for news, better writing and pitching skills and already-established media connections. She writes that she would even prefer to hire a former journalist than a PR graduate equipped with the aforementioned skills.

Andrew Graham struck back this week with his own post on ragan.com entitled, “News flash: Journalists don’t make better PR pros.” He argues that working in a newsroom is not the only way to hone one’s news judgment; PR pros need to be resourceful when pitching their client – a skill journalists may lack, and that PR and media relations are not synonyms – a fact that the previous author took for granted. Graham concedes that former journalists are an integral part of the PR profession but that their place is in content generation, not necessarily the strategy, messaging and measurement that typify most firms.

I agree with Graham that a journalism background does not mean a better PR professional. Former journalists definitely come equipped with invaluable writing skills and good news judgment, but PR graduates learn strategic thinking and planning in school. Ultimately, the quintessential PR professional will be able to write like a journalist and think like a degree holder.

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