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Are universities doing enough to help the next generation of #PR professionals?

Written by Paul Stallard
The future of PR?

The future of PR?

A few months ago I interviewed my old boss and founder of Whiteoaks PR for my #PR Ask the experts series. Bill is also a lecturer at Bucks University and asked if I would return the favour by running a talk and workshop with his student. I always appreciate the support and training that I received when I started out on my PR journey so this wasn’t an issue for me and I happily agreed.

I was also interested to meet his group of students after being told good things about their desire and knowledge but also because Bill had informed me of the practical training the university provides alongside the academic work it does.

So on Wednesday I was met by Bill in the reception at Bucks Uni and he led me up to meet his student. This amusingly almost didn’t happen after the lift broke down and there was a nervous couple of minutes where we spoke to the attendant who told us he was going to go to the roof to  winch us up!! Thankfully we began moving again and we continued our journey by going up the stairs.

So with nerves shot to pieces and an introduction from Bill to the class telling the room I was a Liverpool supporter (I have never been so insulted) I began my presentation. We covered the fundamentals of what makes a good story and why storytelling is so important in the modern PR world and looked at real life examples from stories this week. I also provided the group with three actual briefs that Berkeley PR has worked on to see how they would approach the process.

This was when it got interesting. I was really impressed with the understanding of the process that the group had, and their ideas actually matched a number that my team had carried out for said clients. Why would this be such a shock?

Well, because I interview a lot of PR students for work experience, internships or trainee roles, and unfortunately, I am always surprised by how many graduates actually have a poor understanding of the job. Following three years of theory a number have been almost shocked when I have told them they needed to call the media to sell their story or complete a coverage report.

I genuinely left the session with a real sense that the future generation of PR professionals are in safe hands. In fact I was so impressed that I have already snapped up three of the group for work experience.

Over a coffee afterwards, Bill explained that a big part of the course at Bucks Uni is sourcing guest speakers, such as myself, to run real life scenarios. For example he also has a contact who trains the room on how to sell to the media and a number of old friends and colleagues who are more than happy to spare a morning.

My gut feel unfortunately, is that this isn’t the norm these days. The theory and strategic aspect of any PR degree should never be over looked but neither should practical advice. I believe universities should push students to do work experience and internships, get guest speakers in, run training sessions that PR agencies would actually run for their staff, alongside the academic training. I think the two need to go hand in hand or graduates are entering the market under prepared and let’s face it, it is tough out there.

  • Aimee Ullah

    Thank you so much for the taking the time to come in and talk to us. Real life insight from guest speakers such as yourself, has definitely helped me during this course to put textbook talk into context and reassures occasionally apathetic students why they attend the 9am lecture on a Monday morning. Your emphasis on story telling really made me think more about different approaches to PR and just how much of an art it really is, as opposed to the stereotyped ‘press release’ spiel that comes from outsiders when you explain you are studying PR.

    Furthermore, kudos to Bill with regard to this post. We are so fortunate to have such a supportive lecturer who does not just recite textbooks and treat the curriculum as though it’s the single key to success, but instead has such a genuine interest in each of us succeeding in this industry.


    • paulstallard

      My pleasure Aimee. You are right. You are lucky to have a lecturer such as Bill. I learnt a great deal from him personally, so I know you are all in safe hands.

  • Dr. Bill Nichols

    Didn’t want to make it too easy for you Paul. Lift cost me a bit but the Liverpool wind-up was for free! Thanks for some very kind words. It’s certainly what we’re trying to achieve.

    • paulstallard

      My pleasure Bill and who would have thought a Southampton fan such as yourself could be such a cad!