The day you stop learning in PR, is the day you should stop practicing

Learning is for life, if you’re not learning at least one new thing each day then it’s time for a change. Part of this means having the confidence to throw yourself into situations, occasionally opting for the ‘agree now, learn how to later’ approach. If you’ve got a drive and passion, an inquisitive mind, and a highly controlled inner ego that only wants to be recognised for high quality work, then these are some of the ingredients needed to succeed in the PR industry.

In reality though, what do any of these things mean? It’s emotive. If you were entering other professions such as law or accountancy, then you would have a logical framework to follow for entering the profession. A particular set of qualifications or work experiences needed, even a form of competency framework that shows you the core skills needed to progress from A to B.

In this respect the PR industry needs to work to identify the core competencies required in a role, the various ways to enter the profession, along with an effort on Continual Professional Development (CPD). To my knowledge the piece of work that gets closest to outlining the capabilities required in PR is Global Alliance’s ‘The Global Capabilities Framework Project’ — although do leave a comment if there is more recent research to read.

Both industry bodies, the PRCA and CIPR, offer CPD programmes and to complicate matters further, various agencies run their own development programmes who have accreditation with either industry body. Given this complicated landscape of qualifications and CPD programmes — how do you make sense of everything?

PRCA Industry vs. Academics Debate

To (eventually) help find an answer to this question, the PRCA ran their first ‘Industry vs. Academics’ debate in London last month. Chaired by Stephen Waddington of Ketchum, the panellists were:

Faith Howe, Director & Partner, Head of Talent Development, UK and Middle East at FleishmanHillard

Chris Owen, Director, M&C Saatchi PR

Dr. Nicky Garsten, PR and Communications Programme Director, Greenwich University

Robert Minton-Taylor, Senior Lecturer, School of Marketing, Public Relations and Communications, Leeds Becket University

A deliberately contentious title to draw in the crowds — It worked. Around 120 people filled the room, a mixture of academics and practitioners, many of who have gained industry recognition and influence for their dedication to the subject. It was a unique opportunity to catch up with old friends and contacts; all united in the belief that the PR industry needs to formalise education and career development.

The event led with the question ‘Is it necessary to have a PR degree?’ and obviously the answer is no… But the panel’s two main focuses were how people enter the profession and dealing with attrition later in a PR career. Particularly how PR education is often guilty of focusing too heavily on theory without giving practice enough attention. For a full write-up of the event visit Marcel’s blog.

The evening was not short of discussion and occasional moments of debate, particularly from some passionate supporters (mostly on Twitter) who saw PR degrees as providing the critical foundation knowledge for entering the profession. Although where higher education can provide a theoretical foundation of knowledge, it was noted many students lack the necessary ‘soft skills’ needed for activities such as holding conversations on the phone.

Even though I invested £20,000+ in a PR degree, it’s clear that there are many ways you can enter into PR. These days you could argue ‘degree required’ entry-level roles actually inadvertently filter for the same old ‘blueprint’ candidates. In this area the fabulous work of the Taylor Bennet Foundation to get Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) graduates into full-time work is critical — the fact this initiative is needed at all is a little embarrassing, why isn’t the industry diverse already?

What’s the answer?

The big question students were asking at the event was ‘Have I wasted my time and money on a PR degree?’ — my answer to that is no! I’ve blogged about that before here, my PR degree has paid off well for me so far and has probably accelerated my career journey in many ways.

There were many answers to the ‘industry vs. academics’ debate:

  1. To improve the quality of people entering the PR industry, there needs to be a better working relationship between practitioners and academics (often there is a blend between the two)
  2. There is a responsibility of managers and HR teams to recognise the importance of accepting a wide range of candidates to PR roles — don’t just get drawn towards the same white middle-class degree laden mould
  3. Despite the innovation brought by digital over the last 11 years, we’re still slow to accept the fact developments in automation (among other things) could have severe consequences to our bottom lines
  4. Given the importance of grounding PR work in theory, in my view there isn’t enough theory being updated to account for how digital has changed everything
  5. There are many ways to enter the PR industry, each way in relies on experience and eventually contacts

Ultimately, the day you stop learning in PR, is the day you should stop practicing.