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Actas de Congresso

Professional perspectives: An international studyof public relations students

Frank B. Kalupa
p. 185-199


The impact future practitioners are likely to have on their chosen career field will undoubtedly depend on a variety of dynamic forces, beginning with the professional perspectives and values they bring with them in launching their careers as well as their ongoing professional socialization and experiences on the job. This online study of students worldwide sought to determine their attitudes and beliefs on critical issues, including ethics, professionalism, and social value. The responses from 122 public relations students represent universities in Germany, India, Italy, North Cypress, Portu- gal, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and United States.

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1. Introduction

1Because students are obviously the future of public relations, it is imperative that both professors as well professionals are fully aware of the students’ perspectives, understanding, and expectations on key professional values and challenges. What our future practitioners think about such critical factors as ethics, professionalism, and the social value of the field will shape not only their career development but the practice itself. The perceptions students leave the university with are also critical in determining who enters the field and who stays to make it a career. These professional perspectives will significantly influence how the new generation of practitioners will perform during their careers as well as the organizational and social impact the practice will have in the years ahead.

2In an ever- and fast-changing world, occasional reality checks are vital – even for public relations practitioners and professors. This online study is an attempt to provide a useful snapshot of current students’ perspectives regarding their chosen field of study and potential career.

3The survey results provide current and relevant insights from a small but broad global sample of today’s public relations students regarding attitudes that are likely to influence their own professional behaviors as well as the future practice of public relations. The questions and answers offer a beginning framework for potential future studies to assist both academic and practitioners efforts to enhance the field and fulfill long-standing professional status aspirations.

1.1. Ethics

4The major focus of the current study is on ethics and related professionalism issues. The field is characterized by strong and impressive codes of ethics, which are intended to provide the foundation for the professional practice and are a «basic requirement» of self-governing professional organizations like those in the public relations field (Cutlip, Center & Broom, p. 165). Most public relations majors are at least introduced to these professional values – but not others entering the field without the potential benefits of a public relations major or program of study while in college. For those who do study public relations in college, the curriculum typically includes such essential profession basics as the Arthur W. Page Principles, Public Relations Society of America’s Member Code of Ethics, and the International

5Public Relations Association’s codes of Venice, Athens, Nairobi, and Brussels (2007, pp. 25-30). Formal public relations education programs typically include study of at least a chapter or part of a chapter devoted to ethics, law, and professionalism (for example, Cutlip, Center & Broom, 2000, pp. 143- 177). Summaries such as the following Public Relations Society of America statement of values are included in introductory principles textbooks (Seitel, 2004) and as well as writing, campaigns management, and case studies textbooks (Wilcox, 2005; Smith, 2005; Austin and Pinkelton, 2006; and Hendrix and Hayes, 2007).

This statement presents the core values of PRSA members and, more broadly, of the public relations profession. These values provide the foundation of the Member Code of Ethics and set the industry standard for the professional practice of public relations. These values are the fundamental beliefs that guide our behaviors and decision-making process. We believe our professional values are vital to the integrity of the profession as a whole (Wilcox, 2005, p. 85).

6The statement goes on to briefly provide guidance on PRSA’s six core values: advocacy, honest, expertise, independence, loyalty, and fairness.

7To the field’s credit «higher moral standards and ethical conduct have contributed to the development of public relations» during its evolution despite occasional lapses (Moore & Kalupa, 1985, p. 33). The Commission on Public Relations Education’s 2006 report, The Professional Bond, points out the «As public relations evolves into a more strategic and international practice, it affects more people more profoundly, does so in more countries and cultures and does so more quickly than ever before» (p. 15). To which the report subsequently adds: «One of the greatest challenges for public relations professional is to demonstrate and prove that new ways of thinking and new practices are indeed founded on ethical principles» (p. 21).

8Nevertheless, there is significant criticism widely expressed that too many public relations practitioner are too often unethical in their practices. Unfortunately «among many journalists, policy makers, and laymen is the belief that the term ‘public relations ethics’ is an oxymoron: either an unreal possibility, or smoke and mirrors to hide deception» (Bowen, 2007, p. 2). While concluding that the «ability to engage in ethical reasoning in public relations is growing in demand, in responsibility, and in importance» (p. 10), Bowen cites groups like the Center for Public Integrity and Corporate Watch as well as specific cases to focus on perceptions questioning the field’s ethics (p. 2).

