Mix and Match: What Do I Know about My Sister Majors?

At the COMmunicator, we focus on what is happening in COM’s public relations, advertising, and mass communication programs. How does public relations differ from advertising and how do they differ from mass communication? Is not mass communication the trunk of a tree from which these two branches, which seem to be the same but in reality completely different, elongate? A couple of vital questions to ponder for any communication student.

While there is certain level of interrelation between each major, differences exist in the functional level. How do we think of each other’s major? The COMmunicator set out to explore the opinions of BU COM students on majors that differ from their own program of study.

Public Relations: From Persuasion to Perception

For Tian’en Chen, a senior majoring in advertising, public relations and advertising are to some extent connected, as both of them aim to persuade target audiences. “Students in both Advertising and Public Relations are learning how to assist clients to reach the target audiences and persuade them to do something.”

Gigi Kv, a second-year graduate student in the advertising program, thinks that Public Relations goes beyond persuasion to relationship building. “I think Public Relations has a lot to do with building good relationship with all the parties that involve around a company. For example, media people, customers, and stakeholders.”

For sure, Public Relations is not just for businesses. “I know there are two tracks in the PR major, non-profit and corporate,” said Harshitha Ashok, a second-year graduate student in communication studies, “I think PR, the practice of spreading information about an organization to its publics. It can be internal or external.” Ashok took the Contemporary Public Relations with Dr. Edward Downes as one of her elective courses.

So what’s the ultimate goal of public relations? According to second-year public relations graduate student Muyang Lin, “What I learned from both classrooms and internships is that PR is about managing people’s perception; in other words, it’s about changing people’s mind about an organization’s service or product.”

Advertising: More Than Being Creative

Lin always admires the creative side of advertising. “The major thing comes to my mind regarding the difference between PR and advertising is that the latter one focuses more on the creative end, such as graphic design and video editing.”

Still, advertising as a major can highlight much more than creativity. According to Ashok, “I think advertising is a blend of creative work along with research that involves a lot of data. I know from my friends in the advertising program that students have the option to choose the creative track or management/planning.”

Students from sister majors recognize the variety of courses that students in advertising take. “I understand that advertising students have a greater variety of courses offered.” said Sharon McDermott, a senior majoring in Public Relations. Especially, the M.S. in Advertising program requires a total of 52 credits to finish in three semesters, where students truly dive into diverse classes and capstone practices.

As an advertising major, Chen stresses the call-to-action side of advertising. “Advertising is about how to maximize the message efficiency by exploring the message design, the channels on which the messages are disseminated, and factors that might influence the message. The ultimate goal is persuading the target audience to perform the desired behavior.”

Mass Communication: Research-heavy? Also More Flexibility

“For me, Mass Communication is more about research and theories, part of which will generate implications for campaign designers, marketers, and advertisers” says Chen. . Lin points out that mass communication “has a lot to do with content & data analysis.”

Chen and Lin’s thoughts are endorsed by Alicia Hong, a second-year graduate student in market communication research and an analyst-to-be at Amazon. “My major involves a lot of analytical applications and research knowledge,” says Hong, “but it’s a more general major where students really need a specific, personalized goal and shape their own development as they would like.” Hong especially recommends Dr. Michael Elasmar‘s classes, where she can “take customer perspectives and unravel the subtle psychological implications.”

“I understand that the communication studies major students are able to take courses from advertising and public relations to fulfill their degree requirements.” said McDermott. Students in the mass communication program at both undergraduate and graduate level own more flexibility to choose among a broad range of courses in and out of COM to form their unique focus by acquiring not only research skills but also industry practices.

Communications: Three majors blend to brew the perfect cocktail

So, here is what we get from our students in public relations, advertising, and mass communication programs. Perception and relationship management is the key perspective for public relations students to master. The creativity, research-based account planning, and the call-to-action result generated from the former two, are recognized as the essence of advertising major. As for mass communication major, it can serve as the root for public relations and advertising to prosper, but it also involves uniqueness- students seek to explore the truth about communication itself through customized ways.

While mass communication, public relations, and advertising are three diverse tracks that often hold in hands, students master their own focuses while getting to know each other’s. As the world of communication keeps evolving and merging, students with different majors strive to picture the diversity of contemporary communication together.


Jessie Zhang, Staff Writer

Jessie is a second-year grad student in PR and an aspiring PR and marketing professional. PR agency life is her energizer, and writing is her bittersweet lover. Jessie is a full-time cat lover, a part-time concert goer, and a lifelong wonderer. www.jessiejxzhang.com.

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