Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Trouble with PR Undergraduate Programs

I used to loathe hiring newly-minted PR undergraduates. They had been under-served by their expensive educations, focused on old-fashioned PR concepts and tactics. Most simply had to be re-trained to fit the agency workstyle: it could take more effort to re-educate PR grads than to hire raw recruits off the street!

I've gotten over my trepidation about hiring PR degree-holders, but not my concerns about the state of PR undergraduate programs.

I recently asked SHIFT staffers: If you got a degree in PR, what do you wish they had taught you that was not taught at school? If you had to hire someone with a PR degree, what do you wish they knew before their start-date?

Keep in mind that most of our staff is culled from the finest communications schools in Boston and the Bay Area. The answers were revealing.

  • "I wish someone had taught us how to use basic PR database tools like Bacons, MediaMap, Lexis-Nexis, etc."
  • "I wish I'd been taught how to deal with clients. No one talked to me about how professional I would need to be, on the phone, in email, in meetings, etc. I wish someone had even told me how to dress for a client meeting!"
  • "I wish that we had had a chance to interact with a handful of real-world journalists to get a sense of how they like to be pitched."
  • "No one at school ever talked about the rise of PR 2.0 stuff like blogs, wikis, RSS & podcasts."
  • "I wish someone had taught us that there is more to 'PR writing' than press releases and PR plans that never went beyond the professor's in-box; I wish I had been required to write award submissions and speaker abstracts and pitches and even blog posts!"

Perhaps the best response came from a rising star at SHIFT who's in a graduate program at Boston University:

"I teach a class of undergrads. Most of them have no idea how to craft a pitch or write a press release though they can recite every work of Bernays’ biography. Interestingly, PR majors at BU are required to take media relations and learn how to best work with journalists (which, of course, I agree with). However, journalism majors are not required to take any PR-related courses to learn the flip side of the industry. This sends the message from the get-go that PR folks are a nuisance and there is no need to learn what value PR can provide. BU has the oldest PR program in the nation and if this institution can’t change things, then how will PR and journalism ever be seen as a happy marriage rather than a stalker-boyfriend relationship?"

Next post: ideas on how-to fix some of the problems in the PR undergraduate curriculum.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Ike said...

Todd, the mindset from the journalism end is that "we're doing the PR guy's job for him," or "we're doing her a favor."

At NO POINT in the journalism program ANYWHERE do they talk about relationships, or building contacts. Other than "you'll get to know some people" there is nothing.

The culture in the newsroom only lends itself to thanking a PR guy when you've bailed them out of a slow news day. And tomorrow, you are forgotten again.

Journalism in the Ivory Tower is too wrapped up in its idealism to admit that it "needs" the help of PR practitioners.

Just an honest assessment from someone whose painted both sides of that fence.

April 26, 2006  
Anonymous Paull Young said...

I think there are some great points above.

I was lucky that the PR school I went through (CSU in Bathurst, Australia) had a heavy focus on teaching us the professional skills we'd need for our first job.

This, alongside doing as much work experience as possible, normally skills you up sufficiently to hit the ground running in the workforce.

The other key factor (and one I didn't follow at uni - being a newbie to the blogosphere and all) is to get involved in the PR blog conversation.

Young PR's have never had such amazing access to the knowledge held by seniors in the industry. Not only can we read more, we can actually engage senior industry folk in conversation.

April 26, 2006  
Blogger Michael Morton said...

I agree with the point about writing. In class, I received excellent grades for my submissions. When I entered the workforce, I was shocked when my boss told me that I needed to improve my writing skills.

April 26, 2006  
Blogger Jameson said...

Both my Undergraduate and Graduate PR programs were great (Quinnipiac University and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications respectively). They have firm grasps of PR history, teach journalism very well, and keep up on all the trends in the industry. The biggest part of each of the programs was that they insisted on completing an internship in the field before graduation, where I was able to learn all about Bacon’s and Lexis Nexis, and how to deal with bosses and clients. Sure, we could have talked about how to do it in class, but actually jumping in and learning by doing was far more beneficial.

I definitely agree that the emerging technology aspect of PR and PR 2.0 is missing from PR curricula to a point where it is almost laughable. It is something that many students like myself have had to take the initiative, and learn about themselves through checking out blogs and podcasts and everything else there is out there about how web 2.0 is changing the way PR is being practiced.

April 28, 2006  
Blogger Jameson said...

Both my Undergraduate and Graduate PR programs were great (Quinnipiac University and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications respectively). They have firm grasps of PR history, teach journalism very well, and keep up on all the trends in the industry. The biggest part of each of the programs was that they insisted on completing an internship in the field before graduation, where I was able to learn all about Bacon’s and Lexis Nexis, and how to deal with bosses and clients. Sure, we could have talked about how to do it in class, but actually jumping in and learning by doing was far more beneficial.

I definitely agree that the emerging technology aspect of PR and PR 2.0 is missing from PR curricula to a point where it is almost laughable. It is something that many students like myself have had to take the initiative, and learn about themselves through checking out blogs and podcasts and everything else there is out there about how web 2.0 is changing the way PR is being practiced.

April 28, 2006  

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