Monday, June 05, 2006

"Ya Say Ya Wanna Revolution?"

This recent question by a PR student named "Lindsey" was too wrenching to let fester in the Comments section of a months-old post about "Fixing PR Undergrad Programs." The topic seems relevant all-over-again, with the increased industry-wide interest in "PR 2.o" themes. (Lindsey's comment has been edited for length):
"Maybe I am inexperienced and naive, but why can’t (your ideas) be implemented? As an undergrad majoring in PR, I am completely terrified that while the school’s reputation might add some attractiveness to my resume, my real-world skills will be terribly lacking. Internships only tend to reinforce the concepts that PR intro classes teach (like how to write a press release), but they fall short in terms of providing a meaningful connection with the professional world as a whole.

"So I’m stumped. If I can’t receive much significant in the way of actual, workable knowledge in undergrad, grad school, or internships, then it follows that the people providing the jobs should help cultivate me.

"If the PR firms and departments are dissatisfied with the pseudo-educated graduates flocking in for interviews, why don’t they have a right to work closely with colleges and universities? Why is this such a utopian idea, Todd?"
Wow. (Umm, Lindsay - call me 1st, upon graduation! Your thoughtfulness and sincerity light up your comment.)

To address the core question: "Why don't PR firms work closely with universities to ensure that their graduates are up-to-speed on both core skillsets and forward-looking social media concepts?" --- I think it's a combination of factors:
  • PR pros at-work in the industry are too dang busy to give the educators any assistance.
  • PR educators --- in the past, anyway --- were happy to ensconce themselves in the "ivory tower." They did not bother to reach out to agency employers.
  • It was easy for both educator and employer to ignore one another because it was "good enough" for agencies to get raw recruits who had at least demonstrated a legitimate commitment to the trade.
It's starting to change, though. I was encouraged when Boston University's Professor Edward Downes, of the prestigious College of Communication, started to teach our Social Media Press Release to his students. I am encouraged by Auburn University's Forward blog and by the work of Robert French, also at Auburn, who plans to "have (his) students create samples (of a Social Media release) in a wiki over the coming weeks."

Mostly, I am encouraged by y-o-u, Lindsey. You give a shit. That counts for something. And in all likelihood, the "MySpace Generation" needn't worry much about "grokking" the Social Media phenomenon --- YOU will push US (both employers & educators).

This is how revolutions are born --- through the student population.


Blogger Mike Sacks said...

As a young guy who will have completed a PR master's degree by the end of this month, and has worked at several agencies big and small, I agree with your criticisms and would go so far as to say PR education universally sucks.

The reasons are too numerous to list here. But I also feel that not enough agencies and other organizations are investing in their people, especially the young ones like myself. In my experiences, I've been expected to know everything and have been given little margins for error.

The gap between academia and real life needs to be closed from both sides. Educators need to step their game up to provide as much practicality as they do theory, and employers need to step back and do a little mentoring as well as providing an environment where young pros can feel more comfortable learning from mistakes.

June 06, 2006  
Blogger PR Minority said...

There is no better experience for a public relations education than hands-on experience. I can’t even compare what majoring in public relations would be like since I wasn’t a PR major and had no intention of entering the PR world.

But in the end I don’t think it matters what you learn in school, it’s the desire and your dedication that will take you far. Sure some schools make you create a PR campaign….write a release, identify targets, practice pitching…etc. But there is no rush better than being handed a pitch and told to call up the San Francisco Chronicle, BusinessWeek, or the Wall Street Journal and securing that briefing or having it turn into Ink.

On the other hand, having your ass handed to you because you weren’t prepared is a painful but a great lesson learned in the long run. Once you have your ass handed to you, you’re almost better off because you will learn quickly how to be best prepared in a hurry. Plus you will have plenty of opportunities.

The next thing a PR major will never see are the challenges…the indecisiveness of clients, a revolving door in the marketing department, an elusive marketing contact or a client who is a total prick...just to name a few.

The best PR education you can get is interning at a small boutique firm. Large agencies may be prestigious but you will be just an intern – making copies, sitting in on briefings and getting lunch. At least that is the stereotype. Smaller firms are more likely to give you the hands-on experience to pitch real reporters, draft a release for a client and interact with clients…even when unpaid, an internship will be the best learning experience that will make your resume look attractive and desirable to employers. My advice to you is to start early in your internship search...even as a freshman, learn all about the industries you may think you will want to work in, be aggressive and start networking…that includes your professors.

June 07, 2006  

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