School of Thought: 3 Pros on the State of PR Education

September 29, 2015

[ikon images/corbis]
[ikon images/corbis]

Tactics spoke to three professionals about teaching today’s PR students, what’s top of mind at universities and among their peers, and some trends they’re seeing with social media. These professors, advisers and volunteer leaders also share challenges they face and how to best prepare students for the future.

Hilary Fussell Sisco, Ph.D., associate professor of strategic communication at Quinnipiac University, and chair-elect of the PRSA Educator’s Academy

How do you keep up with the changing face of technology and decide what to teach your students?

The best way to keep up with changing technology is to be an active user. I am regularly checking in on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram for new trends and changes. My students are on the cutting edge of new technologies, especially those that have a social component. I try to talk with them about what they are using and incorporate those applications or platforms into the courses, if I can. It’s sometimes best for me to be the student and the teacher.

How are you incorporating social media into the classroom?

Communication makes the classroom successful. Twitter, Facebook or educational apps like Pi help me increase the flow of communication so I know what questions are being asked and what information I need to prepare for the classroom.

What is most important for students to learn right now and what tools do they need to be fluent in, in order to succeed?

The most important thing that students need to learn is to be open to adapt. Technology is going to be constantly evolving and changing throughout their careers. The foundational skills of writing, research and planning will easily transfer to any platform. They just need to stay current in the opportunities that technology can provide for them personally and for their work.

What’s top of mind in higher education right now among your peers and other academics? What are some challenges?

As much as technology increases the connection with others, there is a line between work and home, and sometimes technology can blur that line. The aim is to use technology to enhance the educational experience while maintaining a work-life fit that keeps you sane and successful.


Gloria Barone Rosanio, APR, director of corporate communications at Cigna, and professional adviser for the PRSSA Chapter at Rowan University

How do you keep up with the changing face of technology and decide what to teach your students?

While the profession is constantly changing and we need to have the latest tools, it’s important to understand why we’re using social media and how it relates to an overall PR strategy. When I speak with students, I stress that they need to understand the client’s or organization’s needs and how to meet them, and incorporate social media into a broader strategic platform. The challenge is to not use social media just because it’s fun, or to try out the latest technique or bells and whistles, but to fully understand how social media can meet a client’s or organization’s objective.   

How are you incorporating social media into the classroom?

When discussing PR strategies, I always ask if there is a role for social media. If there is, then I encourage students to create a robust social media plan that is integrated with an overall PR plan. We’re approaching social media by asking how it can support a business audience’s needs, as social media is often considered more with consumers in mind.

What is most important for students to learn right now and what tools do they need to be fluent in, in order to succeed?

It’s important to know how to use social media for business purposes. Knowing how to create a closed LinkedIn community, for example, where like-minded professionals can benefit from ongoing conversations, is helpful. We’ve also recently explored Outbrain, a media relations tool that enables us to further distribute articles with greater audience reach, and we’re adding this to our media relations plans. The focus is often consumer social media, but it is important for students to know how to help a business client succeed with the tools that their audiences will find useful.

What’s top of mind in higher education right now among your peers and other academics? What are some challenges?

A major challenge my colleagues and I talk about is as old as the hills, but has never been more relevant, and that’s the basic skill students need to write well. The tools of the trade will always change, but the need to write clearly is a constant. It’s the foundation for everything we do in public relations. I can’t stress enough that students need to become good writers and work at it. It’s difficult to be successful in our profession without being a good writer.


Tina McCorkindale, Ph.D., APR, president and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations, and faculty adviser for PRSSA National

How do you keep up with the changing face of technology and decide what to teach your students?

I attend conferences and stay well connected to the profession. I also worked at a research firm while I was teaching so I stayed on top of my game in terms of analytics and through my work with clients. My students also teach me a lot about what they are using in terms of social platforms, such as Snapchat, Vine and even Tinder. The best way for me to stay up-to-date is through Twitter feeds, and reading is one of my favorite things. My organization also has a great Research Letter. My students are fantastic vessels of information, and I learn a lot from them.

How are you incorporating social media into the classroom?

I taught a social media class, and we had a class hashtag where we shared content. I never forced students into communicating with me on social. Plus, I don’t want them to put themselves in the public space unwillingly. Students have a tremendous understanding of social media, but could use some help in terms of strategy. The students had an opportunity to teach the class about how organizations can use new platforms and technologies. My students were charged with creating a social media monitoring report using social listening tools by drawing insights that impact the organization, and finding ways to best present the data visually.

What is most important for students to learn right now and what tools do they need to be fluent in, in order to succeed?

I don’t think it’s the tools as much as the strategy, as the tools will change. The fundamental basics of a PR education are still critical — writing, research and design principles. Students need to be open to new ideas, and find creative ways to solve problems. How to produce, package and pitch content is important, as content and storytelling are drivers in the profession. Social media and analytics are important — students need to understand the best ways to communicate on social and how to measure its effectiveness. They should have a basic understanding of business principles and how to communicate to a range of audiences.

What’s top of mind in higher education right now among your peers and other academics? What are some challenges?

Students are getting a broader education — many with a liberal arts background — that incorporates areas outside of public relations, such as business, psychology and sociology. Students are tremendously skilled and have experience with a wide range of programs in audio-visual, graphic design and other platforms. There are challenges, though: The writing skills of students overall are not where they need to be, and curriculum changes in higher education take a lot longer as public relations evolves. I want my students to be successful and happy, dream big, and go out there and make the world a better place.

Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.

Comments

Rande N. Swann says:

As an adjunct instructor and retired life-long executive PR practitioner, I find many current college students writing skills unacceptable, especially for work in most agencies and organizations. Surprisingly, most of my best writers are students who are non-native English speakers. There's something seriously wrong with this picture folks.

Oct. 4, 2015

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