9In a chapter optimistically entitled «The Golden Age,» Seitel identifies 10 worldwide challenges confronting the practice of public relations in the 21st century, including two directly related to this study:

  • Education. The importance of public relations education, so vital if the field is to fulfill the jobs and promise of the new millennium, will … become more important. As management consultants, accountants, and lawyers all move to invade the influential turf that public relations has occupied, it will become more vital to train public relations leaders of the future.

  • Ethics and reputation. If public relations is truly to distinguish itself in the 21stcentury, it must represent the very highest values. Reputation matters, and public relations professionals are often «the keepers of the reputation.» Most corporate CEOs look to their public relations professionals to oversee the firm’s reputation. In the 21stcentury, no challenge will be more important or critical to the field (2004, p. 513).

1.2. Professionalism and social significance

10The field of public relation’s desire for professional status – and the respect that would presumably accompany this coveted recognition – has characterized the field throughout the modern era; often dominating conference discussion and regularly included in trade publications and books (Burson, 2006; Cutlip, Center & Broom, 2000, pp. 50-51). Nevertheless, professional status has been as elusive as it has been persistently lamented by public relations practitioners. While assumed by some practitioners, others have remained skeptical and there is not much evidence that those outside the field view public relations as a «profession,» at least not on a par with traditionally accepted fields like law and medicine. Although there are certainly a number of significant factors involved, the key issues are included in Seitel’s observation:

To be sure, public relations is not yet a profession like law, accounting, or medicine, in which all practitioners are trained, license, and supervised. Nothing prevents someone with little or no formal training from hanging out a shingle as a public relations specialist. Such frauds embarrass professionals in the field and, thankfully, are becoming harder and harder to find (2004, p. 15).

11He went on to note:

Despite its considerable problems – in attaining leadership status, in finding its proper role in society, in disavowing spin and earning enduring respect – the practice of public relations has never been more prominent. Approaching its first 100 years as a formal, integrated, strategic thinking process, public relations has become part of the fabric of modern society (p. 15).

12Cutlip, Center, and Broom add support to the view that growth and maturity of the field is achieving its long-sought recognition: «Some scholars credit public relations for heightened attention to public accountability and social responsibility among government administrators and business executives» (2000, p. 24). Nevertheless, the authors conclude:

Even after considerable progress recorded since the mid-1900s, public relations still stands short of public acceptance as a true profession. The field lacks standardized educational requirements, mandatory certification or licen- sing, full-fledged devotion to serving the public interest, public acceptance of its social utility, and effective self-regulation» (p. 173).

13The current report of the Commission on Public Relations Education, The Professional Bond, maintains what should be a prime standard in the field for both the practice and education is ensuring that «the needs of society are of first concern,» followed by professional qualifications (2006, p. 25). The report further notes that the conditions essential for an occupation to become a profession include:

  • a substantial body of research-based knowledge;

  • standardized education systems to help create and disseminate that knowledge;

  • a commitment to lifelong professional learning;

  • core ethical principles;

  • and a fundamental sense of responsibility, increasingly global in scope, for bettering our civil societies (p. 11).

14Although prescribed professional education is currently not a requirement in the practice of public relations, the commission report points out that:

Without question, a prime hallmark of a profession is education in its principles. Law, medicine, accounting – all are grounded in formal education and training, strengthened by continuing research and given responsible support by individuals, professional societies and enterprises that have a stake in the practice and its reputation (p. 85).

1.3. Purpose and rationale

15This brief summary of a selection of relevant literature provides supportive evidence for the need to examine the values and perspectives of students worldwide who will be launching their public relations careers and will ultimately be instrumental in future directions and developments defining the practice.

16Greater understanding of what and how current students think about key questions such as ethics, professionalism, and social responsibility will be invaluable in the classroom as well as for ongoing professional evolution in a field such as public relations, which has so long lamented the lack of professional status and greater appreciation and respect among those it directly serves and society at large.

2. Method

17The Websurveyor online questionnaire posed 10 likert-type questions and several open-ended questions on a range of topics, including ethics, public perceptions of the field, social value, challenging issues, career benefits, career plans, required skills, ongoing professional development, and expe- rience along with basic demographic questions.

18The online survey was conducted between March and June 2007.

2.1. Global participants

  • 1 The unique Global Communications Project, established by Dr. Volker Stoltz, former Shandwick Europe (...)

19The convenience sample for the study included undergraduate public relations students from the 10 universities participating in the 2007 Global Communications Project1.

