Where is public relations?

About the author

Richard Bailey Hon FCIPR is editor of PR Academy's PR Place Insights. He teaches and assesses undergraduate, postgraduate and professional students.

Students across the country will have held classroom discussions around ‘what is public relations?’ in recent weeks. But even before that question can be asked, their universities will have had to answer a different question: where does public relations teaching belong?

For some, it’s a management discipline that belongs in a business school alongside marketing and human resources. For others, it’s a creative discipline that should sit in a media department alongside design and journalism.

But what about the links to politics? What about events management? What about drama and literature? What about technology?

Public relations is interdisciplinary, requiring an understanding of different concepts and disciplines so it fits well alongside other courses. But even when comparing similar sounding BA Public Relations courses, differences emerge.

We have taken a look at the location of some well-established undergraduate courses and the most common approach is to view public relations as a media discipline.

  • Birmingham City University: Media school
  • Bournemouth: Media school
  • Greenwich: Department of events, marketing and tourism
  • Leeds Beckett University: Business school
  • LCC/UAL: Media school
  • Lincoln: School of English and Journalism
  • Liverpool John Moores: Business school
  • QMU Edinburgh: Arts, social sciences and management
  • Sheffield Hallam: Media arts and communication
  • Southampton Solent: Business
  • Sunderland: Media department
  • Ulster: School of communication and media
  • Westminster: School of media, arts and design

All courses will offer a mix of theory and practice, of doing and thinking. All will believe they are helping to develop generic graduate attributes like critical thinking alongside specialist skills. But the approach is likely to be different in a media school from a business school.

There’s no simple right and wrong approach, and prospective students should take up opportunities to attend open days in order to experience the facilities and learn about the distinctive approach offered by the course.

Applicants should ask questions about who will be teaching them and should ask to speak to current students and for examples of what past graduates are now doing. They can also check to see if courses are accredited by the CIPR and the PRCA.

This challenge of where to place public relations is not a university problem alone. In practice, some organisations will view public relations as a marketing function; others will have it working closely alongside other areas such as human resources.

So the question ‘where is public relations?’ is essential for gaining a fuller understanding of ‘what is public relations.’