PR students name top issues for new decade

At the beginning of a new year, we often reflect on trends or issues in the previous year, even as we look ahead.

At the beginning of a new year, we often reflect on trends or issues in the previous year, even as we look ahead. In this spirit, I asked students in my PR classes to identify the most important issues they will confront in the field as we enter a new decade.

They named more than a dozen issues, ranging from the dismal job market to the need for better metrics to document the value of PR. But three concerns topped their list and produced some lively discussion: social media, gender issues, and trust. The students said social media is crucial to PR, and they are eager to master social media tactically and strategically. They also believe that social media strongly influence how their generation sees and interprets the world.

Gender issues remain a concern. Students in my classes, like those in many other PR classes across the country, are predominantly female – about 80%. These young women are keenly aware of the gender trend in the profession and wonder what it portends. Will they have equal pay and opportunities? Why aren't there more men in the field? Is PR the new nursing? Why isn't the profession more diverse? Is it the right profession for them in the long term?

Trust was discussed in several senses. Earlier we'd examined transparency via the Get Real booklet and the Page Society report on trust in business. We also reviewed Edelman's Trust Barometer, and several students reported on the current debate about the environment and the “climate denial industry,” seen by some as little more than a massive PR campaign intended to discredit.

We reflected on a long list of questions. How do we increase public trust in the PR profession? How can PR help organizations become more transparent? What are the ethics of participation in a denial campaign, or any campaign designed solely to discredit others? Who can be trusted today in a world characterized by fragmented media, ever more strident voices, and a widening ideological divide in politics?

These are good questions for students and professionals to ponder any time of the year, and I encourage you to share your top issues and insights. Happy new year.

Dr. Bruce Berger is Reese Phifer Professor of Advertising & Public Relations at the University of Alabama. Previously he was VP of PR at Whirlpool Corporation. His column focuses on PR students, young professionals and education. He can be reached at

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