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Graduate Life I

Beth and I thought some ongoing discussions of public relations education would be beneficial to anyone thinking of going into the PR field, changing majors to PR, or going on to get his/her Masters in Communication or Public Relations. So we’re going to do a multi-part Graduate Life ongoing post. We’ll welcome questions and obviously, we’ll open discussion to anyone interested in discussing the topic.

For our first couple posts, we’re just going to talk about why each of us chose to go back to school, to continue our educations at the graduate level, and why we choose Public Relations.

Luke writes:

I guess I had always planned on getting my Masters at some point. Several years into my original college experience, I packed it up and went home. I wasn’t sure in which direction I wanted to go in so I couldn’t see me wasting all that time and money at a University. I worked in a machine shop for several years until I decided it was time to go back to school. I got my BA in Speech Communications from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, a small state school in NW PA. Initially I was a psych major – a carryover from my earlier college days – but when I discovered the communication field I knew I had found what I was looking for. Interestingly, I don’t ever recall having been exposed to the communication field. If I had, I probably would have focused on that from the beginning as it seems a natural fit for me. I’m loquacious, personable, mildly entertaining to a few people, but I also have a natural interest in human communication. But why Public Relations? I’m not sure, what I’m about to write may seem controversial, but I never wanted to go into advertising because it seems so fake, it’s creative yes, but with an air of single-sidedness I didn’t like. PR is so much more – to use a current buzzword – transparent when it’s done properly. Public Relations has overcome a major obstacle of it’s youth in the last decade or so – steering away from lingering “spin artist” stereotype. Unfortunately, there are people out there still practicing in such a way as to foster this stereotype. But just looking at the PRSA Code of Ethics or the PRSA Statement of Values gives me a sense of hope and pride in the profession. But I’m straying away from my point. Getting the story out, getting the news out, helping an organization communicate with its publics – it’s an amazing thing, and one I’m glad to be a part of. Plus, say what you want about advertising and marketing, but Public Relations is also an excellent outlet for creativity.

So why grad school? I don’t know about you, but my undergraduate program wasn’t all that thorough. I really felt incomplete when I left school, maybe that’s why I struggled so much trying to break into the field. I hadn’t done an internship [Note: DO AN INTERNSHIP if you have the opportunity] and I was a little unprepared. I graduated with top marks, so it wasn’t like I hadn’t done well, I lacked the experience and – most importantly – the confidence to work in the business.

Grad school allows you to focus on what truly matters to you. There aren’t any humanities or world cultures classes needed, you just focus on communication, specifically the area you’d like to study. You learn about theory, research, and writing in a whole new light. Write papers, get published, attend conferences, speak at events, this is what grad school can offer if you choose to let it. But, choose a school wisely and consider your instructors well. I cannot stress enough the importance of a good mentor, whether you’re going on to your PhD or not, a good mentor will make all the difference in your education.

I hate to sum up like this, but graduate school is also a good place to weather a stormy job market. I moved to Ohio from Alaska where I had been working for the federal government. Moving to a state with a -3% job market made it difficult to land a job in a competitive industry. Grad school seemed to hold the answers. The contacts you can build, the experience you can get – not only in school, but how you use your time to reach out and find other creative outlets for learning – is unparalleled. The experience may be better if you’re working full time and getting your Masters as a job requirement or to increase salary – depending on your beliefs. I have enjoyed being a full time graduate student, but it isn’t for everyone, money can be tight and time is short. Either way, I encourage anyone in PR to get more depth, more refined in their chosen profession.

Beth Writes:

Some days I don’t know how I got to grad school, it just happened. I took some detours and sidesteps to where I thought one day I would end up, in Communications/PR. I got my BA in Political Science from Northeastern University in Boston, MA. “The Duke” a.k.a, Governor Dukakis was one of my professors. He is brilliant and remembers everyone and thing. I learned about policy and the mortar that (kind of) holds society and government together. Early on I took an interest in politics. I was a young environmentalist, writing letters to corporate and government polluters. Writing and communicating worked for me. The power to express and impact with words, images and voice seemed profound. In politics, communication is needed, especially PR. Every politician has PR counsel. I thought a degree in political science would help me get a job in PR. I didn’t have any communication related internships. (Do an internship, it is so important). I was actually a substitute teacher at an inner-city charter high school and then a summer school writing teacher. My students were awesome, inspiring, taught me patience and challenged me to rethink the way I communicated.

