Reich Communications, Inc.

  • Reich Communications, Inc. is a boutique public relations agency in New York City offering full service in a variety of areas, with specializations in business-to-business; advertising, marketing and media firms; transportation safety; non-profits, and select consumer products and services. . . . For more info, call us at (212) 573-6000, email to david@reichcommunications.com or text to 914-325-9997. . We are located at 228 East 45th Street, Suite 11-South, in New York City 10017. . . . For some examples of our work, scroll down to "Categories" below and click on "What We Do..."

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    September 28, 2007

    Comments

    Jennifer Mattern

    "Emilie Schaum echoed a criticism raised by Dr. Wright: P.R. theory doesn't necessarily translate well into practice."

    The truth of the matter is that even practice doesn't translate well into practice these days, especially when most of that training is done by the employer. Frankly, most are so far behind the times in PR tactics and implementation that they can't effectively train new employees (while these young new degree holders are entering the workforce knowing more about how to reach people online than the experienced PR pros). Frankly, they all need to learn from each other. That's not something I think a stronger trade association is going to be able to help with... at least not when it would be (traditionally) run by just one side of that equation.

    JB

    Hi, David.

    I majored in government/history in college and head a boutique PR company now. [My first PR job was at Manning, Selvage & Lee, coming from a brief stint at a consumer magazine. It was at MS&L that I learned I loved this industry.]

    I feel the same way about public relations as I do about teaching: a student is far better served taking courses in English, biology, literature or political science--even speech--than wasting money and time on "lesson plans" or "public relations techniques." The best way for students to learn about PR is through internships.

    And, I agree with you that at school, the role of public relations in the marketing mix should be included in business courses.

    As for PR associations, I wish that they would focus on visiting industry associations with compelling case histories that illustrate the effectiveness of PR. Best, jb

    David Reich

    Well, the comments above present two interesting and different takes on this. When I studied for my MBA in PR (admitedly, more years ago than I care to remember) it was all theory. My real learning took place on the job.

    I agree, Jennifer, that yopung and old need to learn from each other. Today's young people coming out of college may be more savvy than us "oldtimers" when it comes to use of social media, but they still need to be taught to write properly, develop an effective pitch, learn to anticipate and plan for a crisis, etc., etc. And they need to be taught by example about ethics.

    Heather Yaxley

    If PR consultancies are so successful at teaching new entrants to write properly, make an effective pitch and anticipate/plan for a crisis, how come the general reputation is of their poor practices? Bad habits aren't taught in the classroom but on the job.

    As someone qualified in teaching, I can assure JD that being able to produce effective lesson plans isn't something to be derided. The best teaching practices have been well researched and I am pleased to be able to learn from this work to improve my own capabilities.

    Likewise, I don't understand why anyone would celebrate learning from your own mistakes in PR rather than drawing on well-researched models and theories. In a vocational discipline such as PR, theory is derived from practice, including researched case studies not just anecdotes. Isn't it better to learn from recognised best practice rather than relying on internships that may be of questionable quality?

    A degree in PR, at least in the UK, is wide-ranging and encompasses many skills and areas of knowledge. Students from the top PR courses are much in demand (as interns as well as graduates) - but perhaps they aren't as willing to undertake the spam tactics that are practised by many PR firms. Maybe that's why non-PR graduates are preferred - they don't know any better.

    P.S. At Bournemouth, I'm teaching PR Theory and Practice to advertising undergraduate students this year - which will go far beyond looking at PR's role "within the marketing mix" and show its real potential. And, yes, I will draw on theory as well as case studies of best, and worst, practice.

    David Reich

    Hi Heather. I don't think anyone is deriding good teaching, but instead suggesting that more practice be incorporated into the teaching.

    I do agree that many agencies teach new people by poor example, such as "spamming" pitches. But there are also agencies that are really trying to teach their people the right way to work. Manning, Selvage & Lee, from what I hear, has a good reputation. I can't, unfortunately, say that for many other larger and mid-size agencies where sloppiness seems to be acceptable.

    I'll see if I can get Emilie, who I've quoted from Manning Selvage & Lee, to weigh in and respoind to your comment.

    Gary Schlee

    I suspect the percentage of agency new hires with PR degrees and certificates is quite a bit higher in Canada than the 10-15% U.S. statistic cited by Donald Wright. A primary reason for that is that the majority of grads hitting the market here are coming from colleges where the 'practical' tends to dominate.

