How I Applied My MS in Communications Knowledge to my Communications Career


Alvin McCray, Student & Alumni

As an advertising account manager with nearly two decades of agency experience, acquiring a graduate degree in communication was far from my list of to-do’s. What else was there for me to learn except maybe new media perspectives from influential thought leaders in the field of marketing communication? Besides, living in Manhattan left little time for anything other than work and a few happy hours with friends. And I should also mention that being married with a new baby certainly dissuaded any interest in going back to school. Sadly, I envisioned a long life filled with taking client feedback in the back of taxi cabs. But, before our son’s first birthday, my life would change. My spouse was offered an amazing opportunity in Cleveland, Ohio. So, it wasn’t long before we uprooted the roost and headed west.

Departing from the big city for the quieter streets of the Land, and with plenty of “me time” on my hands (stay-at-home dad), I stumbled upon the notion to see what a graduate degree in communication might offer. After two weeks of serious soul searching, I applied to the Brian Lamb School of Communication unsure of where the road ahead would take me. When I look back, the decision was one of the best I’ve ever made. In building relationships with local organizations in Cleveland that welcomed my expertise, I was able to apply the course theories and principles of strategic communication someone with my years of experience either took for granted or simply forgot. Refocusing on the field of communication from an academia perspective was important for two reasons: a) Theoretically, without their science roots, advertising and public relations lose their conceptual meaning and b) academia focuses on the fundamental process of communication particularly at a time when advertising, for example, is more concerned with marketing than with marketing communications (Hallahan et al., 2007).

I have spent the past ten months in the online MS in Communications degree program and have gained a wealth of knowledge that has revitalized my passion for delivering strategic direction to my clients. Here are some perspectives on the classes that I’ve taken:

Strategic Communication: The readings and case studies reaffirm that in order to develop an effective messaging strategy, communication objectives need to be established first. As I set objectives for my client in the health and wellness segment, I’m reminded to first identify the target audience, understand the behavior of the target audience when it comes to fitness and food choices, and then determine how I want to position the brand in market.  

Ethics in Public Relations: This course is a must for anyone in the profession of public relations. The practice of public relations presents unique and challenging ethical issues. This course identifies ethical principles of responsible advocacy, and it increases understanding of the fundamental marketplace principles – providing access to information, truth, and disclosure of information needed for sound decision making. When developing communication campaign strategies for health and wellness programs, I’m now forced to ask if the message has the potential to offend anyone, as in “fat shaming” when addressing weight loss objectives, or if the campaign messages present unrealistic or unattainable goals for its intended audience.

Crisis Communication: Undoubtedly, every communication practitioner will face a crisis situation that will require a timely, strategic response to the public. Whether the crisis is a natural disaster or involves a product recall, the crisis communication course presented theories in issues management that is both practical and applicable should my clients face any unforeseen event.

Global Public Relations: As the world becomes increasingly globalized, and brands expand into multinational companies, the goal of the public relations manager is to uncover and align value systems from the brand’s global publics that determine shared themes for the creation of relevant content. The global public relations course provided a world map to navigating through various cultures. It also underscored each country’s socioeconomic environment and how these values inform the decision-making process. This strategic insight will help catapult the brands I manage from local legends to global giants.

Communication Research: What started as a head scratcher in trying to make sense of descriptive statistics and research methods, this course in communication research uncovered a passion for analytics that I never knew I had. Utilizing survey designs, qualitative and quantitative analyses, this course was the behind-the-scenes of market research that I’ve only topline reported in my career. Approaching research from the perspective of an analyst rather than an advertising account manager, I can now identify the key elements that construct a research study, and analyze and interpret the results much more efficiently.

It is quite clear the Master of Science in Communication program at Purdue University has broadened my knowledge in strategic communication by elevating my critical thinking and enhancing my writing skills which has empowered me to be more efficient and effective for my clients.

Hallahan, K., Holtzhausen, D., Van Ruler, B., Verčič, D., & Sriramesh, K. (2007). Defining Strategic Communication. International Journal of Strategic Communication, 1(1), 3-35. Retrieved from

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Alvin McCray is a student in Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.

*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.