Karen’s PR & Social Media Blog

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February 6, 2013

The need to reinvent the academic / practitioner relationship: Teamwork to help prepare students for the 21st workplace

One article that has been circulating among my Facebook friends (and fellow professors) was an article that was published in AdAge.  The title for the article was “What do to with out-of-date advertising professors?”  Looking at the comments being raised here by readers, it appears they are mostly from the practitioner side. However, lots of conversations and discussions came up about this one article and I felt it would be a good one to focus on for a blog post.

While I think many of my colleagues in academia may feel differently, I think Marc Brownstein has some good points he raises in his article.  There are professors that believe that theory is the center of the universe and that “social media is a fad.” One incident I remember distinctly happened a few years ago where a professor at one of our conferences asked a VP of a very large PR firm what theories they use for their work.  I think the practitioner was not amused.

Trust me, these are just some of the various things I have witnessed in my academic career so far.  I experienced these points first hand in my studies and going to several conferences over the years. This is not an issue just for students, practitioners, and even parents – but one that impacts everyone involved.

I have been a professor for nearly two years now.  However, the issue of whether or not I fit into one camp or another in PR was another issue. This was one struggle I found when I was out in the university job interviews and managing my reputation at various academic conferences.  The major thing I heard about me was the fact I was not in the applied group of professors and I was not considered to be a “theorist.” I actually was told I was just a “blogger” at one conference to my face. Ouch.

Personally, I felt I was a professor that could fit nicely in the middle between both perspectives by understanding the research aspects of what is going on in the field and how to apply these findings strategically while addressing questions and formulating best practices. Did I feel like I fit in either camp only? No. Did I think I could balance between the two? Yes.

However, to support my fellow professors in this area, not all of us are out-of-date.  Some of us not only want to learn more about the evolving trends, but also be a participant in the learning and applied process of these emerging practices and trends with practitioners. For example, here are some of the things I have done to make sure I have a clear line of communication with practitioners to establish professional relationships, networks, and keeping up to date with the technology.

  • Practicing what I preach in the classroom with applying tools and skills:  I think one of the things missing from professors today is actually practicing what they talk about in the classroom.  In my social media class, I have the students write and maintain a regular blog and share these via Twitter. However, I do the assignments and view the classroom as a collaborative and evolving learning environment.
  • Present research and findings at conferences for practitioners:  I had the chance a few years ago to present at the PRSA Digital Impact Conference in NYC and I have the chance this upcoming year to be part of the SoSlam lineup of speakers, one of the major social media conferences we see in the South.
  • Participate in webinars for professionals in areas of specialization:  I have a chance in a few weeks to be part of the PR News Online webinar on visual storytelling. Many professionals will be part of this session and I am very excited about this opportunity.
  • Write guest blogs and be engaged in the conversation online: I have written several blog posts on various topics and have been interviewed as well for my research, including the one from a few years ago with Cision.
  • Sharing syllabi with both professors AND practitioners:  This is what I did for my social media class at UofL.  I went directly to the practitioners I knew and asked them to see if they felt what I was covering in the classroom was relevant and highlighted the skills they would expect young professionals have in social media. The result of this?  Got this tweet from Jason Falls after sharing my syllabus with him and inviting him as a guest speaker.

In summary, professors and practitioners are part of the same team. We have to work together to make sure we understand what are the growing needs and expectations being placed by young professionals today.

While I think Marc has some good points and concerns related to some professors, not all fit this category.  We are trying to be up-to-date with the latest tools of technologies and continuing being lifelong learners. We are forming new partnerships and exploring research ideas and teams with practitioners and professors alike.

This is the way things are evolving. David Armano stated we need to reinvent PR, but I think we have to also look at our academic profession as well as one that needs to be reinvented as well with the growing changes and expectations in research and practice.

We have to have an open line of communication with practitioners so they are aware of 1) what research we are doing that may be useful for their own work; 2) collaborate with practitioners on projects and team work and 3) invite them into the classroom for input, presentations, and commentary of the students and their work.

This will take time, but if we are able to work together as a team, we can make sure our students are prepared for the workplace and continue learning.  We are all on the same team – why can’t we be friends and learn from each other? I feel I have learned so much from my fellow practitioner friends and they have been extremely generous with their insights and I have been able to do the same for them.  It is a win-win situation for all of us.

So – let’s get the conversation and collaboration started!

Hope you all are having a great day!

Best Wishes,

Karen

 

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