International comparative studies of PR students are rare. But Dr. Elina Erzikova at Central Michigan University has studied Russian and US PR students for several years to examine their views and perceptions of the profession, leadership, and ethics. Do students in the two countries see things in more or less the same way?
According to Dr. Erzikova, both Russian and American students tend to idealize PR and see it as a glamorous and prestigious profession. The students also agree that leadership in the PR field is different from and superior to leadership in other occupations. The reason is twofold. First, because of the important role they believe that communications plays for organizations in society today. Second, because of the demanding communication skills and problem-solving abilities the profession requires. About 70% of the 377 Russian and American students in the survey felt this way.
On the other hand, students in the two countries viewed the requirements and values for successful PR leaders somewhat differently. Russian students said the most important values for PR leaders are imagination, skills, and intelligence. In addition, they emphasized that success is linked to creativity in the use of covert influence or manipulation to persuade others and achieve goals.
American students rated highest the values of honesty, capability, and helpfulness. They also viewed leadership largely through a distinctive ethics prism, emphasizing strong morals, integrity, and fairness in dealing with employees and publics.
Why the differences? Culture and history, says Dr. Erzikova. In Russia, PR has its roots in the decades-long communist propaganda that masked as official communication. This legacy still casts a shadow on how students and others view PR in that country, according to Dr. Erzikova, and the students' belief in hidden influence may be based on their desire to distance themselves from such overt propaganda.
Bruce K. Berger, Ph.D., is Reese Phifer Professor of Advertising & Public Relations at the University of Alabama. Previously, he was corporate VP of public relations at Whirlpool Corporation. He often writes about PR students and education. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org