“Thinking Different” About Liberal Arts as a Major for PR Pros

While it’s very fashionable to criticize liberal arts majors because of the high cost of education and how hard it is to justify the return on investment, it’s not like having a major in art or drama has ever really guaranteed anything to anybody. Actor Robert DeNiro garnered a lot of controversy for his frank (and profane) comments on the topic during his recent commencement speech at NYU. (Ironically, I have had very good results hiring people from NYU over the years). He’s completely right in what he said. You are not guaranteed a job with a liberal arts degree in any way, shape or form.

At the PRSA Silver Anvil Awards this year, actor John O’Hurley talked about his stint in public relations before he transitioned to acting. To me, there’s always been sort of a natural synergy between the liberal arts and communications as a career. Writing is a huge portion of any public relations career and while it may be debatable that writing is really a “liberal art” I have always found that writing for some of the more boring corporate Fortune 50 type clients may involve some of the greatest creative writing of all. Taking a dry, complex topic and translating it to make it understandable and entertaining for a lay audience is an “art” all unto itself.

But what about the visual arts as a major? Think about the evolution of mobile media and touchscreen tablets. 2015 is presenting new and exciting design challenges. Like the famous ad campaign we do have to “think different.” That art major may not be the huge waste of money, after all.

And what about drama? The reality is like Shakespeare said “we are all actors and all the world’s a stage.” Think about sales—while the best salespeople are not necessary great actors—they tend to have winning, engaging personalities and at the very least have very good “poker” faces. If you can do theatre on any level, you know how to memorize talking points and present to a crowd of people. I actually minored in drama, more with the idea of playwriting, but I did enough acting to really appreciate good acting and I can’t tell you how much that has helped me as a TV director. While a lot of people may not see the connection between stage and screen, the way action is “staged” is quite different, but the discipline of “blocking” action and figuring out the audience’s POV has many, many applications in the real world, whether you are “staging” a window display, a marketing demonstration or a corporate presentation.

True, in a field that strives to provide measurable and return on investment, a degree in the arts may be difficult to justify, but I submit it may more difficult to prove that it does NOT have significant value.