MARKET FOCUS: A well-rounded education

Convergence on marketing is beginning to be reflected in education.

Convergence on marketing is beginning to be reflected in education.

With the increased convergence of marketing disciplines, in particular advertising, PR, sales promotion, and direct marketing, it is increasingly important that those entering the PR field already have a well-rounded view of communications and marketing. A few far-seeing colleges and universities are beginning to impart integrated marketing communications (IMC) skills to future PR professionals at the undergraduate level, where many of the fundamental ideas of PR's essence and role in the workplace are formed. But how widespread is this? There are more than 200 undergraduate PR programs in the country, and they generally keep themselves busy enough just teaching the basics. Kathleen Kelly, chairwoman of the PR department at the University of Florida, says her school's 11 full-time, tenure-track PR professors makes it the largest department in the nation. (A study she released three years ago put the average number of faculty members in a college PR department at a scant 1.5.) However, it has not adopted an integrated marketing philosophy. "We have the resources to try to address educational needs as they arise," she says, "but we'll always remain a faculty that is committed to the fundamentals of PR education." Kelly stresses the present need for more courses in specialized areas like investor relations, government relations, and lobbying, and says that she hopes to expand her program in that direction. "I don't think an integrated marketing communication perspective dominating the program would allow us to do that." Indeed, while IMC is highly touted in some circles, and widely considered to be a common-sense idea within the business community, it is not unanimously championed at the undergraduate level. Phyllis Larsen, an assistant professor in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Maria Len-Rios, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia, completed a study last summer that surveyed hundreds of advertising, communication, and PR professors across the nation to gauge their perceptions of how extensively their departments had integrated different disciplines. The majority rated their schools as "partially integrated." Additionally, 66% said that the integration of their curricula reflected changes in the PR industry, but only 58% agreed that IMC training would help their students succeed in the workplace. So while integrated marketing has clearly assumed a solid foothold in academia (41% of respondents said their courses had been integrated for more than 10 years), the necessity of IMC training has not yet risen to the level of conventional wisdom. Larsen says her findings indicate that "people feel that we're slowly moving in that direction." She also thinks that the industry is leading the educational establishment toward IMC, and not the other way around. "In the industry today, it's rare that you have a real strict separation between those approaches," she says. Larsen has another study under way designed to determine why industries seem to prefer IMC over more isolated communication strategies, but theories about the answer are not hard to come by. In relatively small markets - where many new PR graduates find their first jobs - many agencies include a variety of services, both to keep up with current trends and to keep themselves afloat with a smaller pool of clients. "In Lincoln, NE, in the Midwest, lots and lots of agencies have shifted from being solely advertising agencies to agencies that now call themselves 'full-service marketing communications agencies,' and they have advertising services and PR services and marketing communications services," Larsen says. Kelly, who taught in Lafayette, LA, before moving to Gainesville, FL, echoes that assessment. "What I saw was the appreciation for the knowledge of business," she says. "You're not going to find a PR firm [in these markets]. You're going to find a marketing, PR, advertising firm." Northwestern dives into IMC While many universities will focus on PR fundamentals while seeking to follow the industry's lead in related fields, others have jumped into IMC headfirst. Clarke Caywood is an associate professor and director of the PR sequence in the IMC Department of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Medill's graduate program is widely considered to be the leader in the IMC field, and Caywood is working to expand its teaching to undergraduates. In doing so, he is swimming against the current of the school. "The university's general philosophy - as it is in many private schools - is to not offer too much in the way of professional education. They try to emphasize the sciences and the arts and the liberal studies," he says. Northwestern does offer a certificate program in business institutions that includes courses in databases, economics, and integrated marketing. This spring, Caywood will begin teaching the first PR course to undergrads. He plans to eventually offer two tracks - data analysis for the more technically minded and a campaigns course for the more creatively focused. "[The undergrad program is] roughly based after our graduate model, but doesn't have the 20 courses or 30 courses we have. It'll have three or four courses." Caywood notes that the university is not opposed to business or PR