Public Relations success: Why a commitment to learning is critical

7 years, 5 months ago


How can anyone involved in a business that centers on education – of stakeholders and other audiences – place little value on their own professional development? If practitioners are to provide their employers or clients with the best communications servic

I had an interesting conversation recently with a young friend/former student during which she commented with amusement (and a slight air of incredulity) on the inability of a senior member of the public relations firm where she works to create a simple PowerPoint presentation. The guy flat-out had no idea how to do it.
My own fertile imagination took off like a startled deer and concocted this interchange: "So, Mr. PR Professional, you say you are capable of producing a communication program that will introduce my new software to the global user community?"... "Why yes I am, Mr. Hapless Client, as soon as I figure out how to open this program so that I can demonstrate our expertise." Hmmm!
As a public relations professional now teaching the next generation(s) of PR practitioners, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to observe and reflect on the importance of education and professional development in our line of work.
Over the years, I have shepherded countless flocks of undergraduate Communication majors at Curry College along the way...and continue to follow up with them as they blaze their own trails in public relations and other fields. I also help graduate-level Organizational and Professional Communication students at Regis College get a firmer grip on the next rung in their career ladders.
Genuine demand for ongoing education
But then, too...outside of the classroom...I interact constantly with folks at all levels, entry-level to wizened veteran, and one thing has become abundantly clear...the need/demand for ongoing education is real.
Communicating that reality, however, is a challenge for educators as well as practicing professionals who see the value and understand its importance.
While I’m encouraged by the growing number of colleges and universities offering undergraduate majors, minors, and concentrations in public relations along with equally robust graduate opportunities, and professional associations’ career development offerings, I’m discouraged by the failure of many would-be and current practitioners to "connect the dots" between that education and their own potential for success.
Reactions to suggestions about "graduate studies" or "professional development," tend to run the gamut from an irritated "I’m done with studying; now I want to get started on my career" to a reluctant "I guess I have to do this so I can move up more quickly" to a dismissive "I don’t have time for this and don’t see how it’s going to make a difference anyway."
The perception at all levels is "I’ve learned how to do my job; now I just want to do that job." The misperception is "I’m done. I’ve learned all I need to learn."
Evolution at warp-9 
The world of communication...our evolving at Warp-9 speed. Staying abreast of...and incorporating where tools, tactics and techniques is non-negotiable...either use them or lose me (your client).
We’re not unusual in PR. Continuing education is part-and-parcel of any profession’s "to-do" list. But I would argue that, for public relations, it’s even more critical. Why?
Because, for starters, our business is one of education...educating stakeholders, educating clients/employers...educating sometimes uninterested media...the list goes on. And that responsibility implies that we, the providers of that education, be as knowledgeable as possible.
Knowledgeable, however, not just in subject-matter. We must be adept in the most current practices comprising the communication process itself. As a potential client, I am going to expect you to have all the requisite bells-and-whistles at your command, and I am going to expect you to incorporate whatever it takes to get my message out and bring results.
Doubts amid the smoke
Learning new technologies or new(-ish) tools is, I’ll grant, a small part of the overall picture, but, to use an oldie-but-goodie: "Where there’s smoke, there’s fire." If you don’t know or can’t do this, what else do you not know or can younot do?!?
I hasten to add that the traditional underpinnings of our profession...research, program planning, ongoing evaluation...are still there. But the means by which even these activities are accomplished has changed dramatically and has greatly improved our ability to do them.
Our challenge, as successful practitioners of the art and science known as "public relations," is to ensure that we areproviding our client or employer with the best, most effective communication services available.
At the same time, we have to ensure that, as succeeding generations of practitioners take their place in the profession, they too continue learning and adding to their cache of knowledge. One sure way to do this is by demonstrating our own commitment to expanding and continually updating our own knowledge base.
Edward L. Bernays, arguably the "Father of Public Relations," had this to say in "Your Future in Public Relations" (Richards Rosen Press; 1961) about the importance of education for the public relations professional: "Properly speaking, for the public relations man, as for every other person whose life is more than unthinking routine, the processes of education should never cease."
That was a half-century ago. Some things never change.
Thought Leader Profile
Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Associate Professor of Communication at Curry College in Milton, MA, where he teaches undergraduate public relations courses, oversees the public relations concentration, and serves as Faculty Adviser for the Curry College Public Relations Student Association. He also is Lecturer in Communications in the graduate Organizational and Professional Communication program at Regis College in Weston, MA.
Prior to his move into academia, Kirk practiced nonprofit and government public relations and marketing for more than 35 years in the US as well as Asia. During his professional career, he managed communication programs for healthcare and member services organizations as well as the US Army and US Air Force in Vietnam, the Philippines and the United States. He also provided consulting services for both the Manila and the Singapore Red Cross.

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The Author

Kirk Hazlett

Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Associate Professor of Communication at Curry College in Milton, MA, where he teaches undergraduate public relations courses, oversees the public relations concentration, and serves as Faculty Adviser for the Curry College Public Relations Student Association.

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