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The Need For A Liberal Arts Education

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The demands of public relations are becoming ever-more complicated. The competition in public relations, just to enter the field, is getting more intense. In August 1982, the Department of Labor announced that "since 1970, the proportion of college graduates in the labor force 25 to 64 years of age has increased to nearly one-fourth, while the proportion with less than four years of high school has been cut almost in half, to about one-fifth."

One cannot even consider an entry-level job in public relations, without a college degree.

Although our computerized world promises to become more complex and mechanically sophisticated in the years to come, very precise technical background is not what aspiring public relations people need. Quite the contrary. We use the great time-saving and problem-solving machines, yet we realize more dramatically than ever that no machine can replace the human being with his endless capacity to think, solve problems and communicate in a concise, clear and intelligent fashion.

Public relations specialists must be able to adapt and react to ever-fluid situations. And there is no better training than a good, solidly-based liberal arts education.

All top-notch public relations specialists must have in order to succeed in the field:

  • A keen intellect. The ability to grasp a problem and solve it quickly and follow up with productive actions. One must be able to decide when to and when not to. When a client is wrong, the professional public relations person must have the courage to say so. In the long run, a "yes man" not only does himself a disservice but also allows the client to follow a harmful course of action.

  • Empathy. To understand what goal the client wishes to achieve. One has to be able to read between the lines, since oftentimes a client is unwilling, or unable, to articulate exactly what he wants to achieve. Once you get a feel for what the client wants, you must also realize why he wants it. Again, the need to be part psychologist is recognized.

  • Creativity. The entire public relations package, which the specialist makes up and presents to the client, by definition, creative. If it were not, why would a corporation or any other customer spend time and money to retain a public relations expert?

  • Diplomacy. When talking about public relations, which means dealing with intangibles like creativity and sensitivity, egos often get involved. In fact, they sometimes get in the way of what's to be accomplished. So one has to be careful not to step on the needs of the individuals involved for acceptance and self-gratification. Sometimes balancing the individual needs against those of the entire mission is not easy, but the good public relations specialist must be able to do so.

  • Perspective. At all times, the public relations expert must keep in mind that he or she has two primary masters. One is the client and he must be satisfied with the work that is being done. At the same time, the public relations person must realize that the final arbiter of social change in our society is the court of public opinion. The public can be very fickle, very fast, and one must be able to switch gears and adapt to quickly-changing situations in order to succeed in today's world of public relations.

We do not wish to imply that success in public relations requires a liberal arts education. History, literature and economics majors, for example, have no monopoly on brains and skills. A solid foundation in business administration, as well as in attitude and opinion research, is tremendously helpful to anyone who enters the growing and complex field of public relations. But these specific skills, without the general ability to react properly and quickly, would not serve us well.

Entry level salaries in large cities start at about $ 15,000, with a median income from salary at $38,000. Don't be fooled. One doesn't enter the field to get rich quick, but, the rewards are more than monetary.

On the other hand, for any bright man or woman, with skills in communication and persuasion who writes and speaks English correctly, there is no better field than public relations. It is growing and you can grow with it. A summer of exciting work can become an endless career for all seasons.
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