Why PR Students Need to Read Case Studies (and How to Get the Most Out of Them)

PRSA Silver Anvil awards
PRSA Silver Anvil awards

Growing up, I loved to read. I would read anything I could get my hands on, including the cereal box during breakfast. I still love reading, but sometimes I struggle to get through assigned readings for classes.

This was the case in the Public Relations Management class I took last quarter. With more than 20 case studies listed on our 10-week syllabus, I inwardly groaned. Professors  told me case studies were the best way to see theory put into practice, a way to learn from companies’ previous mistakes, and while I theoretically knew this, I was still unconvinced.

As I worked my way through the studies, something unexpected happened—I started to enjoy reading them. Here’s what I realized: knowledge that you gain reading case studies builds on itself.

Yes, the reasons my professors gave me were correct, but I didn’t truly understand until I was actually reading them. The more knowledge I had, the more I was able to compare and contrast between cases. As I worked through the cases, I realized there are a few things that helped me get the most out of them.

1. Don’t save your questions for the end.

Sometimes while I was reading, I would think of a question right away, and would end up doing a bit of background research on the topic or company. This helped me to better understand the situation I was reading about.

2. Ask yourself: What would I do?

When I would read the situation summary, I would ask myself what I would do if I were the public relations professional in that situation. There were a few times when my instincts were right on, which were exciting moments of validation in my public relations education. If my instincts weren’t the same, I took it as a learning opportunity. The more I read, the more my instincts were correct. (See a theme here?)

3. Get another perspective.

One of my favorite things to do after reading a good case study was to bring it up to my non-public relations friends (yes, I have those), because they often had a much different perspective on the case than people who are in the public relations industry.

For example, I go to a university known for its engineering program, so when I was looking at an engineering disaster case study, I asked some engineers what they thought of the company’s response. They usually had more insight into the situation than I did, and therefore a different view.

Since the PRSA Silver Anvils were announced recently, I’ve spent some time perusing them and it’s no wonder these cases were recognized—they’re fantastic. There’s a lot to learn from these award winners, so take a look at them—you won’t be sorry.


What are your thoughts on case studies? Do you have any tips to add?

Carly Owens is a senior at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, studying communication with an emphasis in public relations. She loves the art of storytelling, and looks forward to a career based around that. In her spare time, she enjoys trips to Disneyland and almost anything creative. Connect with her on LinkedIn, or follow her on Twitter @magicalcarly.


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