    But even the Canadian numbers are low. If practitioners come into the profession by other routes--as did JB above--then it's not unusual that they arrive armed with unrelated degrees. But if a student's goal is to work in PR, why wouldn't that student pursue studies that help her or him land a job in the biz? And, why wouldn't agencies be hiring people who already have the targeted knowledge, skills and passion? Small wonder we struggle to be seen seriously as a profession.

    In the meantime, if Donald Wright would like to see better placement odds, I'd encourage him to c'mon back to Canada!

    Judy Gombita

    That's right...Gary (plus I think perhaps Fraser Likely) pointed out to me that *two* Canadians actually contributed to the Report of the Commission on Public Relations Education: Public Relations Education for the 21st Century, The Professional Bond

    http://www.commpred.org/report/2006_Report_of_the_Commission_on_Public_Relations_Education.pdf

    when I had acknowledged Jean Valin, APR, for his role. Up until that point I hadn't realized Dr. Donald Wright, APR, was an ex-pat.

    David Reich

    Gary, I was surprised to see the low percentages from Dr. Wright, and equally surprised to learn a top-notch agency like MS&L doesn't seek p.r. graduates. But there's got to be a reason for that, based on experience I would suppose.

    An answer (not THE, but one answer) would be to have, as MS&L's Emilie Schaum suggested, agencies collaborate with educators to determine what needs to be taught in school to make grads more attractive to employers. I'm not an academic, so maybe that already happens at the schools with the better programs.

    I don't have the solution, but open discussion might help move it in a positive direction. Worth a try, yes?

    Judd Cohen

    When hiring, I've found people with pr degrees or majors the least interesting. They usually lack real initiative and creativity and only look to complete a task rather than finding the best way to do it.

    I agree with the person who said writing, personality and internships are what they look for. I want educated people who can think soundly and creatively. Writing is still a key. Clients still expect pr people to be good writers, and so few graduates are. A well rounded education and knowledge of what is happening in the world, not only news, but technology, medicine, culture are important. PR people need to put things in perspective and need frames of reference. Also, ability and familiarity with computers and cutting-edge communication techniques are more and more valuable.

    Rocco Sacci

    I began majoring in Public Relations in 1953 at Utica College (a branch of Syracuse U.), where the curriculum called for a steady dose of journalism courses. In those days, PR professionals came from the ranks of newspaper journalists. After my freshman year, I knocked around for a year and then enlisted in the Marine Corps for four years, where I was fortunate to be selected for the Navy's Information Services School at Great Lakes. Again, the school focused on news writing, feature writing, photography, broadcasting and a full range of practical communications arts subjects. I wrote for the Stars and Stripes and headed a Marine Corps news bureau in Japan. After discharge, I went to Boston University's SPRC and was graduated in 1961. Sad to say, I was appalled that the closest course to news writing at BU was a Publicity course (never had to write a press release for it) and Magazine Writing. I complained to the faculty there how I couldn't believe one of the leading public relations colleges in the country concentrated so much on theory with very little practical education and virtually no requirement to take communication arts courses at the other disciplines at SPRC at the time. I might have been the only one in that class that actually went out and practiced public relations. Most went into sales because getting a degree in any major was their goal. After majoring in public relations, very few of my classmates wanted anything to do with PR.

    What the BU curriculum is today, I have no idea but strongly suspect that it still weighs heavy on the theory side.

    In 1980, after 15 years of practicing public relations, including serving as Director of Public Relations at PRSA, and establishing a one-man operation, I gained an appointment at St. John's University in Queens as an adjunct professor teaching Introduction to Public Relations and a graduate PR course. The first thing I did was inform my students there would be no text in the courses, then taught them how to read a newspaper, analysis all news media, write press releases (basic 5w stuff), set up press conferences and how to plan and implement a public relations program. Throughout I would weave in light theory. I believe my students enjoyed my course because it was practical with lots of hands-on assignments. How many went into PR, I don't know and doubt that very many of my students did because the courses were not part of PR or communications arts major (St. John's had none at the time).

    From the comments above this one, it would seem nothing has changed in the 50 years I have been involved in some form of public relations. Education standards are horrendous, without a clue as to what we should be training our students for a career in PR. PRSA is still without a clue as to what the organization's role should be in advancing standards and requirements at communications arts and business schools, so that future executives of corporate America and leaders of other institutions have an inkling that PR is more than putting "spin" on a situation. PRSA staff is still led by non-PR people.

