Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Fixing PR Undergrad Programs

Some ideas to fix PR undergrad programs? Sure, I got a few.

#1 - Wouldn't it be great if PR newbies were versed in the basic PR tools used in real-world work environments, before they graduated from college?

How about if PR industry vendors such as MediaMap, Bacons, et al., provided free site licenses to the top 20 communications schools?

---Ever hear of the "seed & weed" concept? ---By providing their services for free to future PR pros ("seeding the ground"), these vendors can build a fanbase among tomorrow's PR decision-makers (and their resulting business would "grow like a weed").

Failing that idea, how about if a coalition of PR agencies and/or corporate sponsors pooled funds to provide these site licenses to the school(s) of their choice?

---Doing so would provide high visibility of these firms' brands to tomorrow's employees.

#2 - Wouldn't it be great if new PR graduates were on the cutting edge of technology innovations impacting the mediasphere?

---Colleges are supposed to be the training ground for our future leaders in all fields; the place where the cutting-edge is honed... so why do most college comms programs focus on press releases (dying!?) and PR plans? When was the last time anyone asked a new college grad to draft a strategic PR plan, anyway? I'd rather that THEY are to equipped to teach ME about cool new ideas like, how Search Engine Optimization, wikis and RSS might impact the PR realm.

#3 - Wouldn't it be great if new PR graduates had been taught "Business Etiquette 101" before graduation?

---Yes, Mom & Dad should have done this, but shouldn't the university take some responsibility for ensuring that its graduates are prepared to manuever the world of work? Why am I the one telling the greenhorns that they can't wear ripped jeans to client meetings?

#4 - PR people interact with journalists every day. Wouldn't it be great if the college's PR majors were tasked with pitching the college's journalism majors? And, why wouldn't Corporate America be willing to pay them to do so?

---Future PR pros could be pitching ideas based on the products and services of corporate sponsors, who would pay the college's PR dept. as they would pay an agency (at a discounted rate) for the chance of getting some ink in student-run newspapers/websites. After all, this is a primo audience for most consumer brands.

The PR students would not only be developing plans and pitches that would be vetted by paying clients; they would subsequently be tasked as well with reporting back on their program results to both professors and clients --- just as they would in the "real-world."

Education purists might fret about injecting corporate moneys into the curriculum, but the PR curriculum is commercial by nature --- it is tradecraft, not Liberal Arts. The agencies and companies that want to hire these grads would love to know that their prospective hires had some quasi-"real world" experiences.

#5 - Wouldn't it be great if PR grads had some training in the Business of PR?

---Today they often know nothing about retainers vs. time&materials models; congomerate vs. independent workstyles; the business cycle; international coordination issues; P&L statements; etc. As an agency principal, I'd like to rely on the university system to teach some of these basic agency fundamentals. Don't just teach the kids how to "do PR" but also how the PR business works. (Remember, kids, learning "math" never killed anyone.)

Why should we care about the state of America's PR undergraduate programs?

Back in the Boom Times, the industry paid top-dollar to a lot of overweening kids who expected world-beater career paths. Now that flush times seem to be dawning, the PR pros of the future are again graduating into in an ever-more competitive talent crunch. As an industry, PR should ensure that this time around, we get our money's worth!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Todd

I would have to agree with all your points. Even though I went to Humber College in Canada, I still felt the pintch of not knowing the business side of PR. However, I do have one question for you.

Do you really think you could get PR agencies and/or corporate sponsors to pool funds and pay for the licenses? When companies give money to anything, it's about getting their name out there and having their name on the building. I agree that this effort would benefit all the stakeholders involved, but I could see it being a hard sell.

April 26, 2006  
Blogger Michael Morton said...

I am in absolute agreement with you regarding your point on the need to know the business of PR.

At my university, the PR department is an off-shoot of the Journalism department. Our classes focused primarily on writing and research. Hardly any attention is given to the business side of the industry.

After graduation and getting a full-time job I realized that I needed to be more the business process. Now, as a PR graduate student, I have vowed to take more business classes such as marketing, accounting and management courses. I strongly recommend every PR student to do the same.

April 26, 2006  
Blogger PR-Guy said...

Duane, I absolutely think that agencies might go for this idea, especially if they got some credit for it... Remember that we are facing a talent crunch in PR now, so branding at this impressionable age among our future employees is a good idea, and an even BETTER one if our largesse is put towards making these future employees more productive on Day One!

April 26, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I welcome this discussion, and only feel mildly discomforted by it (I'm a PR lecturer in the UK, teaching within a business faculty).

We certainly strive for a close relationship between the university and industry, and can for example praise the support we've been given by Romeike, the company behind Mediadisk, a media database and contact management system.

Agreed: our students should be businesslike and have practical skills.

So do I disagree with you on anything? Only on your assumption that PR consultancy work is the default, whereas the data and the evidence of our graduates suggests that in-house PR roles are now more common. At higher levels it's even more pronounced in the UK: 82% in-house, only 18% in consultancy, agency or freelancing according to a recent study.

Commercial PR skills, certainly. But we also have to develop people with in-house PR management potential capable of working in the private, public or not-for-profit sectors.

April 26, 2006  
Blogger PR-Guy said...

Richard, thanks for the comments. I did think about the fact that I was primarily writing about Agency employment... but #1, that's my biz, and this is my blog; it's what I know.

More importantly, as you probably know The Economist recently suggested a high growth curve for the PR business, so I suspect that your #s may change over time, to favor agencies moreso than they do now. (Frankly I find today's graduates more inclined to an agency workstyle than to the more rigid workplace suggested by in-house employment.)

Lastly, even if the majority of grads go in-house, it is likely that in those roles they'll participate in the decision-making if/when PR agencies are hired. I'd rather these prospective customers had a better feel for the relative differences between agencies, etc. (That's a nit, though, I admit it!)

I really appreciate the comments and hope this is a dialogue that continues.

April 26, 2006  
Blogger hh said...

hi Todd
Right said. The same goes for Indian PR schools as well.

May 10, 2006  
Blogger hh said...

hi Todd.
Right said. The same goes for Indian PR schools as well.

May 10, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like others who have posted comments, I too agree with your six ideas. Maybe I am inexperienced and naive, but why can’t they 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. I’m not simply referring to networking, but more to a complex understanding of this multi-faceted profession. From the posts I’ve read on other blogs, education doesn’t seem to improve in masters programs either.
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? Why is it acceptable that schools prostitute themselves within local communities and in sports to advertise and raise money, but for academic improvement it’s inappropriate? I would personally rather have the experience of working and negotiating with my peers than learn about the ten steps toward an effective mission statement any day.

June 04, 2006  

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