The Next Generation of Public Relations Practitioners: Are They Ready? and Are We Ready for Them?

Article excerpt

are they ready? and are we ready for them?

* Employees have micro-chips embedded in their skins so we can communicate to them instantaneously and en masse.

* There are no newspapers. You get your news - of course, only the news you want to hear - from a hologram programmed to appear when and where you want to see it.

* There is no such thing as permanent leadership in organizations: No CEOs, managers, supervisors. Responsibility moves through large organizations as, and when, required.

* Most "business" is done through virtual satellite offices. Suppliers, customers, employees are located everywhere from tree tops to underwater research stations, from Dubai to Yellowknife.

* Paper money no longer exists.

* Issues of diversity and gender are non-existent.

Sound like a perfect world? Or something too scary to comprehend? I have no scientific evidence to prove this is how the world will evolve; however, no one has any evidence that it won't. That's the weird, frightening, exciting fact about predicting the future. Particularly, the time beyond the year 2000 - it's an every-person's land of creation, speculation and surprise.

If that is true, how then do we prepare for it? More particularly, how do we prepare the next generation of public relations practitioners for a world in which there may be no reporters on the telephone, company newsletters to churn out, intimidating policy manuals to follow, static job descriptions - perhaps not even a permanent work place?

As academics and practitioners, how are we preparing the next generation for a very different world? And a very different profession? What are we teaching public relations students at the close of the millennium?

Are they ready?

And are we ready for them?

"Public relations education has improved tremendously for the undergraduate student in the past decade. Students now leave programs with an understanding of strategic planning and have a basic knowledge of research. In addition, the development of entry-level communication skills are ahead of those developed by graduates of undergraduate programs only a few years ago," says Melvin Sharpe, chair of the Public Relations Society's Educators' Academy.

The International Public Relations Association (IPRA), in a Gold Paper issued in 1990, pictured the ideal curriculum for public relations graduates as a series of three concentric circles. The middle, and smallest, circle includes subjects like those noted by Sharpe (visualize a chart): public relations writing, planning and basic research. The next circle includes subjects in the general field of communication: writing for mass media, media law and ethics, and theories of communication. The third and outer circle represents general liberal arts and humanities courses, in areas such as political science, languages and management.

A review of the curriculum of the top five public relations programs in the United States as ranked by a 1996 U.S. News & World Report article of the top eight programs listed in a Marquette University study, shows that most public relations programs cover the basics. Whether housed within schools of journalism or communication, it is safe to say that based on our existing standards, current public relations programs are providing an adequate education for the next generation of public relations practitioners.

But is adequate good enough?

What about preparing students for the next millennium? What evidence is there in school curricula that we are preparing public relations students for a fluid, boundaryless, hyper-real, chaotic, post-modern world; where knowledge is the only competitive advantage; where reputation, whether belonging to a transnational, community not-for-profit, or government agency is what all strategy is aligned toward; where the definition of stakeholder goes far beyond employee, shareholder or media; where communication is the fundamental process that links all parts of an organization? …