    Whereas I once told students about the joy of doing public relations work, that it involved all the skills and creativity of all communications arts, public relations has reached so low a place in our society that I would have a problem teaching it today and would not advise anyone to go into the field. Mine was an exciting, fulfilling career; diviersified across the non-profit area to government and corporate America campaigns. Sad to say, I don't think I could garnish the same feeling today. (Obviously I'm retired otherwise I wouldn't have the time to write all this; I'd be too busy working on a challenging program.)

    Benita Steyn, Cape Peninsula Univ of Technology, South Africa

    Theory is not dreamt up by academics, but the result of research. And this research is conducted in practice. (I have yet to meet an academic who uses his/her own colleagues as respondents). So the views reflected in research and theory are those of practitioners.

    However, where academics might be failing is what they research 'about'. In my opinion, academic research should be led by the PROBLEMS faced in practice, in order for good theory to be built, taught and used by industry to move ahead. And for this to succeed, interaction between academics and practitioners are needed for these problems to be identified and possible solutions to be suggested.

    I agree with the comments above that academics (and practitioners) have a duty to pay attention to best practices, and in the first year or two of study that is an important source for teaching junior students. But I don't think that is enough. Senior students should be taught problem solving and strategic communication skills so that they can handle changes and difficult situations in practice. Teaching technical skills is not what university education is about. Why are people from outside PR appointed--because they have thinking skills and PR graduates don't? Could this be where PR academics are failing?

    On the other hand, expecting PR university courses only to teach technical PR skills and not using and learning from the rich base of theory that already exists, is where practioners are failing.

    What we need in the field of PR, are strategic thinkers--both in academia and in practice. Not people who maintain the status quo and continue to live in old paradigms, but people who can lead the field with new ideas. Innovation in PR at this stage seems to be focused solely on using new media. Is this all that the field is about? Sending out messages determined by others? Then we deserve staying just where we are--reporting to some other function, waiting outside the boardroom door to be told what to do. Isn't this situation occurring because PR people are not taught how to think?

    David Reich

    Thanks for your excellent comment, Benita. What I heard from the recruiters at MS&L is that they are looking for strategic thinkers, but that too many of the PR graduates seem to have a narrow focus and have been taught "here's the way it's done." They said they look for people who (I hate this expression, but I'll use it) can think outside of the box.

    I don't think most of us are looking to maintain status quo, because we realize if we do, we'll be left far behind as our world changes ever more rapidly.

    Academia and practitioners need to work together to figure out what's needed and what ought to be needed in PR education.

    David Reich

    Got this comment by email from someone who asked not to use her name. But I thought it was worth throwing into the mix anyway...

    "I had been a PRSA member for some time, as I was looking for disability insurance, and perhaps other opportunities. The old adage is true, you get out of it what you put into it....it's easy to criticize. I am not a great team player so for me, PRSA lost its interest very fast.

    I do not follow the PR industry anymore, but there are ways for college graduates with a PR degree to find wonderful employment
    within the PR universe....and it starts by becoming a well educated, well-rounded person. Just like a doctor must read books, see films, travel, expand friendship outside his profession and understand the world around him, so too must a person graduating with a PR degree....People should hone in on their interviewing skills, and extracurricular activities while at school....I bet I could convince an HR person that they should hire me, even though I had a PR degree....that is if I could show them that I was educated outside the PR world and took courses in economics, literature, history, creative writing, and more...."

    This comment from someone who has been in p.r. for more than 35 years, at agencies large and small and now has her own consultancy.

    Amanda Chapel

    How does one degree in common sense?

    Amanda Chapel
    Managing Editor
    Strumpette

    David Reich

    Amanda, you are so right. So much of what we do in this crazy business is common sense. No theory, no magic.

    Drew McLellan

    David,

    What an amazing conversation. I hope all your readers were smart enough to delve into the comments of this post!

    Drew

    David Reich

    Thanks Drew Yes, it's been a good discussion here, and it's reached beyond this blog. Jack O'Dwyer, whose Jack O'Dwyer's Newsletter is the key periodical in the U.S. covering the PR industry, is writing about it tomorrow and perhaps, just perhaps, these discussions may spur some positive action.

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