Strategic Public Relations


Public Relations – sometimes called strategic communication – is among the fastest growing professions in America and probably the world. At USC Annenberg, we think of public relations as advocacy communication, meaning the use of communication skills and tools to advocate on behalf of any social cause, organization, entertainment property, candidate, or brand. Successful public relations professionals are creative, skilled strategists, counselors, managers and communicators. They know how to analyze problems, weigh options, develop solutions, advise senior management and implement programs that achieve organizational goals. The M.A. in Strategic Public Relations equips graduates with the conceptual and practical tools needed to be a leader in this dynamic field.


After spending the first year building a solid foundation in strategic thinking, writing, ethics, and highly applied research and analysis, in their second year, students customize the program by selecting from among a wide variety of specialized courses focusing on such specific areas of practice as entertainment, crisis management, politics, sports, content creation, social media, etc. In this way the program helps students to identify, and then pursue, the specific industry or specialization about which they are the most passionate.

Learning Objectives

Upon successful completion of the Strategic Public Relations program you should be able to:

  1. understand and apply the principles and laws of freedom of speech and press for the country;

  2. demonstrate an understanding of the history and role of professionals and institutions in shaping communications;

  3. demonstrate an understanding of gender, race ethnicity, sexual orientation and, as appropriate, other forms of diversity in domestic society in relation to mass communications;

  4. demonstrate an understanding of the diversity of peoples and cultures and of the significance and impact of mass communications in a global society;

  5. understand concepts and apply theories in the use and presentation of images and information;

  6. demonstrate an understanding of professional ethical principles and work ethically in pursuit of truth, accuracy, fairness and diversity;

  7. think critically, creatively and independently;

  8. conduct research and evaluate information by methods appropriate to the communications professions in which they work;

  9. write correctly and clearly in forms and styles appropriate for the communications professions, audiences and purposes they serve;

  10. critically evaluate their own work and that of others for accuracy and fairness, clarity, appropriate style and grammatical correctness;

  11. apply basic numerical and statistical concepts;

  12. apply tools and technologies appropriate for the communications professions in which they work, with emphasis on the ability to write in all public relations formats;

  13. demonstrate competency in the role of communications in organizational environments of all types.

The M.A. in Strategic Public Relations degree requires the completion of 40 units and is typically finished in less than two years (4 semesters). If you enroll in more courses each semester or enroll in summer session, you may easily complete the degree program in as little as 16-18 months.

During the first year, you will complete six compulsory courses including:

Fall term, 1st year:

  • JOUR 508 - Introduction to Strategic Public Relations (3 units)
  • JOUR 510 - Legal, Ethical and Social Foundations of Public Relations (3 units)
  • JOUR 535 - Writing for Strategic Public Relations (3 units)

Spring term, 1st year:

  • JOUR 504 - Public Relations Research, Evaluation and Insights (3 units) 
  • JOUR 527 - Multimedia Content Creation for Strategic Public Relations (3 units)
  • JOUR 599 - Business and Economic Foundations of Public Diplomacy (3 units)

In the summer after your first year, you have the option to participate in a unique international program through which you will live, intern and study in cities such as London, Shanghai, and Hong Kong.

Fall/Spring terms, 2nd year
You may choose from two distinct curricular paths:

  1. A wide range of elective courses within Annenberg or elsewhere at USC designed to give you agility as a PR generalists; OR
  2. A specific emphasis in either a PR practice area, such as sports/entertainment, civic engagement or lifestyle OR a particular skill area, such as data analytics or digital/interactive media.

In the spring term of the 2nd year, select students that have earned a 3.5 or better GPA in the degree program will compete for a spot in a Graduate Honors Seminar on Leadership Skills taught by Professor Fred Cook, CEO of Golin, one of the world's leading public relations agencies.

Finally, you will choose to complete either a thesis or comprehensive examination as capstone to your degree program.

  • If you choose to write a thesis, you must complete 18 units of approved elective course work.
  • If you choose the comprehensive examination, you must complete 22 units of approved elective coursework.


How to Apply

The M.A. in Strategic Public Relations degree program is competitive; admission is limited to the fall term. Successful applicants demonstrate through their application these admission criteria:

  • A passion for the practice of public relations
  • Strong writing abilities
  • Academic excellence evaluated by undergraduate academic performance and GRE scores
  • Very high English language proficiency

Before submitting an application, please carefully review:

Class Profile & Careers

The following are examples of recent career placements for some alumni of the M.A. Strategic Public Relations program:


Each year, the office of USC Annenberg Career Development performs a placement survey of all USC Annenberg graduates one year after graduation. Here’s a snapshot of where some of our recent graduates are working:

  • AIG Retirement Services, Public Relations Specialist
  • Atomic PR, Account Supervisor
  • Beverly Hills Conference and Visitors Bureau, Communications Manager
  • City of Hope Medical Center, Media Coordinator
  • Cohn & Wolfe, Account Executive
  • Disneyland Resort, Cast Communications
  • Fox Interactive Media, Media Analyst
  • General Motors, Communications
  • Israeli Consulate, Director of Media & Communications
  • Ketchum West, Research Associate
  • L/P/C Public Relations, Account Executive
  • Lieberman Research Worldwide, Research Associate
  • Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Marketing & Patron Services Associate
  • MySpace, Communication Coordinator
  • National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Southern California chapter, Sr. Development Manager
  • Ogilvy Public Relations, Senior Account Executive
  • Orchard Supply Hardware (OSH), Communications Manager
  • Price Grabber, Account Manager
  • S. Groner & Associates, Project Coordinator
  • Savi Technology, Corporate Communications Manager
  • Simple Human, Marketing & Communications
  • Southern California Center for Nonprofit Management, Education Coordinator
  • The Home Depot, Manager of Community Affairs/Executive Communications
  • Weber Shandwick, Senior Account Executive, Consumer Marketing
Industry-Leading Research

USC Annenberg is known as a highly prestigious leader in the practice of communication and public relations because of its biennial Generally Accepted Practices (GAP) Study which tracks trends and best practices in the field. Students are encouraged to become involved in this and other projects of the USC Annenberg Strategic Communication & Public Relations Center.


Below are some of the key faculty that teach in the Strategic Public Relations degree program:

 Kjerstin Thorson

Kjerstin Thorson
Assistant Professor, School of Journalism

Expertise: New Media, Public Relations and Social Media 

Photo of Professor Jenn Floto Jennifer Floto
Professor of Professional Practice in Public Relations, School of Journalism

Expertise: Branding, Marketing, Marketing Research, Organizational Communication, Public Relations
Burghardt Tenderich Burghardt Tenderich
Associate Professor of Professional Practice in Public Relations, School of Journalism; Associate Director of the Strategic Communication and Public Relations Center

Expertise: New Media, Marketing Research
Matthew Le Veque Matthew Le Veque
Associate Professor of Professional Practice in Public Relations, School of Journalism

Expertise: Public Relations