An act of love brought me to Cleveland from Boston. Sorry, but at first I hated Cleveland, it wasn’t Boston and well it still isn’t – I secretly miss the accent. At first I enrolled in a Masters of Teaching program and as I was sitting at orientation I had an epiphany and bolted. I ended up getting a job at Cleveland Intern.Net and Cuyahoga Community College’s career center informing students about internships and marketing the program to employers. This was undeniably a great way to learn about not-for-profit work and I found my niche.

Then as an account assistant at a media-buying agency, I learned about ethics and what it’s like to work for a dishonest company. However, I did meet one of my mentors. You never know who you are going to meet and how that person may impact your life and career. Lesson learned ethics and honesty are paramount. If something seems fishy and goes against your beliefs don’t risk your name and reputation. Needless to say I quit.

After that lovely bout, I went to work as a Sales/Marketing/Lead Administrator (Slash jobs are wonderful – they are the ones where you have many job titles.) for Robert Half International a temporary placement firm. It was here that finally I realized I needed to go back to school to get to where I wanted. I didn’t have a degree in communications, the perquisite for most entry-level jobs. It was “Grad School or Bust!”

Why PR? PR has the power to inform, find/establish relationships that are meaningful and valuable. It embodies creativity. Also, I am a passionate person. I think you have to be passionate, charismatic about an organization/company or product, etc. to want to share it with the world and see it flourish. PR can help do this in a transparent and purposeful way.

Grad School Tidbits:
1. If you decide to go to grad school, choose a school with a range of professors and focus areas. I suggest talking to a few of the professors or alumni at your schools of interest. The program you choose will make all of the difference-trust me!
2. Explore, take risks and maybe work for a while before you go back to school. Because you might change your mind once you get out there in the ‘real world.’
3. Mentors and teachers are like butter to bread-totally essential. Mentors are real life teachers there for guidance, support and can be great contacts. Don’t be apprehensive about finding a professor or professional to be your mentor. The relationship will only help you.
4. Grad school lets you to explore, refine and analyze a topic you are passionate about. You become part of it and own it through the work and research you do and knowledge you gain. You will seriously do more thinking, learning and analyzing in your life in 1-2 years than you could ever imagine. Resilience, patience, and ORGANIZATION are key.
5. Grad school has to fit in your life. I have the opportunity to be a full-time student and I enjoy the immersion.

The end…You never know what you will learn and what will inspire you…

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Can students help other students? You bet!

I was flipping through Technorati today when I stumbled upon a mention of this blog. For your information, Technorati is a search engine geared towards fast updating webpages like news, blogs, and others. It’s a fantastic resource because, as the website points out, “Unlike other engines, our results are individual posts (portions of pages), so they’re more specific. Search results are listed newest to oldest, and are often only minutes old!” So bookmark or add to your favorites the Technorati search engine.

Anyway, I found a flattering comment posted by Robert French from Auburn University on his professor blog (his other blog is here). He writes:

Another great blog I suggest you check out is the new Graduate Observations of Public Relations at WordPress.com. OK, not that new, but new to my students. Check it out. Glad to see some grad students blogging. Congrats!

To which I say, “Thank you.” And actually, Robert, it is fairly new. We’re just over a month and a half old at this point and looking forward to going strong. When I graduate in May, however, I’ll have to change the name, eh? By then the MA after my name will give me an air of credibility – right? Correct? Hello? Is this thing on?

Check out his InfOpinions site to read the whole post and our comments.

So I emailed Robert to get some more information about the Auburn sites and how they are all related, here is the abridged (and approved, of course) email he returned:

Essentially, there are three main sites – with many parts, or sub-sites, involved. Those three sites are: PRblogs.org; Marcomblog.com; AuburnMedia.com

PRblogs.org – The site offers a free WordPress Multiuser blog to anyone involved in, or interested in, public relations to create a blog. All lof my students now have their blogs there each semester and this will allow them, if they wish, to continue blogging after class and graduation. I think of PRblogs as a community, but also as a jump off point for those new to blogging. After blogging there for awhile, it is possible to go off and establish your own domain and import your old posts into the new site.

My students are required to blog in their classes. The focus of their posts depends upon the course. This semester the Style & Design students post twice a week in their blogs. The Survey Research students post once a week in their blogs and it must focus on Survey Research.

The content must focus on PR/Marcom – anything about PR/Marcom. Ideally they will (a) develop an awareness of the latest PR issues and trends while (b) perhaps applying the ideas they gain to their future PR practice. Students are also required to seek out other blogs and post two comments in those blogs each week. The idea there is to help them begin conversations (networking) with established PR practitioners around the world. Some of these relationships have already led to internships and jobs. The best part is that the students now have an opportunity to meet practitoners they never would have know about – let alone get to interact with before.

