What’s the best way to teach public relations students about today’s globalized, interconnected world?
My colleague Kara Presnell and I have been investigating that for the last couple of months and we presented a paper last Friday on “Internationalizing a Public Relations Curriculum at a Small University,” at the Center for Global Public Relations’ annual conference at UNC-Charlotte.
Click here for a blog post I wrote nearly two years ago when the Center was dedicated. It’s a good resource for public relations educators and professionals alike, and it finds ways like last weekend’s conference to bring the two groups together.
I’ve had a pretty busy semester as far as scholarly activity, and like the conference I attended a couple of weeks ago, there was an interesting variety of presentation topics related to international aspects of public relations at this one, organized around the theme of “Exploring Global Issues and Relationships.”
Some of them included:
— An overview of the public relations industry in Russia, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year — in the old Soviet Union it was called propaganda.
— Differences in the attitudes toward teaching public relations ethics in the U.S. and in Europe, a study by Dr. Shannon Bowen, a Charlotte native teaching at Syracuse University. One of the best quotes from the conference, and I’m working from memory so I hope I get this exactly right: “You don’t need ethics when the choice is between right and wrong. You need ethics when the choice is between two right answers.”
–The challenges of persuading village leaders to cooperate with polio prevention campaigns in India.
And our presentation outlined ways in which small schools like Wingate could incorporate active learning techniques in international study programs for low-cost “globalization” of PR education.
The conference’s keynote speaker was Dr. Jay DeFrank, VP for corporate communications and government relations for Pratt & Whitney, makers of aircraft engines. DeFrank was also one of the architects of the “embedded journalist” program during the Iraq War as a communications officer in the Department of Defense until 2005.
I was very interested in the comments about the embedded journalist concept, which I’ve discussed with students from an ethics standpoint in my Media Law and Ethics class. My own take — good for the journalists in that they got an up close and personal look at the life and mission of individual soldiers and units. Probably not effective for presenting the “big picture” of the war effort because of that “micro” perspective. And possibly fraught with a little bias, as a journalist was probably not going to be terribly critical of soldiers whose mission now included keeping him/her alive as one of the unit.
DeFrank called it a definite win for the military, even when some reporters early on recorded the accidental deaths of Iraqi civilians in the course of some patrols.
“It showed the public the complexity of the situations we were facing on the ground,” DeFrank said. The panel closed with a wide-ranging panel discussion by PR professionals, The guests included Joe Epley, one of the most famous names in public relations in the Carolinas and long-time owner of Epley Associates in Charlotte; Denise Hill, VP for corporate communication for Food Lion; and Charlotte-based video producer Joe Carleo.
Epley discussed challenges faced by professional communicators Japan in the wake of the earthquake and nuclear disasters, where most PR campaigns for commercial purposes have been suspended. Hill talked about internal communcation problems faced by multi-national corporations — Americans tend to be viewed as loud and abrupt, whether they’re trying to be or not.
And Carleo, who’s been working on video projects in Egypt in the aftermath of that country’s revolution, discussed the communications aspect of that revolution, which was aided by social media like Facebook and Twitter.
Overall, it was an informative conference, with a variety of perspectives on what, as center director Dean Kruckeberg said in closing comments, is without question is now a global profession. It’s a challenge to be preparing students for jobs in which they’ll probably soon be using means of communications that don’t exist now.