A plea to PR pros: please respond to students

A PR student recently sent me an e-mail response she received from one of the best-known companies in the land.

A PR student recently sent me an e-mail response she received from one of the best-known companies in the land. The nameless e-mailer said the organization could only answer her previously raised questions if “the proper internal question process is followed.” This response arrived SIX weeks after the student e-mailed a simple request for information to a PR practitioner at the company. 

Ignoring student requests is not a new issue, but it may be worsening due to the growing number of PR students in the land or increasing professional workloads. For example, graduate students in my seminar in persuasive communications are required to analyze a national PR campaign. In doing so, they must attempt to conduct a brief phone or e-mail interview with a PR practitioner from the relevant organization. 

But interviews rarely happen. In fact, fewer than 20% of more than 150 professionals contacted in recent years have responded in any fashion to student queries. Fewer than 10% have been willing to invest 10 minutes by phone or e-mail to respond to a few questions about their company's campaign.

So here's my plea: Please make a few minutes available each month to respond to student queries, even if it's to decline an interview or information request. I know that everyone in the field is busy. Work demands are incredibly high. Continuously doing more with less is the norm. And some practitioners already give a great deal to students by speaking with classes, reviewing resumes, or otherwise engaging with education.

However, PR students are our future leaders and your future employees. They are customers for your products and services. They also look to you as role models. So please, don't ignore them. You have a wonderful opportunity to help students become your organization's customers or champions for life. You have an opportunity to build relationships with prospective employees. And you can make a positive difference in their perceptions of the profession. So please, pass it on.

Bruce Berger, Ph.D. is Reese Phifer Professor of Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Alabama and a member of the board of The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. Previously he was VP of PR at Whirlpool. His column focuses on PR students, young professionals, and education. He can be reached at berger@apr.ua.edu.

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