PR 101: Principles of public relations still relevant in digital age

PR 101: Principles of public relations still relevant in digital age

It’s a new school year, and I’m back teaching an entry level public relations course, PR Tactics I, for University of Wisconsin – Whitewater. I first taught this course in 1997 when it was called Writing Applications in PR. At the time, students turned in hard-copies of press releases, biographies, pitch letters and fact sheets. They groaned as they took AP Style quizzes on paper, and I corrected them with a green ink pen. Cell phones were not a distraction in class, and the Internet had yet to really penetrate our daily lives. At the end of the semester, students put together an attractive portfolio of their work, complete with resume, in a three-ring binder.

Boy, times have changed!

Today, in addition to covering the basics of writing press releases, biographies and fact sheets, we also address how to write digital press releases, the basics of tweeting and email pitches. Students learn to create and manage their online presence by writing blogs, designing digital portfolios (to showcase their work) and managing LinkedIn accounts. Discussions revolve around the immediacy of information (both factual and inaccurate) in a world dominated by social media. Yes, we pack a lot into our PR Tactics I class.

But the basics tenets of PR still hold true. Just like 15 years ago, I emphasize the need to identify and understand the target audience for each tactic. Clear communication in the message is still key, even with format and media changes. I also try to get students to think about why we are choosing the tactics we do, focusing on objectives and strategy.

Our choices in tactics offer both opportunity and unique challenges. But I tell students that we leverage these new tools in our campaigns and programs with careful analysis and clear objectives. Indeed, it’s an exciting time to work in PR and teach PR as we ride into the digital world.

Oh, and those AP Style quizzes which students grumbled about 15 years ago? Yes – we still have them, but they are electronic and students are allowed to use the AP Style Guide “app” on their smart phones.

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