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Back to school: Lessons I’ve learned as a PR teacher

October 03, 2018

I recently began my third year of teaching Public Relations at one of Toronto’s colleges. This term, I have been teaching a course I love – PR Agency. The class allows me to spread my passion for agency life and share it with students on the path to conquer the communications world, only a few months away from their first internships.

What strikes me every year is the mix of curiosity and confidence they exhibit. Almost always good sports, they are game for new types of learning, engaging debates, and love an opportunity to strut their stuff in as-close-to-real-life-as-we-can-get scenarios. The course takes them from the first meeting with a client through to pitching, winning the business and providing a 12-month PR plan complete with critical paths and budgets. And these ‘kids’ rise to the occasion.

Teaching, however, is never a one-way street. As I introduce them to the world of PR agency, they challenge me and remind me of the lessons even the most tenured among us rely on. Specifically:

  • Public relations is a team sport. A keen sense of the strengths of your team and an honest assessment of how they translate into value for your client should be a key factor kept top of mind.
  • Public relations is a long game. When we approach PR activity and tasks as transactions, we undermine the opportunity to build long-term success. Short-term wins are great but a trusted advisor relationship is built over time, offering clients evidence of strategic support and earning their confidence.
  • Great strategy is built on great insight. Skipping the research stage of a project is the death knell for relevance and effectiveness. The best way to go from the A of opportunity to the B of high-impact strategic solutions is by not only understanding the client and their business but also the economic, political and social environment in which they operate.
  • Success lives in the details. Budgets, critical paths and great writing all tell a client we are paying attention, not only to the sexy bits but also to the nuts and bolts that keep us on track and help us navigate to success.

Finally, I always offer my students a piece of advice that one of my professors gave me: As consultants, it is our job to be life-long learners, and to closely observe the world around us. Only by experiencing popular culture will you be able to translate it into communications strategies for your clients that resonate with their audiences. So, travel, go to concerts you might not otherwise attend, see popular and foreign films, and immerse yourself in the culture of the audiences you want to speak to. As a student of those audiences, you will learn to be a more effective communicator.

Perhaps it’s not so much about heading back to school as it is remembering that communications requires a life-time commitment to the art and science of it. At NATIONAL, we are firm believers in the learning process – and look forward to seeing some of these new and talented faces join our ranks soon. Happy learning to all.

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