Using the "40 Under 40" in the classroom

PRWeek's annual "40 Under 40" list of young leaders, which ran in the August issue, can be very useful in PR classes. I've used the list to teach simple content analysis, stimulate reflection on leadership, and construct a student-produced online book.

PRWeek's annual “40 Under 40” list of young leaders, which ran in the August issue, can be very useful in PR classes. I've used the list to teach simple content analysis, stimulate reflection on leadership, and construct a student-produced online book.

When the 2010 list appeared, for example, I asked students to content analyze the brief profiles of the rising stars to determine what professional specialties or responsibilities seemed most prominent. Two areas of expertise accounted for half of those on the list: social and digital media strategy (10) and business and portfolio growth and expansion (10). Five other specialties were mentioned several times each: media relations, financial communications, social responsibility and multicultural marketing, brand development, and crisis communications. 

The students drew two conclusions from this simple analysis. First, there are multiple pathways to leadership. Second, developing a specialty area or expertise may be important in gaining recognition and acquiring new opportunities on the job.

Graduate students took on a more ambitious project in 2008. They conducted depth interviews with 20 recognized young PR leaders and then wrote a profile about each. We collected the stories and published an online book, PRofiles of Success, available at http://plankcenter.ua.edu/images/stories/profilebook.pdf

When the graduate students analyzed the collective interviews, they identified four characteristics that the 20 young leaders said were crucial to developing their own leadership skills and becoming successful:

• Lead by example. By modeling the way, leaders motivate others, reinforce appropriate values, and set high standards.

• Learn from mentors. Mentors can be powerful role models. They also provide vital connections and introductions to others, opportunities for growth and development, and personal support and counsel.

• Keep PR relevant. Leaders stay on top of fast-moving changes on the PR landscape, articulate and interpret them to others, and embrace change.

• Bring your passion to work. Passion for work and the profession increases energy in your team, inspires others, and stimulates commitment.   

These leadership values and qualities aren't new, but they seem to be more compelling to students when they discover them through the voices and stories of young PR leaders. PRWeek's “40 Under 40” list provides one way to bring the stars into the classroom.

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 Corporation. His column focuses on PR students, young professionals, and education. He can be reached at berger@apr.ua.edu.

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