Survey: How collegiate males view PR

Spurred by job projections through 2020, a professor surveyed her students and garnered fascinating insights into what the next generation is thinking.


U.S. News and World Report just released its list of Best Jobs of 2012. In the category of “Best Jobs: Creative Services,” public relations specialist ranked No. 1 with a projected 22 percent growth in employment from 2010 to 2020 and about 58,200 jobs to be filled. PR specialist ranked 41st overall.

The rankings were based on projected growth, current employment rates, average salary, predicted job prospects, and job satisfaction among those who have worked in the profession.

Great news—for women?

That’s great news for public relations, journalism, and speech/communication majors, and especially women—because, according to a PRDaily.com article by Alexis Morgan, there are so few male students in PR classes.

What about the men?

As a PR instructor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I also wondered why there are fewer men in PR. So I informally surveyed 22 male students enrolled in either my Advanced Public Relations or Public Relations Writing course; 10 responded. The five-question survey asked:

1. How did you first hear/learn about public relations as a career field?

2. What made you choose to take a class in public relations?

3. What do you find intriguing about a possible career in public relations?

4. What relevant skills do you feel you might bring to a career in public relations?

5. What do you think you might not like about a possible career in public relations?

It’s important to note that 27 percent of my students are male—a respectable showing, but still a minority.

The survey says…

The answers to the first question were similar to what I hear from my female students: They learned about it in a required class or took a PR class as a requirement for their major, usually advertising.

Seven answers to the second question also related to course requirements. Although, one respondent said, “I chose to take a class in PR because I learned about PR in CMN 275. This class described PR as a covert communication to the public. I found this interesting.”

Two students mentioned that they wanted to improve their writing skills, and two others thought it would benefit their careers, because PR is a growing industry.

The third question, “What do you find intriguing about a possible career in public relations?” revealed a bit more. Some of the answers were:

“It would be cool to be the face of a company and get to talk to the media about new products and newsworthy situations.”

“Wide range of career paths.” (True that—as the kids would say.)

“The daily challenges I might face.”

“The conflict. I like the idea of getting the juicy tidbits on people and having the power to make or break people.” (Now that’s a refreshingly honest answer.)

“I think that it would be a great career to be the leveling force of a company and be trusted as the moral compass.”

“There doesn’t seem to be a dull moment at all, and I have a natural interest in PR.” (Wait until he has to spend all day trying to get a trucking company to donate a trailer for a food drive.)

“PR is used to manipulate public opinion from behind the scenes and not letting the public know you are trying to manipulate their opinions.” (Maybe we shouldn’t have watched “Thank You For Smoking” in class last week.)

“The constant thrill of managing the image of a company.”

In response to “What relevant skills do you feel you might bring to a career in public relations?” the guys’ answers included: quick thinking, ability to write under pressure, personable nature, trust, credibility, adaptability, communication skills/writing (only two), discretion, tenacity, professionalism, finesse, calmness under pressure, problem-solving, honesty, decision-making, and efficient execution.

The answers to the fifth question were the most telling. The reasons the men gave for perhaps not liking a career in PR were:

“All you do is WRITE…”

“I really would not like a PR job if I couldn’t get it for a company that I’m interested in. I would really only do PR if I got a PR job with a video game publisher or developer.”

“Long hours and busy work”

“The grammar.”

“Public relations isn’t essentially thought of as a high paying career and for me that is a big problem.”

“I don’t like that it is uncommon for my demographic to generally have this profession. My demographic is that of a Black male and it is hard to come about so it seems.”

“You can’t get ‘rich’ with this career.”

I realize this is an extremely small sample from an extremely small pool in an extremely Midwestern town, so readers can take these results with several grains of salt. But it seems the guys’ motivations were based largely on the desire for power, excitement, and responsibility. This might indicate that they’re looking five to 10 years ahead.

What about the women, and what do they think about the men?

I also held an informal focus group with about 15 male and female students to solicit their feedback about the reasons why men do or don’t choose to study public relations. Here’s what they said:

“There are more jobs in fields tailored to women more than men. I’d like to do sports PR. Women have more choices within the field.” —Alex (male)

“Men seem to avoid confrontation, and PR is very confrontational. You can’t be afraid to start fights or dive into a fight.” —Janelle (female)

“Men are confrontational, but do it in less strategic ways.” —Anonymous (female)

“I like being busy; women tend to be better writers, and they like managing stuff.” —Anonymous (female)

“Women are drawn to more abstract ideas.” —Anonymous (female)

“Empathy is the big thing; that’s why there are so few women in engineering.” —Anonymous (female)

“Women are more empathetic. Men are lazy and just don’t care.” —Nathan (male)

“Women are more social.” —Hannah (female)

“The writing part doesn’t excite me as much as meeting objectives and pretty much everything else aside from writing. I mean once you get in the upper levels. It’s about manipulation, strategy, and gamesmanship. To get in is hard, and then I have to work my way up.” —Alex (male)

Of course, this handful of students can’t speak for everyone, but they do give us insight into what today’s public relations students are thinking.

I know that experienced public relations professionals will take issue with statements made by these hopeful, ambitious, yet-to-become-jaded young men and women. But remember, this article is about their motivations and beliefs about PR, which may or may not be consistent with reality. Let’s not spoil it for them yet.

Katrina Olson teaches public relations writing and strategy at the University of Illinois College of Media. She is also a freelance writer and strategic communications consultant. Follow her on Twitter at @WordGal122 or visit her website: http://www.katrinaolson.com.

Topics: PR

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