Colleges Send Marketing/PR Graduates to Workforce Ill-Prepared

Congratulations class of 2006!

It’s June and you have the golden key to success – your degree in PR, Communications, or Marketing. Now you’re ready to take on the world and land that high-paying gig running marketing initiatives for the best companies on the market. However, as you’ll quickly learn (literally), there’s a tremendous chasm between learned arts and practiced arts. And for the most part, it will seem as if you have to relearn everything in order to advance your career, starting at the bottom and working your way up.

Many colleges offer degrees in marketing arts, such as PR, advertising, or Internet Marketing, etc. However, after four years, or shall we say X amount of units/credits, many students – even those who have held internships – are forced to learn the true essence of their craft in the real world. Unlike, say, accounting, journalism, or viticulture, where students actually can actually jump in at a working position, PR and marketing usually places students in account coordinator or mar com (marketing communications) coordinator roles.

This isn’t the fault of the graduates however. I believe that at some level, colleges need to monitor the field for any specialized program where the dynamics evolve so quickly and are different in each industry. And, create internal programs that link students to outside businesses to run them through the ranks before they’re released to the outside workforce.

Hiring grads is a bitter sweet challenge. At one end, graduates are enthusiastic, and motivated. Their energy is an incredible boost to the morale. On the other end of the rainbow, most graduates are uncertain of how to apply what they’ve learned in PR and marketing, whether it’s corporate, government, or agency, and not really sure how any of it impacts the respective business.

Granted, many students have interned and taken away from that experience, tools that help them apply what they’ve learned in class. A brief stint also helps students decide what field and in which direction they may want to pursue a career.

Focusing on PR for a bit…

I host an annual intern program with San Jose State University for PR students, and all interns have shared a common reaction and it’s usually captured in a single word, “whoa.” Students in the program are easily lost in the frantic pace of making news, but always conclude their internship with a better understanding of PR and what’s involved in a typical day.

Writing press releases and writing pitch letters is one thing, but in world where technology is completely changing the face of how news is created and delivered, where readers go for information, and how it ultimately influences behavior – especially in tech PR – graduates have a lot of catching up to do when they join the workforce.

Granted, ambition and fearlessness set apart the brilliant, mediocre and complacent in any field of study. But for almost everyone, the starting point is the same. In my opinion, after spending four years striving for a degree in PR or marketing, graduates hold only a slight advantage over those who may be joining the workforce from a different field or with an unrelated degree.

According to a recent article, “Are Journalists Born, Or Are They Made?” by Swaraaj Chauhan, the debate echoes similar sentiment.

“The stalwarts maintained that you grow into the profession and unlearn what youlearned at a journalism school.”

According to the forthcoming book, The American Journalist in the 21st Century, only 36.2 percent of journalists with college degrees were journalism majors.

Colleges must help their graduates by giving them an advantage. I’m not referring to a job placement program. I’m referring to programs that place students in the PR team of their own schools or local businesses and charge them with their marketing or PR initiatives, similar to what you see the casts endure in The Apprentice, Surreal Life, and The Real World. Working with peers helps drive real-time education, teamwork, experience, and accomplishment – on an even playing field. Educators, help your students learn what it takes to be successful and what failure looks like along with its associated repercussions.I look forward to the day when I can hire a graduate at a higher level than the usual “ground floor” and have them jump right into the mix – only having to learn the “business” of the business they’re now in and not the tools it takes to successfully market it.

In the meantime, many of us are already reaching out to help students by providing training, mentoring, and also onsite training at their schools by sharing real world experiences and hosting in-class workshops. It’s a start. Changing the infrastructure of the education process is the end-game here. It will only help the students, increase their effectiveness and value, and contribute to the overall success of every graduating student.

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  • triumph181

    It’s not what you learn from a course that will get you out of any hole you manage to dig for yourself, what you learn in college will allow you to see the hole, identify the size type and stickiness of the hole. As you blithely fall into the hole, you will be the best informed hole resident in that particular hole. Experience is what gives you the ability to stay away from the holes or turn them into opportunities.

    A solid internship will lead you to the edge and not allow you to do damage to yourself or your client.

  • Owen Lystrup

    I’ve been reading many many posts on this very topic lately.

    I think your post offered more solutions than most I’ve seen. Often bloggers will simply make the observation that students are ill prepared and leave it at that. Like a huff of frustration.

    As a student, this is disconcerting.

    However, I also find it optimistic in a way. It means that someone who tries hard to learn and be the best he can may get ahead without much effort.

    If it’s true that students are less prepared, could it also be sharpening standards on the behalf of agencies and companies?

    Is it all on the university/early training level?

  • Media Mindshare

    In a perfect world, I’d hire someone with at least a year’s experience in a newsroom any day over a well-trained p.r. grad without that experience. There’s no real substitute for knowledge of the mindset, professional parameters and daily working reality of journalists and other media practitioners — know and understand that and you’re more than halfway home. Advice to recent grads? If you can, get an internship or an entry-level job in a traditional or digital newsroom anywhere — a weekly community paper, a local daily or radio or TV newsroom or online news portal. It will hone your writing skills and the newsroom knowledge you gain will serve you well later in your media relations career.

  • Evan – NYC

    Great blog addition to this post at NYU’s PR graduate program blog…”Solis is the founder of FutureWorks Inc. and writes with another confidence that one is inspired to believe him.” It’s boats and the rising tide. It’s all about closing the gap. http://nyuprprogram.blogspot.com/2006/06/value-of-academia.html

  • shelby

    I’m a senior at Auburn University, and this style & design class I’m in right now has been the most helpful so far as to aiding me in the “real world” when i get out of college. We are blogging every week, making podcasts, using dreamweaver, learning about rss feeds etc. This is truly preparing me for the pr world when i graduate.

    This article highlights my fears, that when I graduate, my good grades won’t mean much in the professional world. The few actual pr classes I have taken have been informative, but like you said, theres more than knowing the correct answer to being successful in this business.
    Before we graduate we have to intern for a semester and I hope this will help prepare me more for when I graduate.

  • http://www.catheycommunications.com/blog Robert.R.Cathey

    Found this post while searching “tech pr” on your site, Brian. What’s amazing to me is how comms schools largely have kept their curricula consistent in the past five years. To be sure, there are some notable exceptions, but overall, we’re still producing graduates who are not prepared.

ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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