Marcomblog.com: This is a virtual online mentoring program. Ten professionals from a variety of PR/Marcom firms, and PR support companies, have volunteered to post on a fairly regular basis about latest trends. The students read their posts and are required to post comments each week. The conversations often spill over into email interaction directly between the practitioner and student. The participants are from all over the world.

We have contributors from the US (west coast to east coast), The Netherlands, Denmark, Spain and France. They range from large firms (Edelman, Weber-Shandwick) to medium/boutique firms and individual practitioners/consultants and one educator. I do not tend to post there often. My students get enough of me in my blog and classes.

AuburnMedia.com: That is my site and where I host my blog. OK, they are all my sites, I manage them, but you get my drift. I also try out new software all the time and share those installations with my students. Most are opensource and range from lead generators to wikis to calendars to portals and any other social media I can find.

Finally, we also have wikis interspersed throughout. The one we most often use for class is Marcomblog Wiki at http://www.marcomblog.com/wikimedia/ That site is used for everything from group press release writing exercises to just learning what a Wiki is and how to use it. It is also a repository for various links to blog/wiki related background information.

So there you have it. What a fantastic resource PR students or practitioners wanting to learn more and perhaps try out the blogging medium. What I’ve read on the PRBlogs site leads me to believe the students appear to be on the cutting edge of new media and are well informed, creative, and willing to discuss – my favorite aspect of the blogosphere. The site Marcom Blog features posts by marketing communication and PR professionals with advice, information, and mentoring. Another great resource. Check out these links, join the discussions, and offer your own opinions.

Can students help other students, you bet, and with active pros offering advice and guidance, how can PR go wrong?

What makes a bad pitch?

Bad pitches? Yes, it’s true. Sometimes – and some of the students here might find this shocking – but sometimes PR people pitch stories to the wrong people, or the wrong publication, or in such a sloppy, disastrous manner that it ruins the credibility of the PR person and his/her company. When I worked for a company in Cleveland, I was guilty of this. I don’t consider it my fault – entirely – I was short on time and expected to make turn proverbial water into wine. Well, I’m not a magician and at the time I was a relatively inexperienced PR flack, so I made mistakes. Deep down, though, I knew something was wrong. Alas, I was unable to fix it.

That’s behind me know, I feel a little more experienced, and a lot more knowledgeable. But how do we continue to learn about pitching? Especially in this era of new media, how do we stay on top. Well, fortunately there are real time case studies going on as we speak. Phil Gomes pointed to a new blog started by Kevin Dugan and Richard Laermer from which we can all learn, The Bad Pitch Blog.

So I think it’s mostly meant for Blog pitching, but from what I read, each post has a lesson we can learn about pitching news, stories, or whatever to a wide variety of media. Newspaper, magazine, blog…no matter what you’re trying to pitch the cases are here. A great resource, use it wisely. It’s also pretty funny, too.

New Semester, New Year

Time to immerse ourselves in learning and discussing the ever changing sphere of new media again. I would like to start my post of the new year mentioning the Society for New Communications Research. The Society is devoted to the study of how new tools, technologies and interactive communications impact our culture, business and broader
society. Check out their journal, New Communications Review. I suggest signing up for the free e-newswletter and reading Phil Gomes post in the PR section.

Over break I reflected-I had a month! And here is my question to all…blogs are a form of consumer generated media, they are created by the user. When organizations and companies blog this alters the medium. The consumer is no longer the creator and user but the receiver of a message an organization wants to communicate with its audience. And more often than not the audience does not always post comments on corporations blogs making the medium less interactive. So are these blogs really blogs? Any thoughts?

The Pressure is on…

The semester is about to start and we here at Grad Observations of PR (GOPR) are getting geared up to discuss PR, analyze communication, and examine new ways to use both. In the meantime, I want to point out that Constantin Basturea posted on his site a list entitled “New PR blogs (a bunch of them)” and GOPR is on the list. Thank you, Mr. Basturea. Constantin’s blog and his New PR wiki are incredible resources for PR students AND professionals alike. It’s amazing what he does and we can learn from him. Our own Alumnus Carol Savery has her dissertation published on The New PR Wiki.
Check the site out, you won’t be disappointed. I’m hoping to incorporate more of his work into our discussions as time goes on.
Thanks all I have for now. Keep posted as we will begin with some new things very soon.