Social Media, Business Gaining Influence in PR Curriculum Due to Talent Demand

   Social media accounts for a small fraction of most budgets, but client demand to add it to the PR mix is causing a boom in hiring of digital-savvy talent in corporations and agencies.

Most agencies, including mine, are expanding their presence in everything digital–hiring social media gurus and identifying existing individuals who understand the space.  One major corporation, Coca-Cola, has created a new office of digital communications and social media within its public affairs and communications department. SVP Clyde Tuggle said Coke created the function because “mass media is declining in importance.”

Fortunately, innovative academics are adapting quickly to supply talent to meet growing demand.  And at the same time there is an increased emphasis for prospective employees to have business intelligence. 

Laura Hammel, Ph.D., of Ohio’s Ursuline College, saw the need four years ago when she conducted an informal survey of local PR/marketing/ad pros, students and recent grads.  She confirmed that employers and PR grads themselves overwhelmingly cited “business acumen–ability to hit the ground running with basic business understanding and, of course, writing are the two most important skills for early success.”  Laura told Culpwrit:  “As we move into a more entrepreneurial and ‘gig’ economy, I think they hit the nail on the head.” 

Ursuline started a new program two years ago that incorporates courses that includes courses in accounting, intro to business, principles of marketing, organizational and consumer behavior, visual communications design, HTML and web design, microeconomics, desktop publishing, and business ethics.  Laura also builds research and social media into every course and students must create and keep a blog throughout the semester; the campaign classes uses a wiki, and they all incorporate research in some form. 

Regular reader Tim Conway informed me of another innovative program at Stephens College, a prestigious all-women’s institution in Columbia, Missouri.  In an effort to distinguish itself from other PR programs, Stephens offers a combined marketing, PR and advertising major that is housed in the business department.

“Our program requires the common core PR courses as well as core business courses so that students are well prepared to understand the language of the CEO,” explains former PR practitioner Susan Bartel, a Stephens faculty member and department chair for graduate business programs.  “We have recently begun offering a new online business masters in strategic leadership, where communication, social media and leadership come together.”

“My daughter is 25 and has a full-time position as an e-communication director, Sue told me.  “Based on what I was hearing from her and my research, it was clear students needed to be informed and prepared for this new communication tool.” 

Sue said she decided last year to offer social media as a topics class to determine the level of interest.  She was anticipating 12 students since it was not a requirement, but there was a waiting list for the class which was held in the Mac lab which only held 24.  The success of the program resulted in it being added to the marketing, PR and advertising curriculum. 

I was pleased to hear this week that Susan was named Stephen’s “Distinguished Teacher” of the year.  Innovation was a key quality mentioned about her classes.  She gives job seekers great advice:  “Students recognize the need to be current, curious and fearless if they are to find jobs, especially in this economy.”

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