Teaching PR: What it Means to Me

“Some men see things as they are, and ask “why.” I dream of things that never were, and ask “why not.” – Robert F. Kennedy

Several years ago, I was given the opportunity to guest lecture to a class of public relations majors at a college in Buffalo, N.Y. Having previously spoken to a number of PRSSA chapters around the country and with my previous background in the media, I thought teaching PR would be fairly easy.

It was far from easy. 

I didn’t get the position, which ended up being a great “A-Ha” moment. It was in the aftermath of the guest lecture that I realized teaching the next generation of public relations professionals would be my goal. It took a few more guest lectures and speaking appearances, but I finally landed in the classroom. Over the last 16 months, I’ve had the privilege to be an adjunct professor at American University and the University of Maryland. Both universities have enabled me to use what I’ve learned over my career and pass it along to future pros.

Teaching PR can be very rewardingThere was something I realized, after a lecture last week, that made me stop and think. Do we, as educators and communications professionals, truly understand the good fortune we have to teach? While I haven’t always been a professor, I have been a student of communications. Every single day, I learn something new about public relations, marketing, social media and digital analytics. We have an incredible opportunity to take what we know and help shape what our field will look like in five, ten, or fifteen years. But, that is only if we allow ourselves to step back and remember what it was like to be students while teaching PR.

Education means more to me today than it did when I graduated with my bachelor’s degree. In the mid-1990’s, I had no dream or interest to re-enter the classroom. However, by 2011, I saw how fulfilling it was to my wife to teach what she learned in nursing. And when I saw how mentors and pros I admire enjoyed being in the classroom, it was hard to not give into that next career goal.

What have I learned from teaching public relations and social media? First, students want your advice. They want to know how to do a strategic plan, but what they future may hold. And it doesn’t need to be sugar coated. Teaching PR requires you to be honest and tell students that a job may not be waiting for them after graduation. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t give it their all, though.

Second, allow yourself to be real. Not an image of what you think students want you to be. Your reputation (and most likely your resume) got you into the classroom. Give students exactly what you would give a client or at a speaking engagement: The real you. If you try to fake it, the chances of you losing students are high. If you think explaining why a billboard is a tactic in PR is a snoozer, bring your experiences to the front. There’s a reason you’re standing up at the front of the class.

Lastly, enjoy the process of teaching PR. Whether you are teaching one class or three, there is a ton about teaching that can wear you down. Lectures, grading an exam or project, student concerns, and classroom logistics can be a pain. You know what? Why not take a moment and think about why you wanted to teach in the first place. Sure, you can have a bad day. But, overall, it’s awesome to see how students progress through the semester or are able to offer advice that can make their path to professionals a little smoother.

Remember, while the student gets a grade that will help he or she graduate, you will ultimately be the one that can inspire that student into a career by teaching PR. As Herb Brooks said, “This is your time. Now take it.”


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