If top NYC public relations firms are smart, they'll give PR jobs or paid internships to The City College of New York (CCNY) students that I met last week. Why? Because most of these kids know something that most of us don't and it is crucial to our survival as an industry.
Let me explain.
I played reverse hooky last Wednesday afternoon. I attended school when I didn't have to.
Professor Philip Ryan invited me to visit his Introduction to Public Relations class at CCNY. He was covering Chapter 13 of Public Relations Strategies and Tactics, (9th Edition) by Dennis L. Wilcox of San Jose State University and Glen T. Cameron of University of Missouri. Published by Allyn & Bacon in February 2008, Chapter 13 is entitled, "New Technologies in Public Relations."
But, as one of the students in Professor Ryan's class pointed out, "There's nothing in our textbook about SEO PR."
So, I asked for a show of hands. "How many of you use Facebook?" Virturally everyone did. "How many of you use YouTube?" Nearly everyone did. "How many of you use Twitter?" Almost everyone did.
So, I observed, "Well, SEO-PR was founded 2003, Facebook in 2004, YouTube in 2005, and Twitter in 2006. So, just because these new technologies aren't covered in your textbook doesn't mean they aren't fundamentally changing public relations as we know it. I'm speaking at Search Engine Strategies New York this week and these new technologies are all on the agenda along with social media and blogging."
Another student observed, "When I Googled the term 'SEO' you weren't ranked #1."
I replied, "Well, that's not one of my target terms. Now, if you Google the term 'SEO PR', you'll see my firm is ranked #1."
The student countered, "But that's the name of your company."
And I responded, "The term 'SEO PR' gets about 320 searches a month. Not bad for a keyword that didn't exist in 2003. But, if you Google 'blog outreach', you'll also see my firm is currently ranked #1. How many of you think blog outreach is an important part of media relations services, especially with 900,000 blog posts every day?"
Then, I added, "Besides, what I really want you to do is conduct a query at Google News for the term 'Online Marketing Summit' and find the optimized press release that we distributed yesterday for ClickZ."
I think that's when they started cutting me a little slack.
Then, Professor Ryan asked, "How is contextual marketing changing public relations as we know it?"
I explained, "Contextual advertising is targeted to a Web page based on the page's content. This means there is the opportunity to create editorial content targeted at the contextual advertising that you want to attract to your news blog or YouTube channel."
Yes, these were tough questions from sophisticated students and their professor.
Which means these CCNY students are exactly the kind of people that NYC public relations firms need to hire if they are going to survive short-term or thrive long-term.
Yes, they are still acquiring the skill of writing a press release. But they already understand that an optimized press release can get a high ranking in news search engines.
Yes, they are still becoming acquainted with the fundamentals of persuasion and communications theory. But they have already mastered how to make friends on Facebook.
Yes, they are still beginning to recognize how PR relates to other fields of marketing. But they're already familiar with how to upload YouTube videos.
Yes, they are still learning the key ethical issues affecting the practice of PR. But they've developed an appreciation for the acceptable use ofand unacceptable abuse of Twitter.
Unfortunately, most NYC public relations firms won't give PR jobs or even paid internships to these CCNY students?
Why? Short term, the recession is the primary excuse. But even if there is an opening, most of the job descriptions in the public relations industry were written back in the 20th Century. So, these square pegs won't fit into the round holes.
For example, is your HR department trying to hire an entry level public relations specialist? Does the job description read: "Prepares and disseminates information regarding an organization through newspapers, periodicals, television and radio and other forms of media. May require a bachelor's degree in a related area and 0-2 years of experience in the field or in a related area. Has knowledge of commonly-used concepts, practices, and procedures within a particular field. Relies on instructions and pre-established guidelines to perform the functions of the job. Primary job functions do not typically require exercising independent judgment. Works under immediate supervision; typically reports to a supervisor or manager."
So, don't blame your HR department if they aren't looking for someone who can prepare and optimize information regarding an organization through news search engines, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
And who is at fault if someone who doesn't have a bachelor's degree gets filtered out during the screening process even through they could have brought knowledge of new concepts, practices and procedures to the table?
And ask yourself, honestly, do you want someone who relies on instructions and pre-established guidelines to perform the ever-changing fuctions of the job? Or do you really need someone who doesn't typically exercise independent judgment in an emerging field that didn't exist when you went to college?
In other words, are you giving PR jobs to the people you will need in 2009 and the decade after this? Or, is your HR department rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?
Now, if I were you, I'd find a way to play reverse hooky at CCNY.
Other "guests" to Professor Ryan's class have included Garrett Glaser, a corporate communications consultant and former reporter for CNBC, and Rena L. Lewis, the Director of Brand Management, Industries & Marketing, at KPMG, and will include David Grant, President of LVM Group.
And television journalism icon Dan Rather will deliver the Spring 2009 Samuel Rudin Distinguished Visiting Scholars Lecture at The City College of New York on Thursday, April 2. Mr. Rather, who was anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News from 1981 to 2005, will speak about "Democracy and the 24-Hour News Cycle."
This kind of "higher education" doesn't fit on the normal resume.
That's why it's time to overhaul the job screening process at most NYC public relations firms to ensure that you're giving PR jobs to CCNY students and others like them who are crucial to the survival of the public relations industry.
But, hey, what do I know? I'm not even mentioned in the college textbooks.