Where is the next generation of talent coming from?

Robert Minton-Taylor
Robert Minton-Taylor

Guest contributor Robert Minton-Taylor wants public relations to be a desirable career choice for ambitious teenagers of all backgrounds.

While we can rejoice in the proliferation of postgraduate courses in public relations we should be concerned that despite the healthy state of the UK PR and communications industry PR undergrad courses are falling like a lead brick.

With the closure of undergraduate PR courses at several UK universities, Bournemouth being the most notable, where is the next generation of talent going to come from?

Given that most postgraduate courses are populated by overseas students who are likely to return to their home countries for careers post Brexit, this is damming indictment on the failure of universities and the industry to promote PR courses to sixth-formers.

Why are undergraduate PR courses being dropped? Is this due to a lack of demand among prospective university students, or something more fundamental? Or is it because universities have failed to properly promote the business benefits of studying PR to sixth-form students? Or is the course content on PR degrees not fit for purpose?

As one global agency CEO said to me ‘where is the course content on integrated communications covering disciplines such as marketing, advertising and how the marketing mix is used to satisfy customer needs and discussion of metrics and analytics?’

Why are we - by that I mean industry executives and academics - so poor at promoting PR courses to schools?

In a survey conducted with 20 headteachers none could remember the last time an academic came into a school to talk to sixth formers about career prospects in PR. That’s not great. As one head teacher of a Comprehensive said: “A 14 year old knows what advertising, marketing and journalism is but PR, what is that? We are unlikely to promote the benefits of PR as career to our students when we know little or nothing about what it is, what is does and how it can benefit society”.

The absence of ‘live’ projects for students to work on to build their business competence and consulting skills in the 'real' world is worrying too.

CEOs have told me that the course structures of some postgrad courses they have looked at were flawed because the was little or no mention of the opportunity for students to undertake 'live' mentored projects with measurable outcomes with industry leaders.

Was that because, with few exceptions, academics have not had senior in-house corp comms roles or been on the boards of global integrated PR agencies?

Lastly, but not least, there is another issue we have collectively failed to tackle.

There is a perception among the ethnic minority BAME community that public relations is not seen as a profession. BAME parents tend to want their sons and daughters to go into 'worthwhile' and ‘proper’ jobs such as law, accountancy or business.”

Ironic that when you consider PR is a business! The downfall of the Top 20 PR consultancy Bell Pottinger - stripped of its membership for ‘fuelling racial tensions’ in South Africa – hasn’t helped. Yet women from BAME backgrounds see PR as a route to setting up and running their own businesses.

Robert Minton-Taylor FCIPR CMPRCA is an experienced public relations consultant and a senior lecturer in public relations at Leeds Beckett University.

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