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I recently had the privilege of returning to Penn State’s College of Communications, to share experiences and insights as an alumnus from the field of public relations. As part of the college’s Hearst Visiting Professional program, I gave presentations in four classroom sessions, discussing PR research, writing, campaign management and other topics. It was fun to meet and reconnect with faculty and discuss real-world PR strategies and tactics with students. This campus visit was extremely enriching and gratifying – right up there with the PSU football weekends I enjoy every fall.
Off-campus, I had the honor of presenting to the Central Pennsylvania Creative Professionals (“[CP]2”), a well-connected group of communicators in diverse fields spanning PR, marketing, advertising, creative design, event management and other disciplines. Many members maintain strong ties to both the university and the wealth of interesting businesses in the region. All in all, I took away a lot of lasting observations.
First, I discovered that today’s PR majors are an impressive bunch. It was inspiring and reaffirming to see the students’ passion and career ambitions in our field. It really underscores the demand for PR – and applicability of these skills – when you meet students who are focused on taking their communications careers into technology, sports, media/entertainment, public policy and many other sectors. It’s even more impressive to look at what they’re accomplishing on campus with social media and other platforms. They’re already putting writing and multimedia communications skills to work, by positioning rich websites, blogs and social presences for their assorted courses, clubs and part-time jobs. They bring significant hands-on experience to the table and apply this in impactful ways.
The growth and popularity of PR studies at Penn State really hit home when I attended the 2014 induction ceremony for the university’s chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). Back when I was an advertising/PR major, we founded that chapter with a handful of students. Today, it is the largest student-run organization within the largest College of Communications in the United States.
In the classrooms, I really enjoyed discussing how organizations align different communications activities – PR, social media, sales, recruiting and other external communications – to drive home key messages and create consistent impressions. This is our continual focus at our high-tech PR firm, in advising clients on how to make the most of their communications assets and advantages. Describing what our firm does in practice sparked some great conversations about the most effective combinations of mediums and messages for different organizations. For students and recent graduates with strong talents and interest in specific areas (such as media relations or multimedia), understanding the communications value of cross-team coordination augments their value proposition in the field.
Presenting and networking at the CP2 event in downtown State College was also enlightening. With a lot of talented communicators in attendance, we traded thoughts on what sets organizations apart, to achieve the visibility necessary for pursuing different objectives. Given my background, I always like to meet technology entrepreneurs in college towns; they always stand as great examples of universities’ quiet, critical role in our economy and innovation. I met people behind compelling business models and ideas, which were a great set-up for discussing how the right communications plan often makes the difference for businesses looking to build their brands and credibility – not only rapidly, but for very specific, strategic audiences.
If you haven’t made time to reconnect with your university’s instructors or alumni department I recommend you reach out and get involved, regardless of your field. Instructors and students appreciate real-world insight and I guarantee you will learn a lot, as well.
Special thanks to Penn State’s College of Communications faculty and students and the team at [CP]2 for a memorable week.
Tom Resau is a Vice President at W2 Communications, focusing on information security communications/PR campaigns for clients.