  • 2 Participating students were from Erfurt University, Germany; Convergence Institute of Media Managem (...)

20Respondents included Global Communications students from Germany, India, Italy, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the United States.2Additionally, undergraduate and graduate students from Boston University, Istanbul University, and Eastern Mediterranean University were invited to participate in the survey.

21A total of 122 undergraduate and graduate students responded worldwide.

Table 1 – Response by country

Table 1 – Response by country

(Four respondents neglected to answer the question asking for their country location.)

3. Research results

22Six of the survey questions and students’ responses directly address the key topics of the inquiry, both the students’ own perceptions as well as their beliefs about what people outside the field think about the public relations.

3.1. Professionalism views

23The vast majority of the students, 96 percent overall, responded that they consider public relations to be very professional, 41.8 percent, or professional, 54.1 percent. Four percent responded that they consider public relations to be not very professional.

24When asked how they believe people outside the field view public relations, a majority, 60.3 percent, answered not very professional. Thirty eight percent overall reported that they thought outsiders view the practice as professional or very professional.

Table 2 – In general, I believe people outside the field view public relations as

Table 2 – In general, I believe people outside the field view public relations as

3.2. Views on ethics and compromise

25Fifty-four percent of the students responded that they strongly agreed, 10.7 percent, or agreed, 43 percent, that public relations practitioners are ethical. Thirty-seven percent were neutral and 8.3 percent reported that they disagreed with the statement that public relations practitioners are ethical.

26The majority disagreed, 47.1 percent, or strongly disagreed, 11.6 percent, with a similar statement: «In general, people outside the field believe most public relations practitioners are ethical.»

Table 3 – Degree of agreement or disagreement with the following statements

Table 3 – Degree of agreement or disagreement with the following statements

27While the majority of the students, 52 percent, responded that they strongly disagreed or disagreed with the statement that «compromising ethical standards is sometimes necessary to do what is expected in public relations,» 37 percent, replied that they agreed or strongly agreed that compromise was «sometimes necessary.»

Table 4 – Compromising ethical standards is sometimes necessary to do what is expected in public relations

Table 4 – Compromising ethical standards is sometimes necessary to do what is expected in public relations

3.3. Social value

28Eight-four percent of the students agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: «public relations contributes significant social value». Sixteen percent were neutral or disagreed with the statement.

Table 5 – In general, public relations contributes significant social value

Table 5 – In general, public relations contributes significant social value

3.4. Career views

29Three additional questions focused on the students’ perceptions about a potential career in public relations, including ongoing professional development.

30The intention to work in public relations after graduation was reported by 75.8 percent of the respondents. Fourteen percent were uncertain of their career plans and 10 percent reported that they did not plan to work in public relations.

31Agencies, 38.8 percent, and corporations, 33.7 percent, were clearly the preference for those planning to work in public relations.

Table 6 – First preference for those planning a career in public relations

Table 6 – First preference for those planning a career in public relations

32Optimism about a career in public relations ranked very high for the students. Overall 85 percent were optimistic or very optimistic, while 15 percent were either not very optimistic or offered no opinion.

Table 7 – How optimistic about a career in public relations?

Table 7 – How optimistic about a career in public relations?

33Nearly all of the students reported that they perceive ongoing professional development training to be vital for their careers. Ninety-eight percent responded that it was very important or important.

Table 8 – How important will ongoing professional development training be in your career?

Table 8 – How important will ongoing professional development training be in your career?

3.5. Work and education experience

34Two additional questions address the students’ work and educational experiences.

35Many of the respondents reported having public relations related work experience: 49 percent internships, 17 percent part-time, and 12 percent full-time. Another 10 percent reported work experience other than in public relations. Twenty-five percent of the students reported no experience.

36The majority of the students reported that their education in public relations was valuable, 51.9 percent, or very valuable, 38 percent, in preparing for their careers.

Table 9 – How valuable was your public relations education in preparing you for your career?

Table 9 – How valuable was your public relations education in preparing you for your career?

3.6. Demographics

37Most of the respondents surveyed were undergraduates, 71.8 percent, with the majority, 59.3 percent, being fourth-year/senior students. Twenty two percent of the respondents were graduate students. (6.8 percent indicated «other» status.)

38As is generally the case in public relations educational programs, the majority of the survey respondents were female, 81 percent.

39The majority of the respondents were 21-23 years old (64.6 percent) and 22 percent were 24-26 years old. Eight percent were 18-20 and 4 percent were 27-29.

