Communications & Public Relations

A Guide to Strategic Communications Degrees

A Guide to Strategic Communications Degrees
A Master of Science in Strategic Communications (or Master of Arts in Strategic Communications) is a graduate-level degree focusing on the theories and models of mass communication. Image from Pexels
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Craig Hoffman January 25, 2022

Schools offer several strategic communications degrees—but which one is right for you?

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Forward-thinking organizations need strategic communications plans. It’s not enough merely to offer a great service or product in today’s media-driven environment. The modern marketplace is overcrowded, requiring careful, constant, and consistent messaging for a business or organization to rise above the crowd and get noticed. A workforce that grows ever more skilled and specialized requires effective internal communications as well, and these too constitute part of any concern’s communication strategy.

Thinking and acting strategically in the design and planning of all communications helps convey—to the public and to internal stakeholders as well—that an organization is a successful enterprise with a clear vision and capable leadership. Strategic communications convey a firm’s goals, objectives, products, services, and industry-related announcements. The benefits of strategic communications lie in its ability to reach disparate audiences with a coherent and persuasive message.

Do you need a degree in strategic communications to work in this field? Technically, no: there’s no licensing authority for this profession, nor are there any threshold degrees. However, to advance in this field, you need experience and accomplishments. A degree makes both of those more attainable by providing the credentials most employers seek in their strategic communications hires. A degree certainly won’t hurt your prospects, and in most instances it should vastly improve them.

Many colleges and universities offer a bachelor’s degree in strategic communications, and quite a few universities offer a master’s degree in the field as well. Both are available online as well as in traditional on-campus programs. You can even pursue a PhD in strategic communications at some schools, although that degree is primarily for people interested in research and teaching jobs.

This guide to strategic communications degrees reviews bachelor’s and master’s programs in the field. It addresses:

  • What is strategic communications?
  • What degrees can I earn in strategic communications?
  • What is a master’s in strategic communications?
  • What are the top strategic communications jobs in each field and how much do they pay?

What is strategic communications?

The term ‘strategic communications’ describes messaging efforts that have been planned and developed strategically, using all the tools and input of the organization to articulate its strategies and operations. The approach places emphasis on strategy rather than on specific tactics. Gathering and disseminating business plans, mission statements, and sales targets constitute just a few of the inputs needed to form a strategic communications plan.

Indeed, the disparate functions of a firm, from sales and marketing to human resources and information technology, all have a part to play in achieving a unified messaging strategy that is stylistically and tonally consistent.

Communications have grown more complex in recent years with the rise of digital and social media. The increasing number of distribution channels escalates the need for long-term strategic planning. Diverse tactics involving public and media relations, marketing, advertising, and the growing social media disciplines enable skillful communicators to thoughtfully execute a company or institution’s messaging.

What degrees can I earn in strategic communications?

Schools offer both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in strategic communications. Because strategic communications is such a broad and diverse practice, graduates of strategic communication degree programs enjoy many career options, from corporate communications to social media management to nonprofit public relations and fundraising.

What is a master’s in strategic communications?

A Master of Science in Strategic Communications (or Master of Arts in Strategic Communications) is a graduate-level degree focusing on the theories and models of mass communication. It teaches analytical processes and strategic practices used to build audience-based organizational communication initiatives. Students are introduced to communication theory, strategies, and functions in different industries and how they relate to a mostly digitized world. Key competencies taught include storytelling and digital media, quantitative research, campaign planning and evaluation, public relations, social media and podcasts.

Strategic communications is an expanding field encompassing interpersonal communication as well as external mass-audience messaging. The numerous graduate programs in strategic communications reflect that diversity. Some programs offer the opportunity to select a specialization area of strategic communications, such as corporate communications, public relations, social media, or marketing and advertising.

Admission requirements/prerequisites

Each master’s in strategic communications programs imposes unique admissions requirements, but most programs expect all of the following:

  • Undergraduate transcripts
  • Standardized test scores (Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) or, in some cases, Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT))
  • A personal statement
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Professional resume

Curriculum

Strategic communication graduate programs teach the foundations and practical applications of institutional communications, both external and internal. They focus on how strategic communication plans are developed and applied across multiple organizational departments and channels. At Butler University, case studies, simulations, and a capstone project incorporate experiential learning into the online curriculum. Coursework in Butler’s program includes:

  • Law and Ethics in Strategic Communication
  • Social Media Strategy
  • Crisis Communication
  • Brand Strategy
  • Strategic Storytelling for Advocacy
  • Media Relations

What are the top strategic communications jobs in each field and how much do they pay?

Strategic communications professionals are in demand across a wide range of institutions and industries. They include human resources managers and directors who can earn anywhere from $143,000 to $184,000. Public relations directors can make between $130,00 and $169,000.

Journalism offers many opportunities across a broad range of salaries, depending on the medium.

Career paths with a strategic communications master’s

According to Butler University, typical jobs for students graduating from a master’s in strategic communications program include journalism, public relations, and marketing. Job titles include the following.

Public relation specialists

Public relations professionals manage media coverage for institutions and individuals (e.g., celebrities). They write press releases, contact media directly to solicit coverage, and advise clients on public communications. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), public relations specialists earn a median annual income of $62,810.

Fundraisers

Fundraisers organize events and campaigns to solicit donations for organizations. Because so much of the work involves communicating with potential donors, strategic communications is an excellent discipline for these professionals. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that fundraisers earn an average annual income of $59,610.

Public relations and fundraising managers

The Bureau of Labor Statistics groups these two management roles even though their functions vary significantly. Public relations managers oversee a client’s public image, managing crises and developing strategies to promote a positive message. Fundraising managers oversee fundraising campaigns, contact and cultivate potential major donors, and manage a staff of subordinates. They earn, on average, about $118,000 per year.

Advertising and promotions managers

Advertising and promotions managers oversee promotional campaigns, supervise website and social media design and strategy, manage budgets and staff, and develop plans to bolster their organization’s public profile. They earn an average annual income of $141,490.

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