Communications Careers: PR vs. Marketing | Top Universities

Communications Careers: PR vs. Marketing

By Laura Bridgestock

Updated December 8, 2016 Updated December 8, 2016

This article is sponsored by the University of Dayton.

Students who graduate with communications degrees typically veer toward public relations (PR) or marketing careers. PR focuses more on maintaining relationships, while marketing works to actively promote the company or the brand. Choosing which communications career path best suits you could impact which courses you take during your education, so it’s important to know where you want to end up.

Public relations careers

Public relations builds, improves and maintains an organization’s relationships with many different players. Public relations careers can involve investor relations, consumer relations, corporate communications and employee relations.

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) lists eight primary job responsibilities for those pursuing PR careers:

  • Programming. PR professionals work with people from all over the company, including the CEO, to recommend and plan activities.
  • Relationships. Those who work in PR develop relationships with management, internal employees and external stakeholders, gathering information from multiple sources to make recommendations.
  • Writing and editing. Public relations careers can involve preparing press releases, employee newsletters, video scripts, reports, brochures and magazine articles, amongst other writing and editing tasks.
  • Speaking. Both one-on-one communication and public speaking are key skills for successful PR careers.
  • Information networks. PR professionals build relationships with crucial people in the media and other important information outlets. They understand how to get information to the right people at the right time.
  • Production. Public relations careers do not usually require in-depth knowledge of video or digital production, but PR professionals need to know how to leverage technology to convey messages.
  • Event planning. The PR department puts together press conferences and other special events, including industry conferences, contests, new facilities openings and other occasions.
  • Research and evaluation. In addition to gathering information through conversations, PR professionals use tools like surveys to conduct opinion research. They use research to provide advice on the direction of the company’s branding efforts.

Most PR careers start with positions such as “communications specialist” or “public relations specialist”, with professionals in this field then advancing to positions such as PR director, manager or vice-president. A college degree is essential for a public relations career. Earning an MA in Communications degree provides access to more challenging communications careers and higher salary opportunities.

Marketing careers

Marketing professionals, particularly those with expertise in digital marketing, are in high demand by employers right now. Research from recruiting firm Mondo found that 38% more companies are hiring digital marketing professionals, particularly those with good technology awareness. Some of the most in-demand skills for those pursuing marketing careers today include:

  • Content marketing. Content marketing builds audiences by producing and curating high-quality information with the goal of establishing the company’s authoritative position and driving customer action.
  • Big data. Marketing is becoming increasingly targeted and segmented, so professionals who have data analysis skills or knowledge of data analysis software have an advantage.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). Search engines like Google and Bing are vital for directing web traffic to organizations, so knowing how to optimize content for strategic search engine placement is essential.
  • Marketing automation. Segmentation means that companies juggle many small campaigns. Developing automated campaigns and putting certain marketing functions on auto-pilot helps organizations to reach more people.
  • Lead generation. Today’s marketers need to know how to use social networks, email lists and other data sources to find and generate leads. 
  • Creative. Knowledge of writing, graphic design, video production and other forms of expression gets the right marketing messages to the right people.
  • Social media. Today’s digital marketers must understand and use a wide range of social networks for effective social media marketing.
  • E-commerce. Online business is booming, and marketers need to know how to get more people into the sales funnel by creating smart e-commerce strategies.

Today’s employers are struggling to find marketers because technological skills are in short supply, so students should choose programs that emphasize digital marketing and associated technology. As with PR careers, most marketing careers require a bachelor’s degree, and a master’s degree opens the door to more lucrative positions.

The right communications career for you

Your personal qualities can tell you a lot about which communications careers would work best for you. PR professionals manage the company’s reputation, so good judgment, listening and diplomacy skills are essential. For those in marketing careers, a focus on sales, data analysis and creativity is more critical. Whichever communications career appeals to you, combine your degree with practical experience by seeking internships and on-campus opportunities. Also, start using both networking events and social media to network with influencers long before you graduate.

This article was originally published in July 2014 . It was last updated in December 2016

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