Teaching Public Relations in a Digital World

Public Relations

As a PR professional, I recently had occasion to step back into a role I occupied almost two decades ago: that of PR teacher. Of course, I’ve taught numerous media courses since then—writing, social media marketing, speech, media studies– but none of them specifically public relations. It’s interesting because in the ’90s I actually led the public relations sequence for a California university. Nevertheless, even though I’m active in public relations every day, I hadn’t really had occasion to think about how I’d teach it today in light of all the changes in the digital and social world that have impacted the industry.

Given that opportunity after being invited by a school for a visit, I came to realize the new way I would teach public relations today. Here’s what I decided: I’d teach PR similar to how I teach social media marketing,college teacher with emphasis on content, strategy, marketing, storytelling, plus visual storytelling, and with an understanding of cross-platform integration through Web, digital, social and mobile. With that, I’d underscore these points:

  • Content, means good writing, even great writing … finding your own voice and how it connects w/ others.
  • Competent execution: You don’t have to be great, but you have to be good … you have to understand the fundamentals, and then some. Hopefully, you can always team with other specialists to make execution great.
  • Attitude for collaboration: Understand that expertise is increasingly part of a shared experience. Knowing how to work in groups and teams is a fundamental. Politico CEO Jim VandeHei said it best when he shared his internal memo on Politico’s culture:

“People who thrive here are highly talented, self-motivated doers who are brimming with passion and a desire to win. …

There is no tolerance for office drama and problem ducking. Litigate differences in person, bluntly but respectfully. If a problem arises, confront it directly and don’t waste the time and energy griping about it with others. And then move on.”

 I’d also add: Be familiar with the new “tools of the trade.” For public relations, this is no longer the caricature of an individual practitioner with simply a phone, a competent media list, and a news release or a news pitch. Today it might mean creating a Storify, Flipboard, Paperli or infographic. It’s also about understanding digital, social, and mobile platforms, how they operate, intersect, and how they can work best together in a marketing context. What does Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc., offer a brand? How can they be effectively used to create and advance a product or organizational narrative? PR and marketing today is about the synergies you can create across platforms. It’s formally called “channel agnosticism—using paid, earned, owned and social to, as described by Jennifer Risi of Ogilvy Public Relations, “tell a cohesive story that resonates with discerning consumers.”

What’s your idea of the best methods and practices for teaching public relations in a digital world? Let us know.

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2 Responses to “Teaching Public Relations in a Digital World”


  1. 2 prdoctorchicago December 5, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    Thanks for liking and sharing our post. Come back again!


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