|Are PR Students Ready for a Changing Industry?
By: Jeannine Wheeler
The PR industry has changed radically in the past five years, to say nothing of the past 25. Digital advertising, social media, content creation, and video share have introduced whole new ways and channels for brands to interact with their audiences. So what are today’s PR students doing to prepare for one of the world’s most dynamic professions?
To get some answers, we spoke with Ashley Schlosser, owner and founder of Live Out Loud public relations firm in Austin and the PRSSA liaison to the University of Texas at Austin, whose Moody College of Communication is one of the nation’s foremost institutions for the study of advertising and public relations, communication studies, journalism, and radio-television-film.
You graduated from UT Austin in 2011. Have you seen any big changes in the industry since then?
The lines between PR, marketing, and advertising continue to blur. Communications professionals are not as siloed as they once were and must work together to have successful outcomes. I have seen students focus on SEO and owned media more than earned, which mirrors the current industry.
Digital communications and social media are no longer considered “new” and industry standards have now been set.
One thing that has not changed is the need for PR. With companies in the public eye more than ever, strong communications campaigns with high engagement are critical to a brand’s perception.
What are some of the PR courses you would recommend students take?
As PR is the art of persuasion, rhetorical studies provided an excellent foundation for the critical thinking and writing skills necessary to serve as an effective practitioner. Therefore, a class in Rhetoric is highly recommended.
I am also grateful I took Writing for Public Relations, Integrated Communications Campaigns, and Strategies in Public Relations.
What would you recommend that students read regularly to stay ahead?
PR Week and PRSA’s newsletter Tactics provide key insights on the industry and its players. For tech sector expertise, read Mashable and GigaOM and for public affairs, read Politico and local news outlets. I also like to keep up with the latest social and digital trends by following influential bloggers such as Jason Falls of Social Media Examiner and Brian Solis.
The trick to staying informed is to get into the habit of reading industry publications daily. Set aside time and make bookmarks in your browser. That way, you’ll be reminded to catch up on industry happenings.
Stay up to date on national and world news by using aggregated news apps such as Flipbook. Don’t just rely on Facebook and hear from your friends about the latest news. Stay ahead of the game and you will remain well versed.
Are PR students still focusing on the 5Ws?
With all the shiny new objects in the room, good solid writing skills can end up neglected. Whether producing online content, editorials, or press releases, clients and teams still rely heavily on strong writing skills. This can make or break your professionalism. It always surprises me when I see professionals, of any age, with spelling and grammatical errors. This can really hurt credibility. Always work hard to be a good solid writer.
When I was at UT, I remember being harshly criticized for some of my writing, which paid off in the long run. As a student, your writing style will shift dramatically when you enter the job market. No more striving to fill pages. Instead you’ll be judged on your efficiency, brevity, and succinct writing style. Sometimes you only have 140 characters to get your point across! For me, the class that paid off the most was a Magazine Writing class where my professor turned five sentences into just a few words. He would always say: “Cut the fluff and get to the point!”
How can students build up solid work experience before graduation?
You should try to have as many experiences as you can. I had to pay my way through college, so an unpaid internship was out of the question. Instead, I worked three part-time jobs. But I turned every opportunity into PR experience. I asked if I could help manage the social media sites for the retail boutique I worked at and also helped with its annual fashion show. As a coffee barista, I helped with product branding and promotion by offering to put together branded gift baskets. Make the most of your time in college by proactively seeking PR-related activities. These types of activities can go a long way on your resume.
What are students’ attitudes toward social media?
These days, most students deem Facebook as an outdated social media platform that “everyone” is still on but far less active. It will be interesting to witness Facebook’s shift in tides.
The emerging sites are Instagram, Vine, and Snapchat, probably due to their more visually pleasing user interfaces and “exclusivity.”
Are students considering their privacy?
While those who use social media should know that he or she is opting in to a public platform, some social media sites appear more invasive than others. Facebook’s latest switch to the messenger app on the mobile version of the app was deemed a huge invasion of privacy because the app can read all phone content and have access to phone contacts. But the truth is that all phone apps have these permissions. Facebook just stated them in a way that was more explicit. I think the first step is to realize that all content is public and owned by the social media platform.
My best advice is to only post content that you would want an employer or your grandparents to see. Even if it’s on Snapchat, your content still lives on the cloud and is traceable. In public relations, your personal brand is critical to the success of your career — so proceed with caution.
What are some of the software programs you would recommend they get familiar with?
Core public relations software programs like Cision are integral to the job. Media monitoring tools such as TVEyes are also key, as are research tools like Factiva, which aggregates content from both licensed and free sources and is owned by Dow Jones & Company. You should also know your digital analytics platforms, such as Google, Facebook, and Salesforce’s Radian6. Knowledge of email marketing platforms such as MailChimp or Salesforce’s ExactTarget is also helpful.
For those PR professionals who also specialize in graphic design, the Adobe Creative Suite products Illustrator and Photoshop are great.
My advice to PR students is not to worry now about how to use all of these tools. Stick to the core elements of strong writing, creative, and critical thinking skills. (Anything outside of this is just a bonus for your future employer.) Once you find something that interests you, focus on that and become an expert.
What’s the next big thing for PR graduates?
I think it’s that there are so many PR career options today. When I graduated, choices seemed narrow — either join an in-house marketing team or a PR agency. Today, there are content marketers focusing on SEO; social media managers focusing on social platforms; and digital teams focusing on content; as well as the more broadly scoped PR firms and in-house professionals. To future PR students, I say: the world is your oyster; go make the most of it!
Ashley is owner of Live Out Loud PR and PRSSA UT Student Liaison, PRSA Austin Chapter. She is an alumnus from the University of Texas at Austin with a dual degree in Rhetoric and Writing, B.A. and Public Relations, B.S. She can be contacted at email@example.com. Find her on Twitter at @utashley.
Jeannine Wheeler is a PR Director who has worked in three countries, including Russia, the US and the UK. She is currently Sr. Vice President of Pure Energy PR, a full-service boutique communications firm with a focus on the energy, healthcare, technology, construction, real estate & land development, tourism & hospitality and food & beverage industries. Jeannine is in the firm's Austin, Texas office.