The explosion of social and digital media in recent years has fueled job opportunities and the number of educational programs in public relations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that the public relations field will grow 6 percent from 2014 to 2024 and that 14,900 new jobs will need to be filled. Student enrollment in public relations programs is also growing. According to public relations educators Wilcox, Cameron, and Reber (Public Relations Strategies and Tactics, 2015), there are currently 218 degree, certificate, and diploma public relations programs in 39 countries.
Paralleling this growth in both the practice and universities is rapid change within the public relations industry. What educators are teaching students today differs greatly compared to what we were doing ten, even five years ago. At a 2015 industry-educator summit on public relations education, senior-level public relations practitioners and academics identified the following skills as essential to a new public relations graduate: (1) problem solving, (2) conducting research and analyzing data, (3) connecting the dots between seemingly disparate items, (4) strategic planning, (5) advancing organizational goals, among others. Summit participants also agreed that the following knowledge areas are of importance to entry-level public relations practitioners: (1) the role and value of public relations, (2) measurement, (3) data analytics and insight, (4) communications and public relations theories, (5) cross cultural and global communication, (6) understanding influence, among a few others (see here for a full report)
The Institute for Public Relations researches and writes about all of these topics and skills identified in the industry-educator summit. Dedicated to research in, on, and for public relations, IPR focuses on research that matters to the practice. IPR offers a treasure trove of FREE resources on a variety of topics ranging from organizational communication, measurement and evaluation, social media, crisis communication, reputation management, corporate social responsibility, and more. What distinguishes IPR from many other organizations and centers is that its knowledge and insights are informed by theory and empirically tested. Unlike some academic sources that can be difficult and time-consuming to digest, IPR presents its information so that students and non-academics can easily understand and use the information. Most IPR research studies provide a short summary with key findings and implications for professional practice; however, those wanting additional information can quickly access the original research study. Another benefit of IPR is that multiple contributors—academics and practitioners from around the world, both inside and outside of IPR—contribute regularly to its canon of knowledge so that a variety of perspectives are provided. Finally, content on the IPR website is not static. New knowledge is regularly curated and shared, keeping information current and relevant for students.
Educators and students can take advantage of IPR’s research knowledge in many ways. Students and educators can contribute to conversations about new research-based public relations insights by following IPR via Twitter, Facebook and IPR Research Conversations blog. Educators can use articles from IPR’s Research Library as required course readings and encourage students to submit research and case studies for award considerations, including the Northwestern Mutual Best Master’s Thesis Award, the Grunig PRIME Research Fellowship, the Case Study Competition in Corporate Communication, and the Social Media Case Study Competition.
In summary, IPR and public relations educators care deeply about the same end goal for students—creating, understanding, and using research-based knowledge that impacts the public relations practice.
Julie O’Neil, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor and Director of the Graduate Program in the Strategic Communication Department of Texas Christian University. She is also a member of IPR’s Institute for Measurement Commission. Follow her on Twitter @juliesoneil.