Educating for PR

March 28, 2010 at 10:19 pm (Education, Public Relations) (, , )

Elhing wrote about and interesting issue, which is education in PR. There are growing numbers of undergraduate and graduate programs for PR. The reason education is needed is because it helps Public Relations to grow from occupation to a profession.

Students learn ethics, theories and technical skills over a course of a few years.  They don’t just go into public relations with the knowledge to produce effective messages and do campaigns. They come out of universities  having learned much more than that, like how to negotiate and handle stakeholder relationships in the long-term.

Yet, as Ehling argued, all to often PR is confused with publicity.  Publicity is of course important for any organization to design messages, but it should not be confused with PR. Moreover PR should not be seen as a message and campaign producing “machine”.  Stakeholder relationships are important and PR as a profession, can only reach its full potential, if it is granted authority to engage meaningful two way conversation as opposed to a one way communication as publicity.

The problem is that sometimes its easier for management to take a shortcut using PR for its technical aspect. This is a short-term fix for problems. Negotiations have a longer lasting effect, but do require more time.

The big question here is: if PR is only seen as publicity and used in this function, then what is the role and practical value of teaching PR on graduate and undergraduate levels for years?  Obviously PR is still on the road to become a respected profession. There are institutions like the PRSA, code of conducts and a growing professional literature. All these contribute to the cause, to get PR seen as a profession.
On the other hand, PR is also done by people who are coming from other professional backgrounds. Many of them do their job well.
Being a PR practitioner is not like being a doctor. Nobody dies (hopefully)  if you haven’t been trained in exactly what your occupation requires.
It is also worth to point out that PR is a complex profession  and people do learn it for years for a reason. If it is done by people who are from different professions, they might not have all the potential set of skills. They also don’t study theories, models and strategies so much in depth without a university education.
Therefore the PR done by them has a higher likelihood of being reduced to publicity. This is not to say that it will, some people, read PR books, others just have a great talent.
Nevertheless education for PR and how its value is perceived is an issue to think about.

For more on this topic see:

James E. Grunig,  Excellence in Public Relations and Communication Management (1992.) Chapter: Public relations and Professionalism (by William P. Ehling)

Image: Yahoo Images

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