Once again this semester, I’m teaching two concurrent sections of Public Relations Campaigns. I’m in the process of changing the course a bit, though, trying to better adapt it to the changing PR landscape. Since this class is the capstone for seniors majoring in public relations, I want to do everything I can to prepare them for a professional career.
In my view, part of doing that means shifting the emphasis away from media-based campaigns. I continue to be surprised at how many students come into the class thinking that press releases, media kits, and a Blackberry full of journalists’ contact info represent the core of their future career. This capstone course is my last chance to shake them free of this idea. At the same time, they definitely need to come out of this class knowing how to research, develop, and evaluate a strategic plan. There is only so much time in a semester to give them the conceptual and methodological tools they need, practice dissecting campaigns to figure out what does and doesn’t work, expose them to enough examples to remind them just how vast a territory is covered by this field, continue their socialization into the profession, and coach teams as they work on their specific client projects. It’s a delicate balance. I push them hard, because I know I’m doing them a favor that way, but even so there are objective limits on how much you can do.
I’m still fine-tuning the syllabus (and probably will be right up until Tuesday morning before the first class), but I think the course description now says everything I want it to.
The world of public relations is changing. One-way, media-driven communication is rarely the most effective means of conveying information, shaping attitudes and influencing behavior among stakeholders. Today’s PR practitioner engages in an array of ongoing conversations, and prepares campaigns based on in-depth understanding of the cultural, social, technological, and local dimensions of those conversations. Doing so may require various combinations of controlled and uncontrolled media, social media, formal presentations, events and initiatives, and other means.
This course introduces students to the many ways in which they can identify and participate in these conversations, while providing an opportunity to synthesize and apply the theories, principles and techniques of public relations they have learned in previous courses. They will explore many of these areas in greater depth through readings, lectures, and class discussions as well as the team project. This body of knowledge includes (but is not limited to) research methods, communication theories, strategic planning techniques, budgeting, organizational systems, management styles, campaign components, types of campaigns, technology, ethics, diverse channels of communication and stakeholder relations.
Students in this course will:
- Review and learn theories and concepts applicable to public relations
- Analyze and discuss public relations case studies
- Keep up to date with issues, trends, and events in the public relations field through a variety of channels
- Analyze and discuss the aforementioned current issues, trends, and events, both in class and through a communal blog maintained by students in both sections of the course
- Learn and practice effective presentation skills
- Work in teams on client projects, which will require students to
- Develop an in-depth understanding of the client’s needs
- Research and prepare a comprehensive campaign proposal to address the client’s goals and/or problems
- Design and develop media products as needed for the above
- Determine the appropriate measurement tools to evaluate the success of their proposed strategies and tactics
- Formally present the proposal and media products to the client, fellow students, and other interested members of the community
Of course I could go on to say a lot more, but I figure that’s what the rest of the semester is for, no?
In addition to the textbook (which I supplement a lot–to many students’ dismay–with lectures and additional readings) and their case study book (ditto), I’m also having them read Seth Godin’s Tribes. I always emphasize that PR practitioners are boundary spanners, and one way they accomplish this balancing act is by building tribes inside and outside the organizations they work for or represent. I’m hoping to bring this message home in a way that will be reflected in the final projects they put together. Most of all, I hope they’ll leave this course understanding that public relations is all about relating, and only secondarily about media.
We’ll see what happens. The curtain will go up in a few short days.