education, but believes that such programs must be designed with critical-thinking skills in mind. "It would not necessarily be even a pro-PR course," he says, laughing. "It would have to be a critical course about all the dimensions." Caywood finds that most of his students fall into two categories: either those who are looking for business classes at a school that doesn't have an undergrad business school or prospective journalists in the prestigious Medill School. When dealing with the second group, Caywood has to tread a fine line. "It's been my goal not to steal away the baby journalists," he says. "'We'll get them later' is my phrase." Differing approaches A white paper on the "status, scope, and future of IMC" that was released in March and co-edited by Caywood's colleague at Medill, Frank Mulhern, argued that the academic world should lead the push toward IMC. Among its key findings was that, "Teaching advertising, promotion, and PR in universities and colleges at the undergraduate and graduate level within an 'integration' context is more reflective of what's happening in today's marketplace of media convergence." But prominent schools still differ on how to achieve that goal and how desirable it really is. Jerry Swerling, a PR management consultant and the director of PR studies at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication, points out that the IMC concept is one whose popularity tends to wax and wane. "This is a cyclical kind of thing," he says. Swerling has seen the rise of IMC twice before in his 30-plus years in the field, only to watch the enthusiasm for it dissipate. "It's more difficult to fully integrate in reality than it is conceptually. So I think that we're in another one of those peak periods, where there's a great deal of interest in IMC." Annenberg offers a strategic PR program, as opposed to an IMC-based one. Swerling emphasizes that although an understanding of IMC concepts is important in the promotional field, where marketing, PR, and advertising meet, it is not a comprehensive educational strategy for young PR students. "There's a definite area where these two things intersect," he says, "but there are also aspects of [PR] that don't have a hell of a lot to do with marketing." For that reason, Swerling says, IMC should be viewed as only one aspect of the generalized training necessary for undergraduates, many of whom might not be aware of how broad the practice of PR actually is. "We think part of our mission has got to be to make sure the students understand how much more there is to the field," he says. "We think that we're actually doing both the profession and the students a disservice by overemphasizing the marketing aspects of PR." Differences of opinion on the importance of IMC training in the halls of academia will likely persist. Critics of integrated marketing charge that its value has not been sufficiently established by empirical evidence. Supporters counter that the concept is self-evidently sensible in the business world, where it really counts. And, as Swerling notes, "We also have to remember that there's a lack of empirical evidence about what really is the effect of pure PR." Educating tomorrow's marketing experts Many undergraduate PR programs offer courses in related disciplines, if not specific IMC programs. Those mentioned by the experts include:
  • USC's Annenberg School for Communication. In addition to a broad-based strategic PR sequence, under- graduates can take Promotional PR, an IMC-oriented class that focuses on marketing PR. The school's capstone course, Advanced PR, involves campaign development and case studies that students can choose to tailor toward IMC.
  • College of Charleston. The Department of Management and Marketing in the School of Business and Economics includes ad and PR professors. An interdisciplinary business administration minor trains corporate and organizational communication majors in economics, accounting, and marketing.
  • Emerson College. The Department of Marketing Communication is an IMC program that educates students in advertising, PR, brand communications, marketing, sales, promotions, and e-commerce. Students in the department run EMCOMM, an IMC firm that does work for clients in Boston, where the school is located.
  • Northwestern University. The Integrated Marketing Communications Department in the Medill School of Journalism, an acclaimed IMC grad-school program, is being expanded to include undergraduates in the near future. Courses include database analysis, campaigns, and integrated marketing, led by former industry leaders and active business professionals.
  • Syracuse University. The S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications houses one of the America's largest and most well-respected PR departments. PR is taught as a "core management function," with a strong business orientation.
  • University of Florida. The large PR department in Gainesville offers students a variety of professors and fields of expertise. All undergrads are advised to minor in business to complement their communication training, including courses in finance, international marketing, and accounting.
  • University of Denver. The Daniels College of Business offers an IMC-influenced undergraduate degree in marketing that combines a business foundation with courses in marketing, promotion, advertising, and branding.

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