Why a “Port of Entry” Report?
Public relations has come of age, and with that has come a critical need for broadly-based education that is relevant and connected to the practice.
The changes in public relations practice since the 1987 Commission on Public Relations Education Report are numerous and profound. At root, these changes reflect nothing less than the way the world has changed and continues to change, seemingly spinning ever faster and veering in new directions. But, happily, the changes also reflect a broad acceptance of the validity of modern public relations practice to a global society that is increasingly interdependent, increasingly interconnected.
By any measure, the growth of the public relations profession over the past decade has been astonishing. Public relations firms not only proliferate but also reach a size and scope undreamed of in the 1980s. Membership in established and new professional societies and trade associations spirals upward. And, most important, virtually every kind of institution, for-profit and not-for-profit alike, recognizes the need for dialogue with the groups of people who can and will influence its future.
This growth, evolution and maturation of public relations is sure to continue. Elements are in place for impressive incremental growth and change in the next century: the spread of democratic institutions around the world; the growing importance of communicating with internal as well as external publics; the veritable explosion of one-to-one communication and the technology to implement it; and the steady advance of the public relations body of knowledge, especially analysis of public awareness and change in attitudes and behavior.
Public Relations’ Next Crisis?
The future is indeed bright for the field of public relations. But there is one major qualification — having enough trained people to meet the expanding demand for public relations services and counsel. In fact, one expert observer of the field has called this “public relations’ next crisis.”
Hyperbole aside, there is no doubt that providing qualified practitioners will be a serious problem. Law and medicine have methods, admittedly long-term, to deal with the supply and demand for their professionals. Public relations doesn’t. In fact, public relations is a long way from what Dr. Clark Kerr, former chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, has articulated as a model for such a flow: “Some new professions are being born; others are becoming more professional, for example, business administration and social work. The university becomes the chief port of entry for these professions. In fact, a profession gains its identify by making the university the port of entry.” (Clark Kerr, The Uses of the University, 4th edition, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA/London, 1995.)
It is not the Commission’s purpose here to rekindle the ever-smoldering embers of the debate as to whether public relations is a profession. The Commission cites Dr. Kerr only to identify the “use of the university” as one important potential solution to the problem of having enough trained public relations practitioners in the next century.
Other sources of public relations talent, mined successfully for some time, are, indeed, still productive. Former journalists, once a primary candidate cohort, offer valuable skills but, perhaps, limited conceptual understanding of the scope of public relations. Professionals from law, medicine, government, management consulting and other parallel fields often offer relevant attributes but are frequently most valuable in narrowly focused areas of public relations practice.
And therein lies the opportunity, at the entry level and higher, for well-prepared graduates of the public relations academy. Grounded in the liberal arts and sciences. Well-prepared in public relations theory and practice. Tested not only in the classroom but in the field. Understanding the inherent connection between public relations and management, sociology and the many other pillars of modern society. But also with the necessary skills — writing, analyzing, thinking — sharpened and ready for use.
This is the kind of public relations education the Commission has attempted to design. Its recommendations have their roots in earlier Commission reports and in the public relations curricula that in recent years have been producing an increasing number of successful practitioners. But the Commission has gone beyond the present to suggest what public relations education in the future can and must look like if it is to meet the needs of the profession as the new century begins.
The Commission hopes its report will be used by academic programs and faculty to evaluate and develop their curricula; by practitioners who hire graduates of public relations programs; and by academic and professional associations which set standards for academic program certification and accreditation and for the chartering of student public relations organizations.
A final word: this “Port of Entry” report embraces not only the education appropriate for that literal first entry into public relations but, by extension, re-entry or continued service in public relations through graduate study or continuing education.
In short, the public relations education of the next century envisioned by the Commission, like public relations itself, is a matter of continuous professional growth and development. The Commission invites students and potential students, faculty and other academic leaders, certification and accreditation bodies and public relations practitioners to buy into and profit from the greatly improved “Port of Entry” education this report describes.