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Formal Education In Public Relations

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Nearly 120 colleges and universities throughout the nation offer sequences in the field of public relations, and 300 colleges and universities offer courses in the field. The bulk of these courses are taught in departments of journalism or communications.

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), a national professional organization with more than 10,000 members, has a collegiate offshoot, which has a membership of 4300 students. By belonging to a professional group in college, prospective public relations practitioners can avail them-selves of the services and advisory benefits of already-practicing, first-rate professionals. The benefits are many. Each student must, of course, learn the field himself, first academically, and then through on-the-job training, but with professional expertise available even during those college days, many pitfalls can be avoided.

Numbers, by themselves, do not tell the full story of the popularity of courses in public relations. But Paul Peterson, a professor of communications at Ohio State University, pointed out in a survey, more students are enrolling in public relations courses than in any other area of journalism or communications departments. Nothing could say more about the field's surge in popularity.

According to the Public Relations Society of America, one should have a college degree in order to become a public relations specialist. A good general education, augmented by specific instruction in public relations and communications, prepares one to enter this fascinating but competitive field of endeavor.

PRSA spells out some additional requirements of people who want to enter the field. Needed skills include working with other people, writing and editing, disseminating information, producing brochures and other types of communication, special events such as news conferences, public speaking and research and evaluation.

A well-known national practitioner summed up the prospects of public relations as follows:

The future looks good for public relations. It's a grow-ing field primarily because organizations realize that good, strong interrelationships among all groups-employees, shareholders, customers, government, opinion leaders-are essential to their survival and welfare. Also, the increasing sophistication of communications technology demands increasing attention to the integrity of what is communicated, as well as how it is communicated.

Another watershed mark for the advancement and sophistication of public relations occurred following World War II. It was then that experts in the field realized that it was becoming imperative for everybody to have specific, higher education. The necessity became increasingly evident during the subsequent years.

Throughout the 1950s, during and following the Korean War, as American industry began blossoming and the need for an accompanying system of professional public relations became apparent, many independent public relations firms began expanding appreciably. Services for aiding American corporations with their marketing efforts through expert communication and persuasion techniques were becoming greatly in demand.

The trend continued in the United States into the 1960s and beyond. But there was another phenomenon during the period, which also enhanced the role of public relations.

With the war in Vietnam and the civil rights movement, Americans from all walks of life began to emphasize the need for exact and clear communication. Also, given the fervent anti-war sentiment, coupled with wide disbelief in government policy and official statements, it was necessary for people on all sides of the issue to learn a great deal about communicating clearly. Consequently, a wider network of communication specialists, especially in the public relations area, was spawned.

Ruder Finn & Rotman-A Representative Example of Public Relations Today

Since I've been practicing public relations, the profession has taken on many additional jobs or functions. Since our merger early in 1982, we have become the largest independent public relations firm in the United States. Simply stated, that means that we're the largest firm which is not owned by somebody else-in most cases, a giant advertising company.

We are what is known as a full-service agency. When we started, the product publicity release was pretty close to full service. Today, however, public relations is expected to cover a multitude of things, which we most certainly do. We are a main a full-service agency, with our services brochure requiring sixteen pages to cover the entire list. And it is growing.

We are representative of large, multi-faceted firms. Without wishing to appear immodest, we provide as many services as any major firm. In many areas, we have been a pacesetter. We are always competitive. We have to be.

Although smaller firms would not (and do not) have as varied a line of services as we do, the functions we perform include those provided by smaller companies. Looking closely at us will provide a good idea of what public relations firms, of different sizes, do. Here, excerpted from our corporate brochure, is how we describe six specialty areas:

  • Corporate Public Relations. Corporate performance is among the most critical areas in which public relations skills and strategies can make a contribution. A corporation is a financial structure which enables managers to perform needed functions in society; the stated goals of these managers give character and leadership to the corporation. It is within this dimension of corporate planning that systematic and mature public relations counsel performs a valuable service.

Corporate and financial public relations planning starts with the definition of a company's purpose and character. A thoughtful, well organized program is then created to present the company's profile to investors, analysts, bankers, institutional portfolio managers, editors, civic and government officials and other key audiences.

We work for both large and small publicly owned companies. Areas of involvement include counseling on corporate strategic plans, mergers and acquisitions, identity programs and other significant events that affect corporate progress.

Staff members include specialists in all corporate relations activities. They write and design annual and quarterly reports, plan annual meetings, arrange presentations to analyst groups, schedule speaking engagements at business and financial forums, maintain relations with the business media, help establish liaison with federal and state legislators, and work with executives in preparing policy statements, position papers, articles and other published materials.
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