3.7. Open-ended questions

40The study included several open-ended questions. The students’ suggestions for the top three issues challenging public relations currently clearly emphasized ethics and negative pubic perceptions of the field. Another frequently mentioned issue was described by one respondent as «being lumped together with marketing and advertising.» Globalization and technology/new media challenges were also frequently cited by the students.

41Students saw the major benefits of a career in public relations as encompassing a wide range «ability to help people, if done ethically,» «earning social respect,» «being known as somebody,» «adding value to an organization,» «creatively solving problems,» «creating positive behavioral change.»

42In describing the career benefits, the students also frequently mentioned words and phrases like «exciting,» «stimulating, «dynamic,» «innovative» and «lots of responsibility.»

43Of the skills students perceived as most important in achieving success in their entry-level job, the most frequently mentioned were writing, interpersonal skills, ability to learn quickly, ethics, creativity, and passion.

4. Discussion

44The results of the global study offer encouragement as well as indications of serious ongoing concerns challenging the field professionally and academically.

45Among the most positive findings:

  • The majority of the surveyed public relations students consider the field to be professional.

  • They believe public relations contributes significant social value.

46This is perhaps especially encouraging for a field struggling to obtain professional status and respect. It is also worthy of note that the students surveyed hold these positives attitudes about the practice, even though they recognize that people outside the field do not share the same perceptions and, in fact, often voice significant criticism of public relations practices and practitioners. This suggests the students have a good grip on the realities of the field.

47Although a slight majority apparently sees their future career as engaged in ethical behavior, the results reflected in the study are certainly weaker than desirable, especially for a field so extensively involved with social welfare. Probably of greatest concern is the finding that a significant number of respondents apparently believe compromising ethical standards is sometimes a necessity in public relations. This then raises a concern as to what constitutes «professionalism» in the minds of these future practitioners. This apparent conflict certainly runs counter to traditional standards for professionalism.

48The students’ overall optimism on several dimensions regarding careers in public relations was an impressive finding. This was equally evident in the students’ responses to the open-ended question regard major benefits of a public relations career. However, there were enough students who reported they were not optimistic or were not planning to pursue a career in the field to warrant further study.

49The two strongest findings were encouraging. The students’ overwhelming recognition of the importance of continuing professional development (98 percent) bodes well for the future of the field. And the students’ overall satisfaction with their education (90 percent) in preparing them for a career in public relations is a good indication that university programs have made encouraging progress. Nevertheless, the fact that the majority of the students ranked their educational preparation as «valuable» versus «very valuable» suggests there is ample room for further academic enhancement.

4.1. Related professional challenges

50Many, perhaps most, entry-level employees begin their careers in public relations without even the limited professional preparation typically available to students majoring in public relations studies. This means that many have probably not only not read a book about even the basics of public relations, but they are unfortunately likely to be lacking exposure to the critical fundamentals of professional values and ethics. Wright and his coauthors pointed out in their 2007 comprehensive assessment of the value of public relations:

It is not at all uncommon to find graduates of liberal arts, business and other academic disciplines favored for entry-level public relations positions instead of graduates of public relations degree program. Data collected in connection with the research reported on in this study finds graduates of public relations degree programs account for a dismal 10 to 15 percent of the recent hires within the nation’s major public relations firms. (p. 2).

51What an indictment of both public relations education and the standards of entry for a field so obsessed with achieving professional status and respect! Wright and his colleagues, a senior staff member of the Institute for

52Public Relations, and senor members of two the top U.S. agencies, concluded: «Support for public relations education is woefully bad, at best» (2007, p. 2).

53One of the frequently voiced solutions for the field’s ongoing challenges and frustration over its lack of professional status is «public relations for public relations,» which Burson discussed at the 2006 Global Summit of the International Communications Consultancy Organization in New Delhi, India. However, as Burson pointed out, in the 40 years he has been hearing calls advocating this approach, none of the professional organizations «has made palpable inroads in gaining greater public understanding of either the role of public relations in society or the business of public relations»(2006, p. 3).

54Burson went on to suggest:

It seems to me that any «Public Relations program for Public Relations» must first deal with what we would explain to a client is «positioning». Is public relations a profession? Is it a business discipline? An art? A science? A trade? Put another way, are our historical, philosophical and legal roots ever taken into account by those who would describe us in pejorative terms? I am bothered by this ambivalent indentify. We have allowed it to persist too long. It has negative effects on how we are perceived and, I believe, it is a barrier to attracting the best and brightest of our young people to public relations (p. 5).

