Answer: Strategic communication is a term used to describe the communication principles, strategies, and initiatives used to further an organization’s goals, mission, or values. It is a multidisciplinary professional field, drawing upon communication practices found in related disciplines, including public relations, mass communication, advertising, and organizational communication. Individuals with a bachelor’s and/or master’s degree in strategic communication might pursue employment in public relations, digital and online media, politics, corporate consulting, lobbying and social advocacy, government and nonprofit, healthcare, marketing and advertising research, or higher education, to name just a few possible career paths.

Strategic communication sits at the intersection of management strategy and communication, focused on the idea of purposeful messaging, whether between an organization and its employees or a nonprofit agency advocating for social issues. Its theories and practices help global marketing directors, public relations directors, corporate communication consultants, political operatives, chief branding officers, and other communication professionals plan, research, organize, and execute internal and external communication initiatives that align with their organization’s values or mission, anything from improving internal training materials to launching a digital campaign for voting rights. Strategic communication can be delivered in a wide range of mediums, including press releases, social media posts, radio and television advertisements, internal memos, interviews, white papers, and more.

Bachelor’s in Strategic Communication Programs

For undergraduate students who are interested in internal or external facing strategic communication, bachelor’s degree programs in strategic communication can give them the skills necessary to step into an impactful role post-graduation. Bachelor’s degrees in strategic communication typically cover essential theories of effective interpersonal, organizational, and mass communication, and how these theories apply to real industry objectives and challenges. This knowledge enables students to create persuasive content and effective communication plans for a variety of organizations. In addition, students of these programs learn how to conduct research to inform the design and evaluation of diverse communication campaigns.

Courses that students might find as part of a bachelor’s degree program in strategic communication include classes in communication research methods, persuasive rhetoric, digital media production, campaign development and evaluation, media law and ethics, digital storytelling, data analytics for writers, diversity and inclusion in media, intercultural communication, digital communication technologies, and organizational and group dynamics. Depending on the program, students might also be required to complete a capstone experience in the form of a professional project or a senior thesis.

For students interested in working in industry after graduating, a professional capstone project gives them the opportunity to apply what they have learned to the development of a strategic communication campaign or other relevant deliverable. For students who want to study strategic communication further at the graduate level, a senior thesis gives them the chance to investigate a research question pertaining to strategic communication, and to write about the results of their research.

As strategic communication encompasses so many fields, including interpersonal communication, organizational leadership, public relations, marketing, mass/media communication, social media, and political communication, students who wish to work in strategic communication should note that degree programs in the aforementioned sub-fields might also prepare them for their desired career path. For example, an individual who wishes to work in external-facing strategic communication might benefit from a bachelor’s degree in public relations or marketing, depending on where their specific interests lie. On the other hand, someone who is interested in optimizing strategic communication within a business or corporation might want to look at bachelor’s degrees in organizational communication or corporate communication.

Due to the fact that strategic communication can be used to define everything from public relations to corporate and political communication, students may find college majors that explicitly state their focus in strategic communication and a sub-area within the field. Examples of such majors include but are not limited to the following:

  • Bachelor of Arts in Public Relations and Strategic Communication
  • Bachelor of Arts in Political and Strategic Communication
  • Bachelor of Arts in Strategic Marketing Communication
  • Bachelor of Science in Strategic Corporate Communication
  • Bachelor of Science in Strategic Organizational Communication

Master’s in Strategic Communication Programs

Master’s in strategic communication programs cover advanced rhetorical theories and models of effective persuasive communication, and provide students with an expansive understanding of the analytical processes and strategic practices used to create persuasive content and build effective communication campaigns to fulfill a diversity of organizational objectives. These programs also explore how strategic communication functions across industries in an increasingly digitally connected world. Students develop competencies in storytelling and digital strategy, qualitative and quantitative research, campaign planning and evaluation, and persuasive writing across various media forms, preparing them to create effective messages that can be used in traditional (e.g., public relations and print media) or emerging communication channels (e.g., social media, podcasts, and digital media).

Strategic communication master’s programs often include courses that span the field of communication and its related disciplines, including communication law and ethics, corporate communications, strategic marketing, public relations, organizational strategy assessment, organizational leadership. public affairs, crisis communications, communication design, reputation management, branding, and more. While some master’s in strategic communication programs are explicitly intended for students who already work in communication and want to advance their career, others are designed for those looking to change careers and enter the field.

Typically, master’s in strategic communication programs culminate in a capstone experience that enables students to apply what they have learned to a concrete professional or research/academic deliverable. For professionally oriented students, the capstone might be a communication campaign for a private or public organization, a crisis communication plan, or a social and digital marketing roadmap. Students who want to research strategic communication at the doctoral level might wish to complete a master’s thesis that investigates a scholarly question around strategic communication and its social, cultural, and/or political implications.

Note: The majority of master’s programs in strategic communication offer a curriculum with a focus on applied skill development in writing, research and analysis, and integrated communications strategies, therefore, students of these programs generally complete professional projects rather than scholarly theses.

