In my July column, I discussed a research report in which PR students named Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities and politicians as the best PR leaders in the country. I asked you to help me answer the following: Why did students name celebrities and politicians more often than legendary PR leaders like Harold Burson or Betsy Plank? Why did the majority of students say they were unaware of any national leaders in the field? Here are some of your comments.
“Taj” commented online that Oprah is a marketing genius with a unique style that attracts a great deal of media attention. A number of others, and students see her as a leader – a strong, proud role model.
Practitioner Ashley Margo blogged that politicians and celebrities are pervasive in media used by students, who equate visibility with PR success in our image-dominated world. She argued that most students have limited access to PR role models because their education is more focused on theories and skill development, rather than on individual leaders or role models.
Bronagh Hanley of Big Noise PR also pointed to a lack of access for many students to PR leaders. She proposed the creation of a “forward-thinking online interactive community” where PR pros could connect with students to share information, advice, strategic counsel, and so forth.
That's a fine idea. And it's supported by recent research in which PR teachers claimed that professional role models are the “best teachers” of PR values and beliefs about excellent leadership in the field.
What seems clear in these and other comments is that we need to close the distance between students and role models, as well as between PR education and practice. That's not a new idea, but rather a reminder that the need is still great. Excellent role models represent a rich source of advice and inspiration for students, who in turn represent the future of the profession. Incorporating role models into classes and educational experiences might be a simple concept, but it is an effective way to help brighten that future.
Bruce Berger, Ph.D., is Reese-Phifer Professor of Advertising & Public Relations at the University of Alabama. Previously he was the VP of PR at Whirlpool Corporation. His column focuses on PR students, young professionals, and education. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.