In his Subterranean Homesick Blues, Bob Dylan lyricized “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”
These days society’s winds continue to carry the stark reality of diversity, and nowhere is the need to meet these winds head-on greater than the profession of public relations.
To be sure, the question is no longer whether but how. One way: approach candidates when they are young.
A recent and unique full-day program in Chicago, called the PRep PRogram, sponsored by the PRSA Foundation, DePaul University and Midtown Educational Foundation (MEF) addressed the challenge with 125 Midtown & Metro apprenticeship students.
The agenda was comprehensive, beginning with an overview of the profession and its many manifestations. PR experts from Chicago area agencies, industries, and non-for-profits gave their unvarnished views of the profession and its challenges and rewards. They outlined case studies, issues and even corporate marketing boondoggles that proved to be culturally clueless; and how diverse cultural thinking could have prevented the loss of reputation and credibility.
Students were asked to think about reputation by looking at their personal brand: the way they dress, talk, and react to situations, both good and bad, and how they can enhance or diminish their brand with careful or careless words and acts. The choice, they were told, was up to them.
“It’s no different for organizations,” said Don Ingle, professional lecturer in public relations at DePaul. “Their brands and reputations are more important than ever. That makes a multi-cultural approach to public relations more important than ever.”
Jay Baglia, PhD, associate professor in communications at DePaul told the students, “meanings are in people, not words,” Baglia said, underscoring the need for multi-cultural thinking when addressing any audience. The students also received writing and communication tips from DePaul’s Jill Stewart, another veteran public relations practitioner.
Five breakout sessions followed for discussions on marketing and branding within the worlds of sports and consumer marketing.
But no session was more important than the series of breakouts addressing the evolving role of social and digital media. For the final session, Raschanda Hall, president of the Chicago Chapter of the National Black Public Relations Society, and PRep PRogram Coordinators Camden Robertson and Valencia Seuell, reminded the students of the importance of their personal brands.
“This is the fourth consecutive year that MEF has partnered with the Public Relations Society of America Foundation and DePaul in offering a program developed for high school students,” said Bob Kornecki, Midtown’s director of individual giving, who spent his 35-year career with the public relations firms of Burson-Marsteller and Edelman. “Almost all of these students will be going to college, so introducing them to public relations beforehand will give them a chance to think about PR as they make their career choices.”
“Hat’s off to the Midtown Educational Foundation and the PRSA Foundation for this very smart effort,” said Scott Farrell, global president of the PR agency Golin. “The traditional path for many public relations professionals has been a journalism degree in college. That’s still a great foundation for a career in public relations. But the fact that public relations today embraces all manner of communications—paid, earned, shared, owned, experiential—means that the sooner we can get young people thinking about public relations, the more likely they’ll come to the profession regardless of their field of study.”
Because, as Bob Dylan noted, “The times, they are a-changin’.”
For more information on the PRep PRogram contact:
Ron Culp, PRAD professional in residence at DePaul and member of the board of directors of the PRSA Foundation at: RCULP2@depaul.edu