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.
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:
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.
“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.
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.