I was talking to a couple of colleagues yesterday over coffee about teaching Public Relations and something occurred to me.
PR students are, in some cases, better experts on some areas of PR than their supervisors.
Public Relations is a relatively young discipline. Many people who practice PR have no formal education; they’ve acquired their expertise informally – usually through experience.
As a result, the people who lead PR departments or agencies frequently don’t have a broad-based understanding of the profession. They may have come from hospitality with event-planning expertise, or from a news background (which gives them media relations expertise). While they have a very deep and nuanced understanding of those disciplines – they have relatively little or no awareness or education about some other areas of PR – which is a very broad field that encompasses many responsibilities, practices and tactics.
In my experience, this has proven to be true. I’ve worked in PR for over a decade and the majority of the leaders I’ve worked for fit this description. They have very strong skills in particular disciplines, but they invariably have blind spots as a result of how their knowledge was acquired. They may be experts on handling crises, but lack skills in measurement. Or they may excel at writing, but know very little about the legal concepts that apply to PR.
That broad base of knowledge is what the Public Relations Society of America’s “Accredited in Public Relations” (APR) designation works to remedy – the gaps in the whole profession that may have been missed through one’s career in the profession.
It can be intimidating to be an intern or an entry-level PR pro sitting at the table with leaders who have decades of experience on you. PR pros who are young to the practice should take confidence from the fact that in addition to the fresh perspective they can offer, they may also offer leaders knowledge they may not have.
This window of opportunity likely won’t be open forever though.
Public Relations is now a formal degree offered by an increasing number of colleges and universities, so eventually the majority of PR pros will have some formal education. I tried to track down the first college/university to offer a PR degree and found references to Boston University – but despite Google and leafing through a couple of PR textbooks I’ve not been able to locate a history of PR higher education (and if anyone knows the historical roots of formal education in PR – I’d love to hear about them).