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Preparing Students in the Classroom for the PR Workplace


October 30, 2013

What good is a degree in public relations if you don’t have any hands-on experience to help you find a job in the profession? I often ask my PR students this when advising them on how to prepare for the workforce.

Once the students have completed my capstone Advanced Public Relations course (aka APR Group), which is designed to emulate a PR firm, I know whether or not they are prepared for the workforce.

This is based on three indicators: final presentations detailing their projects and what they learned, the feedback from our nonprofit clients, and my evaluation of their performance, which includes a mid-semester discussion and completion of a performance evaluation form.

1. Lessons learned build confidence.

Professionals need confidence in the workplace in order to be successful. Therefore, students preparing to work in public relations should develop confidence in their skills.

To do so, they must practice and hone skills such as public speaking, making pitch calls, and writing press releases and professional content for a variety of mediums, from newsletters to social media platforms.

My Advanced Public Relations class provides students with the opportunity to practice these skills while working on real-world projects for nonprofit organizations.

At the end of each semester, every student has to make a final presentation about the lessons that they learned throughout the class.

Hearing what they have learned and that they finally “get some things” I’ve been telling them is a rewarding experience for me.

Here are a few comments that convey the most common lessons students learn: 

  • “Stick to deadlines and be flexible to last-minute changes.”
  • “Make sure you have a clear understanding of what clients want.”
  • “Communication is key.”
  • “Get as many people as possible to proofread materials before submitting to the client.”

Since launching the class as a PR firm in the spring of 2011, nearly all of the students have expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to practice their skills with real clients.

Many also said that the class enhanced their preparedness to obtain a job in the profession.

2. Client feedback is key.

“You have to keep in mind that when planning and executing projects, your main goal is to satisfy the client so that they will want to work with you again in the future.” Former student Kanisha Cunningham’s comment speaks to the importance of client feedback.

Our clients provide feedback about their experience by completing a “client evaluation” form. Questions ask them to rate their overall satisfaction level, whether they would retain the firm on another project, how they will use the materials developed, what grade they would give the students, and suggestions they have for improvement.

So far, all of the clients have rated their satisfaction highly. In a few cases, when I sent the evaluation form to the clients, they requested additional work to be completed before they would complete the form.

Nevertheless, the students learned that they should always check with clients to see if they are satisfied before assuming that the project is finished.

3. Student evaluations mirror employee evaluations.

To help students see the similarities between their experience and that of a real office setting, I developed a performance evaluation form with a five-point rating scale from poor (1) to excellent (5) to evaluate my students. I evaluate them based on 10 characteristics, which include writing skills, professional attitude and appearance, initiative, punctuality and meeting deadlines, adaptation to change, task performance, problem solving and creativity, productivity, client follow-up and group communication.

During a one-on-one session mid-semester with each student, I review the form, my expectations and my written comments concerning specific behaviors — both positive and not-so-positive — as well as areas that need improvement.

My comments have included: Be more responsive to team members’ communication, provide good follow-up, be mindful of dress appropriateness, display excellent initiative, attend class more regularly and proofread your work.

My Advanced Public Relations class is a work in progress and I continue to seek feedback from my students and the clients to improve the experience for everyone. I secured a grant for the upcoming year, which will provide students with a small stipend for their work. I hope that the stipend will motivate students to do their best work to satisfy the client, just like in the workplace.

The students’ takeaways, client feedback and performance evaluations not only help me determine how well students are prepared for the PR profession, but also help me gain insight about resources that may increase their confidence and marketability in the future.

 

Rochelle R. Daniel is an instructor and the coordinator of the PR concentration at Bowie State University. She has more than 20 years of professional experience in the PR and marketing profession, working in academia and the nonprofit, congressional and federal government sectors.



Comments

Jasmine Butler says:

I am actually a student of Prof Daniel's at Bowie State University and I was honored with the opportunity to participate in her APR Group. Though I took the class before they received the grant I can honestly say the experience from the class was just as rewarding. I was able to utilize many skills that I learned and it was very exciting to see the results of my education through the successful events and the satisfied clients. It was a glimpse of what the work place will be like and it made me more prepared for what is to come.

November 14, 2013

Iesha Lee says:

I gain a great amount of experience in my Advance PR class.(Fall 2013) We are currently working on our last projects for class and our non profit clients. Through out this course I have learned a lot about my self and my skill level as a PR personnel. Overall, I believe this course is very beneficial.

November 14, 2013

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