Tom Martin: Professional Support of Events Key to Furthering Education

This column appeared in PRWeek, July 2, 2007, and is reproduced with permission.

I recently attended two academically focused summits with some of the leading educators in our field. As a new teacher, it was both humbling and illuminating to listen to the issues of those entrusted with developing the next generation.

What was more meaningful about these events is that they would not have been possible without tangible demonstrations of support for our profession made by both the private and nonprofit sectors.

The first was an academic symposium co-sponsored by the Arthur Page Society and the Institute for Public Relations, organizations for which I currently serve as a trustee. It was hosted for the second year at the Tuck School at Dartmouth College and presided over by professor Paul Argenti, the noted academician who has served on the Tuck faculty for a quarter century.

Among other subjects, the group considered the current state of the PR curriculum in schools of business and communication; the quality and accessibility of academic research relating to ethics, trust, and credibility in our practice; and the degree to which corporate communications departments and PR agencies share common objectives.

The second, a two-day new-media summit co-hosted by Edelman and PRWeek, featured insightful speakers and panelists looking at the impact of new media, social networking, and the blogosphere on journalism, public affairs, and corporate reputation. The content helped educators begin to separate what may be passing fads from longer-lasting trends and to consider how this world-changing subject matter needs to be taught in the classrooms of today and tomorrow.

In both cases, there were no registration fees, most meals were provided, and books and other handouts were offered at no cost. Given the scarcity of discretionary funds at most academic institutions, this enabled many to attend who otherwise might not have.

The participants at both events took away valuable ideas and insights that will enhance the classroom experience for thousands of students at their institutions. They also established relationships with colleagues they might not otherwise have encountered, both fellow educators and pros from the corporate and agency worlds. The development of this professional network can have a lasting impact on the relevance of what is ultimately presented in the classroom.

While I am impressed with all who made these events possible, I am particularly taken with Edelman’s investment in this area. The New Media Academic Summit was clearly Richard Edelman’s brainchild, and he deserves credit for stepping forward. He even had the guts to discuss in a credible way the question of his own firm’s recent controversies in the world of new media during one of the panel sessions.

The effectiveness of the educational experience offered to the next generation depends in part on consistent, meaningful interaction between the academic and practitioner communities. Events like these spur that dialogue. Firms and corporations should seek opportunities to provide similar sponsorship support that will make them possible. We all stand to gain.

Tom Martin
Executive-in-Residence, Department of Communication, The College of Charleston
Trustee, Institute for Public Relations

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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