Doctorate in Public Relations and Advertising programs are the highest level of degree one could achieve in the parent field of marketing. As a research degree, a PhD in Advertising or Public Relations is often planned-out for the thought leader. PhD students are usually asked to forge new theories, understand global trends, and problem solve in their industry.
written by Rana Waxman
Topics of study in Doctorate in Public Relations and Advertising programs are primarily focused on either public relations or advertising. However, it is common for coursework to also include elements of marketing and communications. Therefore, one’s studies may be both wide and deep as well as interdisciplinary.
In the broadest context, Advertising and Public Relations PhD programs might explore the tools and techniques used to sell or promote consumer goods, brands and images. This core coursework is often fused with classes in one or two other fields. This generally serves two purposes: (1) to build expertise and (2) to anchor research interests.
For instance, one could study how audiences receive messages related to specific fields. Majors such as health care, legislation and public policy, education or tourism, for instance, may require particular PR practices, ethics and concepts. Take a look below at how this process could play out through a PhD curriculum.
This process could encourage students to focus their program of study to meet their own particular goals and to develop greater proficiency in specific research areas. In this way, each doctoral student may be able to grow in professionally meaningful ways.
Doctorate in Public Relations and Advertising programs are thus highly customizable in many universities. A student may be able to formulate their own research topic as it pertains to advertising and public relations in areas such as public policy, cultural purchasing patterns or economics.
There are many variants within Doctorate in Public Relations and Advertising programs. Some programs might put the spotlight on media and communications, others on organizational and strategic leadership. Also, university catalogues may refer to such degrees as PhD in Strategic Communication or PhD in Communication programs, so make sure to assess course lists before you make a decision.
A PhD in Strategic Communication could expand students’ knowledge through exposure to a wide range of courses. A broad course plan generally aims to help students fine tune an original contribution to the academic and professional field of mediated communication and, generally, communication. Graduates may take away the skills to keenly analyze, segment, select and persuade specific groups.
Often, PhD students are encouraged to take courses, perform research, and interact with peers and faculty with interests in different disciplines. Business, political science, psychology, sociology, and other fields. Students also may complete a limited amount of production coursework in audio, video, film, and/or journalism.
That stated, the courses in each PhD program often reflect the faculty’s interests and active projects, so a curriculum could vary from one school to the next. A few examples are listed below.
Research instruction could provide students with a focus on a specific context such as a communication and business environment in a certain country. Or, students might research extensively to solve communication problems in areas such as brand building and media planning.
Apart from learning how to formulate and test a hypothesis, PhD students could learn how to apply scientific theory into real-world tactical PR and advertising plans. For instance, they might examine the entire decision process that goes into promoting products, ideas and services. Then use data to plan and monitor the ways these messages are diffused.
A PhD in Advertising might help students fine tune the art of persuasive storytelling. Students who focus on advertising might also learn how advertising affects the mass media, how it is used by consumers to make decisions and how it is controlled and regulated.
In their courses, students may learn specific practices to build campaigns for the digital age. This could include the finer points of how to create concepts and craft copy for a variety of media, including outdoor ad placements, print ads, radio scripts and TV storyboards.
Through hands-on classes, students might also gain a solid grasp of how to come up with media plans that include research, marketing materials, ratings and costs. They may also learn to develop campaign goals and think strategically. Also, how to suggest appropriate creative, media and promotional strategies to achieve those goals using current programs and technology.
Each university’s PhD in Advertising, Public Relations or Communications comes with its own unique set of requirements that are often closely tied to a candidate’s prior academic preparation. We have listed some examples of requirements that may be relevant for those students who enter their program with a masters degree in a background related to the PhD.
The courses at the heart of any Doctorate in Public Relations and Advertising programs vary between grad schools. We list some general samples below to give you an idea of what might be available.
Critical and Cultural Studies: A course that may discuss cultural production, how media and messages are distributed and consumed and the impact on individuals and society. Students might look into the role of the media in the allocation of wealth and information resources on topics such as coverage of terrorism and foreign affairs, sports industries and Hollywood films.
International Communications: A course that typically probes how media systems operate within and between nations. Side topics might explore the rise of satellite communications and the Internet and how these advances impact the flow of information worldwide.
Law, Government and Politics. A course in political communication might address First Amendment theory, media law and regulation, freedom of information, media-government relations and the role of the media in fostering democracy. Side topics might include issues such as libel, privacy, copyright, legal restrictions on violent video games and obscenity.
Media Effects: A course that could discuss in depth both the social and psychological effects of media messages and technology upon individuals. Side topics might encompass the influences of media content and form on audience perceptions, attitudes, memories, emotions and behaviors.
Information Policy: A course that might examine the history, law and regulation, economics, and industry structure of telecommunications and new information technologies. Students may look at these issues in the global context.
Communication Theory: A course that may compare communication theories as they pertain to mass communication and the behavioral and social effects studies related to modern media.
Teaching in Higher Education: A course that may familiarize students with pedagogical methods. Students might learn to plan course objectives, design syllabi, develop classroom techniques, establish assessment methods, and polish their own communication style as instructors.
Psychological Processes and Media: A course that might be concerned with research and theory into the effects of media on the psyche. Topics discussed might include attention, memory, comprehension, emotional response, arousal, picture perception, unconscious processing, and person perception. These may be examined as they relate to traditional (radio, TV, print, film) and emerging (virtual reality, teleconferencing) media.
Advertising and Public Relations PhD programs may appeal to individuals who want to pursue a career in academic or market research.
JUST THE FACTS
Per O’Net, 66% of Marketing Professors have a doctorate degree, 5% have post-doctoral training.i
The time needed to complete a PhD in PR or Advertising is varied though some grad schools report that full-time students take about 4-7 years to complete their PhD program. This is sometimes due to a student’s previous education – did s/he enter with a Bachelors or Masters degree?
Also, once students have completed their main courses, passed a wide-ranging exam, it is usually the moment to get started with dissertation research. This is not generally a process that is rushed especially if a student works or has other duties.
Make sure to take note of a graduate school’s application form and important dates off the get go to stay prepared and get documents in order. As each school has its own policies and standards, one should also not expect a one-size-fits-all process, though we provide some sample guidelines below.
The first thing one might notice is that universities often make use of electronic online admissions forms which may need to be completed and sent in with a fee as soon as possible. Even if other data and documents are sent later.
In terms of prior education, an applicant may need both a Bachelors and Masters degree though some schools may roll a Masters and PhD together. It may not be necessary for your prior degree to be in PR or communication, but, if that's the case, you may need to take other coursework in addition to what's required to earn a PhD. You may also be asked to state your research interests when you send in supplemental documents.
Most Doctorate in Public Relations and Advertising programs are fairly involved, and students may need to complete some (or all) of their studies in residency at their campus. Time on campus could enable students to get to know their research mentor, meet like minds and learn in real time through group work sessions.
Usually, PhD students must take part in several of these sessions. The aim of these sessions is to present, formulate, share and discuss the state of the thesis project's research process at the initial, central and final stages. The activity is usually assessed by the thesis supervisor.
For those who cannot make it to class, some schools may offer online PhD programs which could take some of the strain out of commuting or relocating. These may still involve brief on campus visits if they aren’t 100% online but could otherwise provide more flexibility. Or, online students may be required to attend a national or international conference in which they present their research findings and receive feedback from people renowned in their field.
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