The Evolution of PR Education

Public relations as an industry has been transformed by decline of print media, the growth of digital and the dilution of publishing power. Changing right along with it are educational institutions that produce work-ready graduates in college and universities.

Barry Waite Lois Marsh Award 2015Barry Waite—chair of the School of Communications, Media & Design at Centennial College— has been a part of that change. He recently received the Lois Marsh Award from the Canadian Public Relations Society for his contribution to the public relations industry in Toronto.  Before moving into education, Waite worked in the PR industry for more than 30 years, most recently as a senior vice president at Strategic Objectives in Toronto. We spoke with him about how the industry and its education has changed during his tenure.

The bottom line presides over the byline. 

In the past, PR professionals weren’t tied to the business side of a company and business leaders didn’t understand communications. Now that is shifting.

“More programs are beginning to offer business classes, just like MBA programs are including reputational management,” said Waite, whose own program offers a Business for Communicators class.

With organizations relying on smaller teams to move the business forward, everyone involved needs to understand how the business grows and what affects it. Being trained in the language and habits of business development prepares a PR professional for a seat at the executive table.

Work placements are more valuable than ever.

In an environment where unpaid internships are illegal, work placements are one of the few ways aspiring professionals can get a foot in the door.

“Externally there is a sense that placements are a way to get free labour out of students,” said Waite. “That couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Work placements are the core of most PR programs, driving student registrations with the promise of experience in a tight labour market. The work terms are chosen carefully by schools and come with the expectation that employers become active in the program by speaking to the classes and investing time into the students.

Social media’s benefits have become tangible. 

Even three or four years ago the processes and methodologies around social media had not been cemented into practical strategies. With changes to algorithms and reach models, as well as content streams to channels like Facebook, training in social media has more measurable benefits than ever. Today’s PR students learn about follower strategies, native advertising, promoted posts and social media crisis management. Combine this with practical work experience while in school and students enter the workforce with a better understanding of the tools of the business than their predecessors had.



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