Before I start, I want to caveat this post with the fact that I know some great people who are PR educators and I rate most of the students that come to us from PR degrees very highly.
When I first joined Wolfstar six years ago, the industry was just beginning to understand that the people who had been pushing for agencies to wise-up to the whole digital/online/social thing, might just have a point.
Those six years have been a time of fundamental change for the PR industry, and some agencies that have made the most of the new paradigm have done fantastically well as a result. Most commentators now agree that there has been an irrevocable shift in the industry’s centre of gravity. However one area that seems to remain defiantly indifferent to this change has been the core of the way young practitioners are educated.
Wolfstar regularly takes placement and work experience students and as part of the process, we make an effort to understand the course they’re undertaking (and consequently how their stint with Wolfstar can contribute to their learning). Over the last six years of doing this, it has become abundantly clear that education has been left far far behind the pace of change.
A typical PR course tends to be focussed around three areas: PR skills, the PR industry and more general marketing / business theory. This makes sense as a structure but in a market where the fundamental requirements of young PR pros are shifting so fast, the “skills” section has to be much more important and much more fluid.
The fact of the matter is that modern PR grads will be moving into an industry where they will be expected to be able to tell stories across a range of media platforms. The essential skill of the PR grad is the ability to help a company tell its story and traditionally (at least in terms of their specifically content-related skills), this has meant developing writing skills but little else.
In today’s marketplace, if universities want to equip students with the skills they’ll actually need on day one of their grad job, they need develop training that looks at more than developing a written ability.
A modern PR degree should look at developing students with the ability to take that fundamental narrative skill and apply it to a range of common mediums. Students should understand the basics of image and video editing (including technical elements like file types, resolution and compression), they should be able to look at a dataset and understand ways that they can use the data to narrate (that means having the ability to work with data and perform basic analysis / manipulation), they should understand the basic principle behind how search works and they should be able to at least read basic HTML.
The point is that young PR pros are now expected to be “transmedia” story tellers, and where the universities fall down, agencies and in-house teams have to pick up the slack. This hurts the students, who have to go on a really tough learning curve when they should be just getting to grips with having to get up every day in the morning, and it hurts the PR teams that have to invest time and money in new starters. I’m not against investing in employees, it’s fundamental to building a successful business, I’d just rather that investment was in adding value to a university education not just compensating for its failings.