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david-chilton

Aptitude for writing a must for PR careers

PR

Public relations often gets a bad rap. It’s not the long lunch, schmoozy kind of industry of popular opinion. Nor do PR practitioners stay awake at night thinking up new ways to deceive the public.

Public relations often gets a bad rap. It’s not the long lunch, schmoozy kind of industry of popular opinion. Nor do PR practitioners stay awake at night thinking up new ways to deceive the public.

“In fact,” says Jeff Roach, founder of his own Toronto PR firm and co-ordinator of the one-year post-graduate certificate program at Seneca College, “public relations is no soft touch.” It’s not especially glamorous, cautions Roach; it’s competitive and practitioners often have to grind away for hours.

Starting salary
He might have added that the pay for beginners is not that great either. For new graduates of Seneca’s program, or those from Centennial College, Humber College, Sheridan College in Oakville, Durham College in Oshawa and the other schools around the province that offer PR or corporate communications studies, a starting salary in the mid to upper $30,000 range is the norm.

Applicants to the one-year post-grad programs at Seneca, Centennial and Humber need a three-year college diploma or a university degree in an acceptable discipline. Applicants for Humber’s three-year diploma program or its University of Guelph-Humber four-year degree need high school graduation with credits in the appropriate subjects. Tuition fees for the different programs vary, with post-graduate certificate studies costing about $3,500. Start times vary, too, with some programs having one intake a year, in September, and others offering a second intake in January.

For example, Ed Wright, program co-ordinator at Humber, says his school’s post-graduate program takes 60 to 75 students in September and about 55 in January. At Centennial, co-ordinator Gary Schlee says the college takes a combined total of 70 students in September and January. But no matter where or when they study, at some point PR and corporate communications students will have to complete a work term placement of two to four months.

The age range of their students is extensive, say all three men. At Centennial, Schlee says most of his students are in their early 20s, although some (usually career changer), are in their 30s and 40s. But whatever their age, they’re more than likely to be women.

“Certainly in our post-graduate program we note that there is a strong preponderance of female students,” Wright says. And at Centennial, Schlee says, “The imbalance in PR has been there for decades and if anything the gender gap is getting bigger.”

But whether their chromosomes are XX or XY, all applicants to public relations or corporate communications programs must have an aptitude for writing. That’s because as anyone in the industry will point out, it’s the dominant skill, Schlee says.

Wright’s opinion about needing the ability to put words on a page is equally unambiguous. “One of the fundamental skills of communication is good writing. So we focus on that,” he says.

As for their employment prospects, new PR or corporate communications grads can expect plenty of opportunity, especially in metropolitan areas. The Toronto market, while not the gold at the end of the rainbow, is the most job-rich in the country.

Roach says surveys show that employment rates for Seneca graduates are in the low 90% range, a finding common to other colleges’ research.

Despite the enviable job market, Schlee cautions that getting hired still requires work. “You still need to hustle to find a job in the business,” he says, a reminder of Roach’s warning that PR can be a tough way to make a living.

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