Is today’s public relations curriculum evolving fast enough to keep up with the daily demands of the profession?
Each year, thousands of graduates from accredited PR programs enter the workforce. There’s nothing like on-the-job experience to teach the nuances and de riguer
tasks that go along with being a PR pro, but according to both PR educators and veterans, we could be doing a better job.
How do we fill the gaps to help newbies create a solid skill set? PR Daily
canvassed professionals who teach and/or work with today’s graduates for their opinion.
1. Critical thinking:
This is huge issue, according to educator and PR practitioner Lisa Brock, president of Brock Communications
in Tampa, Fla. “Students must learn how to problem-solve and think through a problem. I see it in my practice, my classroom and via colleagues who are continually saying, “Send me someone who can figure out how to Google before they run into my office asking how to address a mayor in writing.”
2. Social media courses:
Seems counterintuitive doesn’t it? Today’s students are probably the most attuned to the digital world, yet the fundamentals on how to work within the genre are in short supply.
“We need to include the teaching of the writing, content curation and management, and how to brand using content,” says Lisa Brock. “My students say they 'know' Facebook but they don’t know what data is behind the 'page.'”
Some schools have chosen to shore up this knowledge gap, thanks to industry digital communication pros such as Eden Spodek
, digital strategist and curriculum co-developer and instructor of the digital strategy and communications management certificate program at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies.
“The assumption that a recent grad who has grown up with the Internet automatically knows how to use digital and social media strategically in a business setting is false,” says Spodek.
“Likewise, the seasoned communications or PR professional who can develop a strategy may not have enough of a grasp on integrating new tactics and tools like content marketing and social media into her existing toolkit. By bringing students of all ages and stages together, they learn what it’s like in the trenches from instructors and guest lecturers with relevant industry experience. “
3. Measurement and accountability: Centennial College
in Toronto introduced this course last year in response to feedback from industry professionals. “We heard students weren’t getting enough instruction in basic evaluation, tracking and analyzing media coverage, and doing reports,” says Barry Waite, program coordinator for corporate communications and public relations at Centennial College.
The course curriculum includes the importance of PR measurement, the Barcelona Principles, MRP, measuring online engagement, conversions, and basic SEO. “It also stresses a focus on outcomes rather than output,” adds Waite. “Did the media coverage help change people's minds? Did the Twitter ad Facebook engagement sell any products?”
“Employers have told us the ability to collaborate in cross-functional teams is a key skill they're looking for,” says Barry Waite. “We have an expanded focus on collaboration inside and outside the school and continue to expand partnerships with external organizations for student assignments.”
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5. Planning 101:
Understanding how to create a plan with well-defined objectives and how to communicate them is of prime importance to Allen Davidov
, director of marketing and communications at St. John's Rehab Foundation at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.
“I’ve had many experiences where the objectives weren’t clearly communicated,” Davidov says, “and it created trouble throughout the project.”
Though this can’t be formally taught, it’s something new grads need to internalize.
“If you are talented, your colleagues and superiors will recognize that, and you'll advance,” says Matt Lacasse
, account manager at Kimber Media in Columbia, Mo. “Stop thinking that you have to have everything you've ever wanted in your career within the first five years. Work hard. Play nice with others. Be patient. You'll get your reward.”