Why PR needs liberal arts majors

Writing skills are often sharpened when studying the humanities, and this author shares another reason those studies can benefit communications efforts. 

I was a history major and English minor. It was sort of like going to a trade or vocational school for the mind, though others might call it career suicide.

Long story short, it was not the typical path toward a job in PR—or any job, really.

However, as a result, what I’ve learned is that the public relations industry badly needs more liberal arts majors and humanities students to join its ranks—but not necessarily for the reasons you may think.

I could rest on the writer’s argument—that PR needs better writers, and humanities, not marketing, departments are where those skills get sharpened.

That’s true. But I’m not going to go there, because there’s a better reason why we need humanities students: discipline.

Humanities students’ discipline can help PR efforts

There’s a word that I like to use to describe PR: painstaking.

In college, subject areas like history and English are very academic; therefore, the curriculum is rigorous. The research is exhausting and the critical analysis is deep. Then you wake up, and do it all over again. If you don’t, you fail.

I bet that sounds familiar.

Properly researching journalists’ beats in order to curate a sound media list requires days of painstaking research. There are no shortcuts. Unfortunately, upon the abrupt realization of this fact, many newly minted marketing and communications graduates default to taking the easy way out.

They scrape lists from PR software, because doing research sucks, resulting in the subsequent pitching of outdated and irrelevant media lists. We all know how that story ends.

I don’t blame graduates. A good work ethic is a good work ethic regardless, and 99 percent of graduates I’ve worked with have that. They want to work hard and succeed. What they lack, unfortunately, is experience in performing what is arguably the most critical component of PR—painstaking research. As a result, they also lack the discipline to get the job done.

Your typical history major spends the majority of their time poring over volumes of primary and secondary source documents. They do this for several hours at a time, every day, just to finally tease out that single, tiny key nugget of information that finally puts all the puzzle pieces together weeks later.

I bet that also sounds familiar.

Academically, humanities students and liberal arts majors are tough as nails. You need mental toughness to succeed in PR. Marketing and communications students no doubt have to work hard to graduate and succeed in the field. However, their path to get to that point is different. It’s not better or worse—just different.

Studying the humanities, such as history or English, is all about analyzing the human condition from limitless angles. It’s all about asking the “Big Questions.”

In 2015, when the only thing that counts is whether or not you can break through the white noise, that is a more valuable skill set for a typical career in public relations than knowing AP style or how to run a press conference.

PR doesn’t need more liberal arts majors and humanities students because they are better writers. We need them because they have been professionally trained and disciplined in the areas of research and critical thinking.

As we all know too well, the most beautifully written pitch in the world doesn’t mean anything when it’s sent to the wrong people for the wrong reasons.

Benjamin Doda is a Senior Account Executive at Resound Marketing in Princeton, New Jersey and a contributor to New Jersey Tech Weekly.

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