Leadership Series: Robert French

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Published At: November 4, 2013 2:30 p.m.
by Susan Griffiths

No public relations career is identical to another. Every PR professional follows a unique path to success, and in Auburn, Ala., there is a success story that must be told.

An article profile on Robert French, professor at Auburn University and leader in the development of PROpenMic and BuzzFeed-style articles.
An article profile on Robert French, professor at Auburn University and leader in the development of PROpenMic and BuzzFeed-style articles.

With a multitude of awards and a passion for teaching, Robert French is the definition of PR excellence. However, he did not always plan to become the communication guru he is today.

“I really did fall into it,” French explains. “I had always wanted to teach, but I was encouraged to explore a few options. I started getting really interested in radio and television. That’s when I knew I had found something to get excited about.”

French got involved with the Easter Seals therapeutic camp, Camp ASCCA (Alabama’s Special Camp for Children and Adults), and knew he had found something extraordinary.

“It was this amazing thing that no one knew about. So I started working, basically developing all of their public relations, and I fell in love,” French said.

Later, French decided to return to school and earn his master’s degree. After graduation, he went to work directing student activities at Auburn University and later at Florida State University. At Florida State, he worked with students, managed a $1 million budget and organized campus activities.

Now at Auburn University, French teaches design and style courses.

“I believe every student should be begging to learn how journalism works,” said French. “You need to know how to think like a journalist.”

With this teaching motto, French guides students as they write 10 stories a semester, which are divided between two publications: Auburn Family and Corner News. Students leave the class with multiple published pieces and an in-depth look at journalism. French’s students also have the opportunity to learn how to effectively use social media and digital design.

His love for digital communication started at an early age.

“Computers were just starting to emerge, so I went to Kinkos and asked to learn its software,” French said.

With the ever-developing world of social media, French keeps his students aware of the latest trends. “BuzzFeed-like posts” have recently taken over Internet reading. By harnessing that type of writing, French’s students have seen incredible success.

“One student had a post go viral recently — garnering 23,729 to-date,” French said. “That particular post is an example of us experimenting with Tumblr/Buzzfeed-like posts. We want to see if the use of these types of posts can draw in traffic and bolster exposure to the features the students also write. The features are, of course, more detailed and valuable. The Buzzfeed-like posts are one tactic in a larger ongoing strategy for building our audience. That audience, by the way, has doubled this semester due to this experiment.“

While his classroom provides a place for students to hone their skills, French has worked to create PROpenMic, a network for communication students to connect with one another and with professionals and educators. This site has steadily gained in popularity since its creation in 2008. 

“[PROpenMic] primarily serves as a place for various colleges to explore writing (or job searches) through class participation. I’ve seen members registering lately from colleges in New York, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida and the United Kingdom, for example,” he explained.

French continues to display excellence in communication and to pass along his knowledge.

“There are places everywhere to learn and get involved,” said French. “Find some way to seek out those opportunities and make them work for you.”

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