A learning experience

I graduated from college more than 20 years ago, so being surrounded by 90 PR professors from 70 schools was a bit intimidating.

I graduated from college more than 20 years ago, so being surrounded by 90 PR professors from 70 schools was a bit intimidating. However, the lessons I learned from the first day of Edelman's 2012 Academic Summit took me back to those glorious university years where I absorbed so much knowledge.

The theme of this year's event is “When all media is social." It is the fifth such gathering Edelman has put together and the first one that has been conducted in Silicon Valley, in partnership with Media X at Stanford University and PRWeek.

The basic goal of the Academic Summit is to inform university PR curricula. Based on the first day alone, the teachers have already learned a lot.

USC Annenberg professor Burghardt Tenderich presented findings from the 2011 GAP (Generally Accepted Practices) study. Among the enlightening data was the fact that the PR/communications team has budgetary control over social media activity at 50% of companies; that figure rises to 54% in regards to strategic control of the function. Is PR leading the way in social media? The numbers seem to indicate so.

In the day's next session, a host of professors from schools across the country spoke about some very specific courses that truly underscore the various ways social media is being incorporated into coursework. One example that jumps out is the New Media Drivers License seminars offered at Michigan State University. Led by Richard Cole, this course is open to students and new business teams alike and, through guided experience, helps attendees develop a complete online presence. It epitomizes the way schools are getting more innovative about teaching social media innovation.

And then the popcorn came out and we sat to enjoy a movie from Kevin Breslin, #whilewewatch. The documentary, which chronicled the Occupy Wall Street movement, was a bold statement on the power and sophistication of citizen journalism. A line from the film in which one of the occupiers proudly noted how his "smartphone was his weapon," spoken against the backdrop of officers arresting protesters, truly sums up the power social media is increasingly placing in all of our hands - a lesson professors, students, and everyone in the PR profession must embrace.

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