2009 Grads Adopt Leadership Mindset

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Posted At: March 25, 2009 3:53 PM
by Kyle F. Reinson, Contributing Writer

The following Q & A was initiated by Prof. Kyle F. Reinson of St. John Fisher College, who interviewed David Baker, president of the college’s PRSSA chapter. In a turn of the tables, a student shares his views with an expert.

REINSON: Thanks for taking the time, and time is probably a good place to start. What’s the most effective use of your time in preparing for a career in public relations? Is your job search starting in-person or online?

BAKER: I believe networking has been the best use of my time during my senior year. Not only have I had the chance to meet many people through my work in PRSSA, I have also been able to connect using social networks such as Twitter.

REINSON: Where will the jobs be, in your view?

BAKER: There is a need for practitioners at nonprofits. Public relations is clearly in a good position if you take into account that it is often less expensive to have a great communication function than to buy advertising in the traditional news media. Students at universities with a broad range of communication-related courses will be the best choice for these positions because they get a variety of perspectives.

REINSON: What advice would you have for educators, should we listen more than try to make students conform?

BAKER: I believe there is value in teaching “outside the box” and programs that don’t allow for creativity will produce students who cannot handle real world situations. However, we have to learn the basic values that drive successful professionals. Topics such as ethics, transparency and diversity need to be included in every lesson plan. Students should be exposed to advocates of the profession to get other views.

REINSON: What about transparency and the future of the profession?

BAKER: Today’s corporate environment has changed. Those who attempt to hide something get caught and that is where a good practitioner can make or break an organization. In our classes, we’ve discussed competitive intelligence and the idea that managers should never be surprised. If we are starting the discussion versus playing catch up and we have done our homework, we will be prepared for whatever comes our way, leading and not reacting. Organizations still too often feel they can hide. That needs to change.

REINSON: What do you say to potential employers who might not even understand how Web 2.0 may shape the profession yet? Today’s graduates can be a real threat to their job security, can’t they?

BAKER: I am only a threat to the employer that doesn’t get that Web 2.0 is just another tool in the arsenal to build relationships. The trick is learning how to use the tools and when to use them. We all know you don’t pull out the sledgehammer to hang a picture, sometimes you just send out a press release to meet your objective. Still, employers should know these Web 2.0 tools aren’t going away. They need to be quickly integrated into the process.

REINSON: Leadership opportunities can be rare for recent graduates, and organizations sometimes say new employees should “pay their dues” rather than have important responsibilities. How do you see it?

BAKER: I think the “pay your dues” tagline went away when the economy went south. Organizations need employees who can do more for less but you can’t go in the door needing to be taught how to be a PR professional. If you need to learn the basics then get an internship or volunteer at a nonprofit. That’s where you build skills and when you interview, don’t sell yourself short. If you have the ability and experience to do the job you should be confident.

REINSON: Any final thoughts on the future of public relations education?

BAKER: I think that the biggest shift the future may hold is taking the fluff out of the process. I am a communications and journalism major, that’s it. I am a strategic communicator, not because my degree states that, but because my institution helped me understand what that means. Today, we expect transparency from corporations and in 10 years we will expect that same level of truth from our educational institutions. Students need skills and those can be anything from writing to public speaking. They are useless if we are not encouraged to think critically and for ourselves.

REINSON: Thank you, David. We’ll be watching to see how the public relations profession is shaped by the class of 2009.

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