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Success in the public relations classroom and beyond

The 2011-2012 academic year is underway, and as public relations students strive to master the fundamentals, along with new technologies, Stefan Pollack, Adjunct Professor at the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California offers insights into what it takes to succeed in today’s public relations classroom and beyond.

What are some of the books you have selected for this semester?

In essence, I do not use books. Primarily, because the nature of the class, “writing for controlled media” is such an evolving discipline that no textbook keeps up with it well. I use industry journals and white papers as examples of best practices. Writing comes from life’s experiences, what one has been exposed to, read, seen or interacted with and no book can replace the intellectual curiosity that is so necessary to good writing. Journalism students know how to write, that is, they have the skills of constructing sentences, basic grammar knowledge, verbal prowess, etc. The focus of the class is how to take all that and write convincing documents for controlled media. It is a matter of understanding how the recipient will perceive what one is trying to say.

What non-PR classes do you feel are most important to supplement the education of an aspiring PR professional?

I believe that a background in sociology and behavioral sciences allows for broader thinking, as do psychology courses. English majors have the advantage of ongoing examples of great writing, the use of language and writing structures because of their extensive reading lists. Business courses help as well to understand that kind of “language” so necessary to be on the same page with business writers. In essence, anything that can add to a “frame of reference” one brings to the writing helps.

What was the most memorable class project/ student submission you have seen in recent years? What can other students take away from the examples?

Since I have been teaching for a decade, there have been hundreds of fine examples, for my final exam is always a class project in which the whole class takes on “would-be” clients and offers examples of writing and designing a brochure, newsletter or building websites. As part of the project, they have to give a complete rationale as to why their project would make sense for their clients. Midterm exams also provide excellent examples of such projects, since the whole class then divides into several groups and each group addresses the needs of one client. As such, I have hundreds of final projects and around 80 group midterms that are all good and very creative.

What makes something memorable is whether it is contextually relevant to the reader/viewer and whether it compels action. This is the same whether in design, language use and/or function. The best example of any work is one that enables the reader or viewer to deduce for themselves, after exposure to a project, they must take action.

Do you incorporate social media into your curriculum? If so how?

Writing for controlled media, clearly incorporates social media where as more media consumption is controlled than ever before from content creation of audio, text, images and video. By using expression and acknowledgement avenues by means of Facebook posts, tweets, blog posts, and others, users are able to control the flow of information at unprecedented levels. As a result, both in nature of academic/professional development and informational interaction, social media is discussed, analyzed, and practiced in every session.

Whereas the amount of information delivered and consumed seems incomprehensible and scattered, consumption is now more controlled now than before as it is targeted and monitored in delivery and filtered amongst a qualified network. Students are requested to consider and use social media marketplaces as viable tools and learning environments for PR practice.

Do you use social media to connect with your students outside of the classroom?

Yes, I encourage students to connect with me on Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter and engage with me as they see fit. As with all things, some are more engaged than others. Since my life is an open book on social media, where I don’t block anybody or aggressively filter available content, I’m pretty easy to connect with and engage.

Initially students seem to be more interested in the content sharing and discovery side of social media, yet are transitioning into leveraging it for its PR advantages.

For PR professionals who do not have an academic background in PR, are there any particular classes you would recommend they audit? Do you have any suggestions to help fill educational gaps?

As far as I am concerned, there is no substitute for life’s experiences to educate one for the public relations business. Bringing those life experiences to a traditional PR practice classroom creates a more well-rounded professional. When you couple that with one’s own intellectual curiosity, the best PR professionals become life-time students of the profession and keep current through reading materials on trends within the communications industry, as well as the news of clients’ industries that could impact new directions as to client work. As far as classes, I am always a fan of PR professionals having knowledge of business operations and finance as well social and behavioral sciences, because ultimately understanding the business world and cultural anthropology is vital toward motivating people and affecting change – something all PR professionals do in practice.

About Stefan Pollack

As president & chief financial officer of The Pollack PR Marketing Group, Stefan plays an integral role within the agency. His responsibilities include management of client services, new business development and financial planning for the agency. Stefan also oversees and directs media relations, social media and outreach programs on behalf of several clients in various industries in addition to leading the agency’s professional service firm practice. He is the Immediate Past Chair, Americas Region Board of the Worldcom Public Relations Group and is an Adjunct Professor at the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California. Follow Stefan on Twitter @stefanpollack

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