OK — admittedly, there is a repressed nerd lurking within.
I spent a really invigorating hour today with 6 young ladies who are majoring in PR at the USF School of Mass Communication. For their Advanced PR class, they had to conduct research and prepare a strategic communication plan for the USF College of Arts School of Music, and I was there as a visiting practitioner to give my two cents on their plan.
I think I’ve done this three times now, and I love it every time — especially when I am just there to give input and help with ideas without being the one to have to actually grade the assignment. In fact, I am getting ready to go on our annual trip to Sanibel Island with the family, and I was just telling my colleague how I used to have to schlep along a bunch of project notebooks, final writing projects, and all sorts of grading that really made sitting on the beach difficult. I often wondered what the students thought when their assignments came back gritty and smelling like Hawaiian Tropic.
But anyhow, a few interesting things came out of my time with these gals. First, I was struck by the prevalence of social media recommendations in the tactical section of their plan. It’s right on target, in my opinion, to include Twitter, FaceBook and blogging as communication tools — but what got me was the fact that four years ago these elements were nowhere to be found in student communication plans. Girls, you’re on the right track.
When we first sat down, I went on just a wee bit about Heidelberg PR and my past experience so they could have some perspective and use the knowledge in the future if I can help them out somehow. Then I asked them to tell me a little about themselves. And get this — out of six PR majors, only one of them seemed to have a strong interest in working in the field after graduation!! Hmm … is this a new reality? A developing trend? Or just coincidence?
PR might be the fall-back field for a future physical therapist, an event planner, a comedian, and three undecided gals who already have full-time college-type jobs. And the thing is, from my limited impression, they could all probably be great practitioners.
I am very curious about this. Is something happening to erode our field at the entry-level, or is it just a reality of our economy right now? Are there “no jobs” or are today’s students finding no value in their degree? Are they in the major because they thought it would be an easy way to simply earn any old degree so they can move on to other things?
Another sign of the times … the grad program no longer offers a “public relations” track. It’s now called “Strategic Communication.” This change happened awhile ago, so I’m told, and I’m not opposed the name because it is fitting to the higher levels of our practice. But some would argue that we must protect the body of knowledge called “public relations,” and they worry about the “encroachment” of other fields into the PR arena. The whole concept of integrated marketing communications threw a shockwave through many academic purists, but if you want to be relevant as an educational program, you have to at least acknowledge what is happening in the workplace.
Anyone who thinks a coordinated, wholistic communications plan is a bad idea is not living in reality. Yes, there are different elements and approaches to communications, but there are different sections in an orchestra too — and the power of combined, overlayed or staggered communications all containing the same message points is undeniable. This is strategic communications, but PR and marketing each operating in a vacuum is definitely NOT.
Of course the concern is that marketing will consume PR out in the “real world,” and that’s probably a valid concern simply because marketing departments tend to be bigger and they, in theory, are tied directly to the bottom line company results which gives the illusion of more influence and importance. Consequently, they get bigger budgets to play with. Afterall, why does PR need any money when what they do is “free?” Yes … the debate goes on, and trust me, obtaining earned media coverage is really the only “free” thing about practicing public relations if you are doing it right.
The PR body of theory, though, will advocate for the opposite results. If any discipline is going to dominate, marketing should yield to PR since PR’s concerns encompass all audiences and marketing really only concerns itself with one audience — the customer. How about you guys come over here and play in our sandbox for a while — and bring your budget while you’re at it!
Unfortunately, in the end, valuable things like relationship building, environmental scanning and issues management are hard to measure, so it’s much easier for the rest of the professional working world to simply measure PR success on something they understand — media coverage. What a shame, what a shame … but I digress.
Thank you, Dr. Kelly Werder, for inviting me to assist you this morning, and good luck to all of your students as they approach the end of their PR studies.