Kelli MatthewsChoosing a major can be one of the most important decisions a student makes in college. It can also be one of the most difficult.

When selecting your path within the UO School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC), it’s important to understand your strengths and interests as they relate to each of the majors. We talked to public relations instructor Kelli Matthews to find out more about the public relations (PR) program at the SOJC and what you can expect if you enter this major.

What exactly is PR?

My oversimplified definition of PR is — PR is about finding the right channel for the right message to get to the right audience at the right time. If you’re interested in those puzzle pieces, fitting those all together and being creative about that problem-solving process, then that’s a good thing. PR is also very much behind the scenes.

One of the big differences that sets PR apart from the other majors is that PR is about reaching a much broader array of people. It may be employees, investors, executives, consumers or this large array of audiences that you could be tasked with building relationships with.

It’s useful to be interested in people. I joke that you don’t have to like people, but you have to be interested in them. It’s a little bit of a cliché to say, “I want to work in PR because I like people,” because that’s not really what it’s about. But you do have to be interested in people because it’s your job to figure out what they’re interested in and how they are going to receive a message.

How do you know if public relations is the right major for you?

I often ask students why they’re drawn to PR, because they don’t know how to define it and don’t really know what it means. We’re very much a found major; there are few fall-term freshmen who know they want to be PR majors. What I look for is an innate interest or attraction to the things they need to succeed in the major. I listen to see if they enjoy writing; if they like keeping up with trends, news and information; if they’re curious. You have to be really curious about everything, because you’ll be asked to know a little bit about everything on a regular basis. And even if you don’t enjoy writing, you have to enjoy the craft and be OK with working to get better at it, across all platforms.

What are the classes like?

Early in the major, it is going to be much more tactical: writing press releases, writing articles, even writing blog posts or memos. Those are the tools in the toolbox.

Then the planning and case studies class flips the funnel. Instead of thinking tactically, you have to think big-picture and learn how to choose which tools in the toolbox you’re going to use in order to accomplish those things. In the later classes, it’s all about being creative and learning how to make sure you’re making good decisions for your client.

What kind of careers could you have with a degree in public relations?

Well, you have to think: What are you really passionate about, and what is really exciting to you? It might be sports, or books or travel. If you think about what you are really passionate about, there is a PR job in that industry for you. Some are more competitive than others, but there are jobs there. So if you like sports, you can think about the business side of sports and what it would be like to communicate for a sports team, athlete or brand. If you really like travel, you could be working for a hotel chain, figuring out who the right audience is and how to communicate with that audience.

Story by Nicole Rideout ’16