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Wanted: Managers, No Experience Necessary

Posted At: September 21, 2009 12:14 PM
by Amanda Aviles

In today’s PR world, which attribute holds the most importance: experience or a managerial world view? While both traits appear to be held in an equal light, it is a growing trend to prepare students for managerial roles in the classroom, before they can even add an entry-level job to their resumes.

Why prepare these future PR professionals so prematurely? Dr. Bruce Berger, a nationally recognized PR practitioner and professor who teaches Public Relations Management at The University of Alabama, says early managerial preparation lays an important foundation for what he believes to be the three most important traits in a manager: an ethical orientation, a managerial world view and effective advocacy skills.

He says that after taking a class like this, “When you go to a job, you are sensitive to those factors and that helps you learn actually even better on the job.” Further, when the time comes for a student to step into a managerial position, he is more likely to bypass some of the formal training and spend valuable time focusing on the job at hand.

One of the most positive outcomes of a management-shaping class or degree program is that it teaches the students to think as a manager, not only as a technician like most people going into entry-level jobs will. Dr. Berger says that classes like these open students’ eyes to the idea of a managerial world view, something that he believes to be one of the most important qualities to a manager. He describes this managerial world view as, “how you look at the world and really how you see public relations as a practice, because I think how you see it has everything to do with how you practice. As a manager, the view is much larger, and you see public relations as a true management function that makes significant contributions to the health of an organization.”

Having managerial knowledge under your belt will also enhance the image that you will portray in future employers’ eyes. An article titled “Adding a Practical Course to the Curriculum” in the Council of Public Relations Firms’ The Firm Voice blog stated that almost half of PR firms have been making “investment hires” in lieu of the current economic situation. “Investment hires are typically talented people who don’t necessarily fill an open account position. The idea is that talent is talent, and with the right coaching, that person will eventually perform well,” states Kathy Cripps, president of the Council of Public Relations Firms, in the blog post. These days, everyone is trying to one-up each other, and managerial preparation added to the usual internship experiences and college involvement will put you in a league of your own.

According to the study “Excellence in Public Relations and Communication Management,” a national survey of PRSA members, which began in 1979, found correlations that suggested a technician-to-manager chain, meaning that PR practitioners who were active as technicians in 1979 were likely to be active as PR managers by 1985. In most technicians’ careers, they will make the leap at some point from technician to manager, and having had the education and preparation with them since their days as an undergrad will help make the transition a smooth one.

Ron Culp, partner and managing director of Ketchum PR Firm, validates this idea by stating that, “While an increasing number of academic PR programs are weaving business courses into their curriculums, a real breakout opportunity exists for students who better understand the management process. Most agency employees have negligible managerial experience before they get tapped as team leaders. Individuals who have solid managerial skills will find it easier to move up the career ladder.”

Is managerial preparation more than just a plus on a resume, though? Gary McCormick, APR, director of HGTV Relationship Development, puts an even stronger emphasis on the necessity of pre-real world managerial exposure. He states that, “More than ever, the reliance of relationship building and reputation management are important, but the profit and sound business practices that are necessary to stay in business are the primary focus of the management. PR professionals should understand that as well as they understand their own training and skills. It’s too late to learn this on the job. You are expected to understand it when you arrive and start receiving a paycheck.”

Classes similar in concept to Public Relations Management at UA are taught all around the nation, including schools like The University of Florida, Purdue University and The University of Maryland, where students have the option of taking a Communication Management class as an undergrad, or getting a master’s degree in PR Management. If simply taking one class can have such a positive influence on a PR newcomer’s future, imagine how far a master’s in the field could catapult a budding PR practitioner.

But what Dr. Berger hopes his students take with them after the final exam is something deeper than a one-up on competition or an understanding of how to lead a group. His wish is for his students to realize how important the idea of engagement is to their futures as not only professionals and managers, but as citizens.

Dr. Berger explains how the importance of citizenship struck him during research involving the top PR professionals in the world. He says during the research phase, “one of the things that really struck me was how leaders in the field, how much they engage in the world around them. They are all engaged people, which tells me that mentally, they are very much alive. They are very much attuned to what’s happening around them.”

Above all, “Great leaders are made not born.” Gary Rosenberg, a PR consultant for the Rosenberg Group, urges students and young professionals alike to dedicate themselves to becoming great leaders in his article for The Firm Voice titled, “Tough Times Require Great Leadership.” He encourages fresh faces to work on themselves, take courses on leadership and do anything that could help prepare them for the hopefully inevitable role as a manager. The need for leaders will never change, and the public relations field will greatly benefit from programs like the ones described at The University of Alabama and The University of Maryland, which consistently send recent graduates into the workplace with the knowledge they need to succeed in both the near and distant future.

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