It ain’t easy

15 Nov

Learning isn’t easy. Nor is teaching.

Last year, my first year class told me the teaching was too unstructured, and that they wanted more lectures and more theory.  Yes, really. This year, you guessed it: too much lecture material; too much choice of theoretical perspectives.

Why isn’t there one authorised (ie correct) definition of public relations, someone asked? What is the distinction between marketing and public relations?

I found myself defending the messiness of real life against the over-simplification of a classroom perspective.

I can do simple. I told my class the purpose of public relations is ‘to promote and protect.’ That’s simple. (The problem is, it’s too simple, but you have to start somewhere.)

So we present a menu of alternatives for discussion and critique. Welcome to higher education.

So let me ask the question again, why can’t I make it simple? Because the world does not stand still, it continues to revolve. The world this first year class will graduate into will be different from the world today, which is different from the world described in previous textbooks.

Let’s say there was one, fixed, immutable view of the practice called public relations. Let’s say it was written in the 1990s and designed to describe the practice in straightforward terms. Let’s have a try:

‘Public relations practitioners fax news releases to journalists working on print publications.’

How future-proof would this be? What would be the point of studying it at university? What would your chances be of earning a good living a decade or two from now?

So, we don’t want immutable and inflexible views of the purpose or the practice of public relations. We want agile and adaptable people working in a valuable field. It may or may not be called public relations, but it will cover many of the concepts we discuss (relationships, reputation, communication etc) and involve an ever-changing selection of media and channels.

At a time when the future seems especially uncertain, a historical perspective gives some comfort. There are now three decades of PR graduates in the workforce in the UK. The range of roles and job titles is ever-changing. Some have left the field for recruitment, or teaching. But most are working in the broad field of public relations, but with titles such as:

  • Director of corporate affairs
  • Social media manager
  • Digital marketing
  • Copywriting and editing
  • Agency owner
  • Brand manager
  • Content marketing
  • Communications manager
  • Public affairs manager

That’s a cause for celebration, not a reason for a narrow-minded lament.

Stick with simple, if you must. Choose the primary colours of a cartoon if you must. But I think you’ll find the rich, full colour moving picture much more interesting, challenging and rewarding. Just don’t ever expect it to be easy.

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