As strategic communication encompasses a wide range of sub-fields, including political communication, public relations, non-profit communication and social justice, integrated marketing communications, and corporate/organizational communication, students who are interested in working in a specific area of strategic communication may want to consider master’s programs explicitly focusing on one of the aforementioned areas, as these programs tend to also cover communication strategy within the context of students’ desired area of work. Additionally, due to the broad nature of strategic communication, students may find graduate programs in strategic communication that also focus on a sub-area, such as:

  • Master of Arts in Strategic Marketing Communication
  • Master of Arts in Intercultural and International Strategic Communication
  • Master of Science in Strategic Communication Management
  • Master of Arts in Public Relations and Strategic Communication
  • Master of Science in Integrated Communication with a Focus on Strategic Marketing and Public Relations
  • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication with a Focus on Advocacy and Social Justice

The master’s in strategic communication is distinct from the bachelor’s in strategic communication in that it tends to include courses on more advanced concepts and methods; moreover, as the master’s degree is devoted exclusively to the study of one topic in-depth, it provides students with the opportunity to delve deeply into the field of strategic communication, as well as any relevant sub-fields.

For additional information about strategic communication master’s programs, including sample curriculum plans and degree requirements, please refer to our Master’s in Strategic Communication Programs page.

Careers in Strategic Communication

A degree in strategic communication can open employment opportunities across a spectrum of industries, including public relations, politics and political research, public policy and legislative affairs, higher education, mass media, marketing, financial services, entertainment, government, healthcare, and more. Professionals with an educational background in strategic communication might pursue careers with public relations agencies, corporate communication organizations, political consulting and campaign firms, pharmaceutical companies, nonprofit organizations, multimedia and web publishers, global marketing agencies, or other organizations and groups requiring strategic communication services.

Effective communication, including both internal and external communication processes, is critical in business across the private and public sectors. Individuals with knowledge of rhetorical theories, human behavior, and strategic communication techniques are central to helping organizations, agencies, and businesses improve their internal communication structures, maintain positive relationships with clients and consumers, develop integrated marketing campaigns, organize efficient public advocacy initiatives, and create enriched employee training materials. Below are several career paths graduates with a bachelor’s and/or master’s in strategic communication might consider:

  • Corporate Communication Consultant: Corporate communication consultants assist companies in improving their internal communication practices, and typically help with areas such as employee training, leadership development, human resources, and team-building. Working with senior leadership, corporate communication consultants bring clarity to a company’s long-term mission, along with creating clearer, more effective channels of communication between employer and employee.
  • Social Issues Advocate: Social advocates work for or with non-profit and political organizations to craft communications, often to engage local, state, and national legislators or garner support for legislation or policy changes. Some of their responsibilities might include creating comprehensive media campaigns or promotional materials, building relationships on social media, or generating awareness through local print publications.
  • Marketing Director: Marketing directors manage the external-facing communications and branding for organizations, businesses, government agencies, nonprofit groups, universities, and other entities. They develop multi-faceted marketing campaigns, manage junior marketing staff, protect the organization’s brand identity, and engage in other strategic practices to promote the company’s product and drive consumer awareness.
  • Public Relations Director: Public relations directors are responsible for an organization or company’s public and private reputation, including its relationship with consumers, the general public, stakeholders, and potential investors. Some of their duties include crafting strategic public relations campaigns, handling day-to-day external communications and relationships with the press, managing social media platforms, organizing speaking engagements and interviews for senior leadership, and promoting organizational events.
  • Political Strategist: Campaign strategists leverage their knowledge of domestic and international politics and communication techniques to plan, organize, execute, and evaluate political campaigns for candidates at the local, state, and national levels. They may write speeches, manage public relations issues, create digital marketing campaigns to reach voters, implement public sentiment surveys, or craft campaign messaging to further the candidate’s reach within their voting region.

Note: Strategic communication is a broad and multidisciplinary field that intersects with marketing, public relations, political advocacy and social justice, organizational communication, medical and health education, and even environmental advocacy. Due to the broad and diverse nature of strategic communication and its applications, individuals who study strategic communication at the undergraduate and/or graduate level(s) may qualify for a number of different professional positions, depending on the classes they have taken, their portfolio, their demonstrated knowledge, and their years of professional experience. Likewise, employers’ expectations for applicants to particular strategic communication roles will vary based on the nature of the position and the employer’s mission statement, among other factors. In addition, while some employers may require or prefer a master’s degree for mid-level or managerial positions, other employers may only require a bachelor’s degree in strategic communication or a related area, along with adequate professional experience.

Due to the variance in expectations for candidates applying to strategic communication jobs, applicants should always thoroughly research their desired places of employment, as well as the specific roles to which they are applying, in order to prepare for the expectations of the job. Finally, while a master’s degree may not be formally required for certain strategic communication roles, positions that involve advanced research or higher education pedagogy will often require applicants to hold at least a master’s degree (with some positions requiring a doctorate in communication or a related field).