Lauren Bowden, experienced (and educated) B2B marketer shares her experience for this month’s topic: Do marketers need a marketing education? Channeling a bit of Pink Floyd…

There I was. My first ‘proper job’. In the centre of Oxford Circus, no less. My yearlong work placement was beginning, after two year of studying for a BA honours in Public Relations at Bournemouth University.

Bright eyed and bushy-tailed, I hopped into the office and was introduced to my intimidatingly impressive grown up team only to hear something that I can still recollect to this day…

“A degree in PR? What is it, day one: here’s how you write a press release? Day two: here’s your degree?”

That was my first indication that not everyone who works in the industry thinks a formal education is a must-have.

A bit of a rude awakening, especially after attending two years’ worth of lectures framing PR as a profession, learning a boatload of PR theory from PR professors and gearing up to write a 12,000 word dissertation on a PR topic of my choice…But I am glad I heard it sooner rather than later.

Bournemouth Uni obviously was wise to this kind of opinion. The 40-week placement year was non-negotiable. You’d fail the whole course if you failed to complete it and was a differentiator amount other PR degrees for good reason.

They knew when they devised the programme that it could give a real leg up to their students by providing a strong reference on the CV and a chance to get real, bankable experience before graduating. The University completely get the value of the placement too, and heavily push the messages like ‘employers queue up to attract students to their public relations placements’, and ‘we receive three times as many places on offer as there are students in the year’ at every opportunity. Makes sense that it is a firm fixture in the syllabus and on all promotion for the degree.  

And to be honest, if having a degree was seen by some as optional in my chosen world of work – that didn’t really bother me. Eye-wateringly high student loan aside, I was never truly academic. A straight ‘B’ student, you might say. I liked school, but work? Work was my jam (I know, I’m so cool). I’ve always given my all to every job I’ve had, sometimes to my detriment, but always with gusto. So, at the time, I was easy breezy about the whole issue.

Until I started to hire my own teams. Would I be biased to those who had followed the same path as me? To be completely honest, I did look more favourably at those with a PR degree. Even more so if it was Bournemouth flavoured. But I am glad to say that was not the only thing I looked at. Because what a boring workplace that would make!

All of us sitting round stroking our beards and debating the situational theory of publics rather than getting the job done. To this point, and once again (and what is increasingly becoming the answer to most questions) diversity in teams is key.

In the early days, I often remembered thinking my degree may have been futile. In particular, why did I think learning about accounting, law, politics, human behaviour, and other tangential modules all included in my degree would help me in the media relations and coverage reporting I was so entrenched in at the time? Truth is, it had very little to do with it at that point. That came later when my responsibility grew into creating strategic plans and interacting with senior stakeholders. I have found myself often looking up old work or digging out old textbooks to read something I had heard about years before to help me with a plan or presentation. The long-term ROI of my degree was quite a slow burn, but once I realised it, it became indispensable. 

Of course, I can only speak about my own personal experience and degree. For me, a PR degree ended up being absolutely worth the time and money. In what was my first experience living away from home on my own, I learned so much both academically and socially and made friends for life. As promised in the prospectus, the placement year delivered the strong reference on my CV and the bankable experience I am still cashing in to this day.

Ultimately, any prescriptive view on this topic is at best unhelpful and at worst dangerous. Insisting that someone has a specific qualification behind them before looking at a CV, or the opposite, pre-judging them because they do, is bound to limit the marketing and communications work force of the future significantly. Maybe more focus should be given around the unconscious (or in some cases very conscious) bias of those who make graduate hiring decisions rather than what degree someone may or may not have.

Image of The Wall courtesy of Wikimedia by Sam Howzit shared under creative commons license.

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