Editor’s note: Annually, we begin the year by featuring posts by industry thought leaders predicting key trends that will impact the public relations profession. Follow the series and join the discussion by using the hashtag #PRin2016.
When first asked to write a blog post about my predictions of the top trends in 2016, I wanted to decline. Unfortunately I don’t have a magic crystal ball, so I don’t know the “right” answers. Professors go to school for a long time and earn top degrees, but believe it or not, we still don’t know everything—gasp. However, I am excited to give you my “best educated guess” as to what the future holds in the public relations industry…at least from the educator’s perspective.
I am constantly searching out best practices and uncovering skills our students need to succeed in the industry after they leave the university classroom. In the last few years developing new professionals’ strategic social media skills have climbed to the top of our list.
Students typically come to us with an understanding about how to use the full range of social platforms (sometimes better than us), but they lack the understanding about how to fit these platforms into a public relations strategy. In 2016 public relations educators will need to continue to adjust curriculum to develop insightful ways to help students grasp evolving best practices on social platforms to build meaningful relationships for their clients.
I regularly hear from professionals in a wide-range of industries when I do our on-site internship visits that social media is a space they love to gain the Millennial mindset. However, while students understand how to use the platforms, employers need those same students to provide deeper insight. Emerging professionals need to gain skills in research and analytics to offer better measurement for client companies. The need for social media strategy skills will only grow and educators will be compelled to help students leave school prepared and ready to practice as soon as they enter the workforce.
Another essential skill challenging professors around the country is the lack of developed writing skills we see of the students who enter our doors. In general most students come to the university with sub-par writing skills, and I argue this situation will continue to challenge educators in 2016. We will need to continue to catch up those who need stronger basic grammar skills as well as grounding them in AP style competency.
At Ohio Northern University this situation has lead us to include a few weeks at the beginning of each semester as a refresher course of basic grammar. We supplement that review with additional lessons in AP style. We’ve added weekly AP quizzes to help students gain a deeper understanding of journalistic writing style.
Again, in a constant search for how to best prepare our graduates for the public relations industry, I find writing good writing to be an essential requirement. Students who can write well and understand the importance of highly developed writing skills, are the first ones to find secure jobs. Why? Because most employers are desperate to find employees with the skills to immediately engage target publics with key messages. The least amount of time employers have to spend reviewing (or worse—teaching) these skills, the better.
The final public relations education trend I see for 2016, to bring in the way of public relations education, relates to professional skills. The soft skills students used to gain at home have now become part of the public relations curriculum. These skills are hard to fit in an already full schedule, but are important to master before students reach the workforce.
The soft skills students need to master include listening, dressing appropriately, writing thank you notes, going beyond the basics and being punctual. Each of these characteristics can make or break an entry-level public relations professional.
I see this ever-emerging trend is often overlooked, yet is one of the most critical. Educators need to recognize these needs and aim to better equip students with the tools by placing them in professional situations before graduation. We have found that offering students feedback on these essential characteristics in college will help better prepare them for the workforce. Employers tell us they expect to hire and retain only those students who possess these vital skills.
As the professional world moves on to a new calendar year, we frantically move to the second half of the academic year. This means we will be working hard to prepare the next generation of public relations practitioners to enter the workforce.
If I ever get my hands on the magic crystal ball I’m certain for 2016 social media strategy, writing and professional skills would appear. At least this is my “best educated guess” but no arguing—I’m the professor and I’m (almost) always right!
Alisa Agozzino, Ph.D., APR, is an assistant professor of public relations at Ohio Northern University. She serves as editor-in-chief for the national Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Educator’s Academy newsletter and also is the co-chair of the Central Ohio PRSA public relations committee. Dr. Agozzino’s main research interest lies in social media tools within the public relations field. Her current research agenda examines how social media impacts different industries- from nonprofit, to admissions offices, to public relations professionals.
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