What the PR industry wants from new recruits: Writing skills, ethics, and diversity

The Commission on Public Relations Education identified what PR students need to bring to their first jobs.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

NEW YORK: Each year, recent graduates enter the PR field with new skills. However, the industry still wants them focusing on the basics: writing and ethics.

These findings were released by the Commission on Public Relations Education this week. Its report is based on a survey conducted in fall 2016 and research gathered from the Commission on Public Relations Education Industry-Educator Summit, held in New York in spring 2015.

Its demand that young professionals develop better writing skills is nothing new. The industry has said that PR students’ writing proficiency needs to improve since the launch of the commission in 1973, said Kathleen Lewton, its 2018 co-chair.

"One of the things that the commission decided to do is go back to all the people we surveyed and try to nail down what specifically do they mean when they say [PR students] don’t write well," Lewton explained. "Are we talking about gathering information, grammar, writing reports, journalistic writing? We’re going to be looking at that throughout this year."

Respondents were asked to rate the skills PR students should have. Writing rose to the top of desired skills with an average of 4.85 on the five-point rating scale.

The Commission will also look for universities that effectively teach writing to PR students to use as models for other college PR programs this year.

A subject that has risen in importance to the industry is ethics, so much so that the commission added an ethics course to its list of required classes for certification. On the same five-point scale, ethics topped the list of knowledge PR students should have, with an average rating of 4.51 out of 5.

"The other big takeaway was the concern about ethics, making sure people understand what ethical public relations looks like," Lewton said. "There’s always been that concern, and ethics has always been taught, but in this year of alternative facts and fake news, the recommendation is to add a course just focusing on ethics."

PR practitioners are also looking for more diverse talent in an effort to bring a broader range of professionals into the industry.

Elizabeth Toth, a professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, and 2018 co-chair of the commission, said the report includes a City College of New York and Public Relations Society of America study on microaggressions and unconscious bias in the workplace.

"What our report did was bring more attention to the problems of unconscious bias and microaggressions," Toth said. "Young practitioners of color who reported experiencing racial bias were more likely to leave the industry. We have this revolving door situation where we recruit diverse talent and don't provide the organizational culture in which they can thrive."

In that study, 40% of young professionals said the industry is not successful at recruiting diverse talent. Only 6% of the same group, and 7% of employers, think the PR industry is very successful doing so.

The commission is also looking for PR programs for recruiting diverse students to share as a model for other universities.

The organization cited other skills for young PR pros to master: analytics, business acumen, global perspectives, a commitment to diversity and inclusion, social media management, editing, public speaking, and storytelling.

"The timing of this report and the activity that it will generate makes for training better for PR people who will be coming out of college and into agencies, organizations, hospitals, and schools," Lewton said. "Everybody realizes the students are the future of our profession in a time when our profession is strong and needs to be perceived as valuable."

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