4.2. Limitations of the current study

55A clear shortcoming of the online international study reported here is the small sample size. Not only does this preclude otherwise valuable generalizations, but also prohibits potentially insightful comparisons and contrasts of diverse professional education features globally, including undergraduate and graduate programs and adherence to proposed courses of study and philosophies such as those advocated for the 21stcentury by the Commission on Public Relations Education (2006).

56The questions, although valuable in providing the opportunity for preliminary consideration of the important issues addressed in the current study, would obviously benefit from further refinement and expansion to permit greater depth of analysis of the richness of such central dimensions as professionalism, ethical standards of practices, and the field’s social signifi- cance.

57Further research on the critical issues addressed in this study is clearly warranted.

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Austin, E.W. & Pinkleton, B.E. (2006). Strategic public relations management (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Bowen, S. (2007). Ethics and public relations. Institute for Public Relations. Retrieved November 29, 2007, from

Burson, H. (2006). The cobbler’s children. Speech delivered at the International Communications Consultancy Organization Global Summit, New Delhi, India.

Cutlip, S.M., Center, A.H., & Broom, G.M. (2000). Effective public relations (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Hendrix, J.A. & Hayes, D.C. (2007). Public relations cases (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

IPRA membership directory and service guide. (2007). International Public Relations Association. Surrey, United Kingdom.

Moore, H.F. & Kalupa, F.B. (1985). Public relations principles, cases, and problems (9th ed.). Homewoood, IL: Irwin.

Seitel, F. (2004). The practice of public relations (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Smith, R.D. (2005). Strategic planning for public relations (2nd ed.). Mahwah, N.J.: Erlbaum.

VanSlyke Turk, J. (Ed.). (2006). Public relations education for the 21st century: The professional bond. Commission on Public Relations Education. Retrieved August 10, 2007, from

Wilcox, D.L. (2005). Public relations writing and media techniques (5th ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Wright, D.K, Hinson, M., Flaherty, R. & Ford, P. (2007, August). Assessing the value of the public relations curriculum: A survey of opinions of educators and practitioners. Paper presented at the meeting of the Pubic Relations Division, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Washington, DC.

Wright, D.K. (2007, September). Thoughts on ethics, education and friendship. Speech delivered at Arthur W. Page Society annual conference, Laguna Niguel, CA.

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1 The unique Global Communications Project, established by Dr. Volker Stoltz, former Shandwick Europe CEO and now a public relations professor at Erfurt University in Germany, links students from 8-10 universities around the world into virtual public relations agencies that competitively develop a strategic communications proposal of international scope for a sponsoring client corporation or government organization.

2 Participating students were from Erfurt University, Germany; Convergence Institute of Media Management and Technology Studies, Bangalore, India; Università degli Studi di Udine, Goritza, Italy; Superior School of Mass communication and Media Arts, Polytechnic Institute, Lisbon, Portugal; University of Stellenbosch, South Africa; Ramon Llull University, Barcelona, Spain; American University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates; Bournemouth University, United Kingdom; and James Madison University and Emerson College, United States.

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Índice das ilustrações

Título Table 1 – Response by country
Legenda (Four respondents neglected to answer the question asking for their country location.)
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Título Table 2 – In general, I believe people outside the field view public relations as
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Título Table 3 – Degree of agreement or disagreement with the following statements
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Título Table 4 – Compromising ethical standards is sometimes necessary to do what is expected in public relations
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Título Table 5 – In general, public relations contributes significant social value
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Título Table 6 – First preference for those planning a career in public relations
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Título Table 7 – How optimistic about a career in public relations?
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Título Table 8 – How important will ongoing professional development training be in your career?
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Título Table 9 – How valuable was your public relations education in preparing you for your career?
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Para citar este artigo

Referência do documento impresso

Frank B. Kalupa, «Professional perspectives: An international studyof public relations students »Comunicação Pública, vol.3 nº5 | 2007, 185-199.

Referência eletrónica

Frank B. Kalupa, «Professional perspectives: An international studyof public relations students »Comunicação Pública [Online], vol.3 nº5 | 2007, posto online no dia 15 outubro 2020, consultado o 01 março 2021. URL:; DOI:

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Frank B. Kalupa

James Madison University

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Comunicação Pública Este trabalho está licenciado com uma Licença Creative Commons - Atribuição-NãoComercial 4.0 Internacional.

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