How University PR Programs Must Evolve to Serve Students
In today’s digital world the lines between facts, entertainment, public image, vocation, and recreation are growing ever blurrier. Momentary whims and tiny soundbites can now control a brand, creating consequences much greater than they may have been a generation ago.
Public relations is no longer an easily measured linear conversation between content creator and recipient. There is an endless digital web in and around every communication, spinning off limitless potential for developing or damaging a brand. The best public relations curriculums must teach their students how to engage in these environments, how to influence and when possible, take control of these myriad narratives.
In addition, thanks to social media, the line between formal and informal communication has been all but erased. Thoughtless missives tweeted to “friends” can create a firestorm lasting weeks, turning into a devastating swath of brand-killing rancor far and above the sentiment initially conveyed. Conversely, social media has also brought the famous and their fans closer than ever before. It’s a delicate balance requiring a practiced touch.
One of the most relevant changes to today’s PR marketplace: pacing. Digital media means everything is “now.” The concept of lead time is all but a thing of the past. To get out ahead of a news cycle you must stay ahead. There is literally no margin for error. The moment you hesitate, someone else has stepped in and grabbed both the initiative and the narrative.
Modern PR curriculum must teach students to think strategically and always be ready to engage globally and digitally.
Despite all of this “new” programming and course content, the best university public relations programs have not replaced their core curriculum. They have only enhanced it. That’s because what’s always been true about engaging people remains true.
The best programs will still help students develop their strategic planning skills and teach the thought processes necessary to engage and convince audiences from internal organizations to external consumers.
Proper planning, critical thinking, and creative application all still have a place at the table. Tech alone can’t compete against a well-trained PR professional who understands their client and their market.
Other basics that remain the gold standard: outstanding storytelling. At the end of the day, controlling a narrative is about creating the narrative your market wants to believe the most. While the methods may shift and evolve, compelling storytelling will always remain central to successful public relations.