According to Jack O'Dwyer's Newsletter, the industry trade pub, The Princeton Review -- a college guide used by many high school students and parents as they explore colleges and possible career tracks -- is telling students they don't need to study public relations in order to succeed in the profession. They also describe to student readers what PR people do, including a quote from an unnamed public relations person, who says "A PR person might have to shepherd an alcoholic half-mad author through a 20-city interview tour or try to put a warm 'n fuzzy spin on the company's latest oil spill." (Oh yeah, that really explains what we do.)
While there is some truth that some formal education in p.r. is not required (but it is very helpful), the write-up sends many erroneous and bad messages to young people about the work we do.
Commenting at the PR Conversations blog, Michael Zimet, who heads the IABC (International Assn of Business Communicators) Advocacy Work Group, reminds us that the Princeton Review's rankings are based on feedback from 120,000 current students. Are current students qualified, he asks, to assess now the value of their studies in the workplace in the future? Zimet also says Princeton Review is not associated in any way with Princeton University. The publication is best known for its rankings of which schools are the best party schools.
But we can't afford to ignore this latest reinforcment of the stereotypes of public relations. Most of us are not party-giving, handholding, lying spinmeisters trying to make an oil spill look harmless or cigarettes good for your health.
I think it's time for the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the primary national trade group for PR, to take a break from its political infighting and take a real leadership role in correcting erroneous portrayals of our industry. It won't be corrected overnight, but it must start. They should follow the example of PR organizations in many other nations, where they work to promote the industry and push for public relations studies in college.
Heather Yaxley, a PR professional who blogs at Greenbanana and teaches at Bournemouth Univ. in England, writes about undergrads she taught last year. She notes that "Some may have been disappointed if they thought they were getting into a party-profession. But the vast majority discover a much more interesting career. During their studies, they gain a solid foundation in a wide range of specific and transferable skills -- covering everything from politics to economics, rhetoric to persuassion, new media to global affairs. Most of the PR graduates I know from 2007 have opted for a career in the industry."
The bottom line...
PRSA needs to mount a serious and aggressive campaign to educate people about what PR is and what it does. If we are seen simply as party planners, publicity hacks and cover-up artists, we can hardly expect to be taken seriously by CEOs, CMOs and other marketing and communications disciplines.
It's time for PRSA to:
1) Target high school guidance counselors, to educate them with accurate information about what we do and what educational tools young people need to enter and excel in the profession.
2) Create an ongoing campaign to improve understanding and elevate respect for the PR function within the overall business community.
3) Develop recommendations for training programs that p.r. agencies and corporate p.r. departments can use to train and develop recent college grads as they come on board.
4) Push for more inclusion of public relations in marketing and general business curriculae at the college level.
It's ironic that PR has always suffered from bad PR about itself. Step up, PRSA and take the lead.