Advice to the class of '08: Blogging is an essential for new PR practitioners

Centennial College’s Gary Schlee writes that the newest crop of students in his Online PR course are now setting up their blogs.

Gary is giving his students a real advantage in starting a career in PR. Those students who view their blogs as more than a class exercise, but also as an exciting way to connect and communicate with others who share their interests and passions, they will have started down the fast lane to a bright future in the new PR.

The old PR was about communicating messages to an audience. The new PR is about being part of a community.

In effect, students are taking the first step to developing their own online voices and finding people of like mind – becoming part of a community. This is the essence of the “relations” in public relations. It’s not a one-time thing. It should be a lifelong commitment. It will then turn into a lifelong asset, one which they can take with them wherever they work.

(Don’t be discouraged if early on it’s a community of only two or three. Remember, it’s not about numbers, it’s about trust.)

I do not hire entry level people without looking at their blog, following their twitter stream and checking their Facebook presence. I want a sense of who they are over time, not just when they are in my office. I want to know what they think on the issues they care about and how they express themselves. I want to see whether and how they connect with others. And I can find out all those things from their social media presence.

And then I will try to recruit the people who I believe not only have the strongest, clearest voices but also the ability to balance this with listening, respecting and responding to others in a way that makes them part of a healthy, positive community. These are the folks that I want to work with. And these are the folks I’ll look to hire.

So, in encouraging his students, Gary is providing them with a tremendous head start. I really look forward to the time when all PR educators are as forward looking as Gary.

  • I gave a talk to a fourth-year communications class at Carleton a few months back, and when I asked who had a blog, not a single hand went up. Like graphic design students who are forced to build their portfolio, it’s great that Gary is forcing them to build their own personal brand, because little else matters in this business.

  • I love that professor’s are beginning to encourage their students to put themselves out there. The blogosphere is not only an essential and useful network but also a community which fosters personal growth.

    Two of my professors have turned the traditional individual learning process into a highly dependent team atmosphere. As an undergraduate I value these experiences above all. I am thankful for college professors who work to help us transition from the classroom to the workroom/office. Kudos!

  • I agree, Joe. I need the sense that someone is willing to try out new tools – but not just from my entry-level hires.

  • I’m going to be the devil’s advocate here. As an old-timey blogger (homepage since 1997, blog since 2000), I worry that being taught to blog in a career college is going to turn one of the best forms of self-expression into simply an extension of the resume.

    I’m flabbergasted how many new blogs are simply about trying to come across as a pundit in your chosen career field. Work is important, but there is more to us as people than that. And I worry that your policy will just terrify these students into trying to look good for a (potential) boss.

    I struggle with this all the time. When I started my blog, it was about my life, in all its messiness and confusion. Most blogs at the time were similar. But I rarely talked about work, because I didn’t want my employer reading my complaints. Sure, there could have been great stuff about work in there, too, but at least in those days (and I suspect things haven’t changed that much), complaining about work could get you “dooced”.

    Instead, I’ve written about my own struggles with choosing a career, with exploring my own abilities and aspirations, with work as a concept. It’s difficult not to cross the line sometimes. I’m certainly not a pundit, though. I don’t write hoping that some employer reads my blog. In fact, I naively hope that they don’t.

    It seems that the world of work has invaded the rest of our lives (ie. here, son, have a Blackberry and a cellphone!) while our personal lives are not allowed to invade work (no access to Facebook at work, for instance). For a cynic, it’s hard to banish the belief that the business world isn’t just trying to co-opt more of our personal space.

    Now, I’m just talking off the top of my head here. I’d love to hear some other perspectives on this. Thanks for the spark!

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  • James, thank you for the thoughtful comment.

    I too would not want blogs to simply become an extension of resumes. In fact, it is the formulaic emptiness of the resume that causes me to want to look for more. Blogs, written over a period of time, provide that.

    When assessing people, I don’t expect/want them to be pundits. In fact, I’m skeptical of the judgment of the straight-out-of-school graduates who have not yet learned the value of softening their untested declarations of fact with the words, “I believe that….”

    I don’t have any easy answer to the challenges you’ve identified in the intertwining of work and the rest of our lives. I think that this is something we are all learning about as we test the potential of social media.

    But one thing is sure, if a bright young person throws herself into social media, the qualfity of her intelligence, insight, interest in listening and ability to connect with others will stand out from the pack. That’s what I look for.

    I can’t offer a job to everyone. I try hard to provide the best possible work environment and opportunities for the young people who join me. So, I try to find only the very best people. And their social media activities help the very best to stand out.

  • Hi Joe – Hope you’re feeling better! As you know, I disagree with you on this subject. While I think it’s important for ANY PR practioner, including students, to understand social media, blogs and all that goes with it, I think only hiring people who are active participants is a problem and you might miss out on hiring a fantastic person who isn’t as involved in the area as you would like. Now, if they aren’t willing to learn,that’s a problem. But if they understand how all the social media tools work and how they can benefit clients, then that should be enough to get them in the door. Someone might keep a blog, be a large presence on Facebook, track their every move on Twitter but be a poor team player, a mediocre writer and not comfortable pitching media.
    I like to think I’m a decent PR person. I work hard and achieve good results for my clients. I also abhore facebook and want nothing to do with Twitter. I blog on occasion. I know how each works, I just choose not to be a part of it. Does that take away from my achievements or my ability to do well and be successful? I would hope not.
    I applaud Gary for encouraging his students to test out the blog waters, but I think it’s important for PR students to know that blogging and social media is just one piece of the pie.

  • As you mention, I think it’s fantastic that many of the students in the PR program at Centennial (myself included) are not simply thinking of their blogs as something required to pass the Online PR course. The enthusiasm to write, be heard and start a network within the field is encouraging for Gary, I’m sure.

    I have a question for you, though. What do you think of potential employees who have jacked up their Facebook privacy settings? You said you visit the blogs, Twitter pages and Facebook profiles of folk applying to you for a job. What happens when you can’t access all this information?

    And, in response to James, I think you’ve made an excellent point. For students who have never blogged before, it is very easy to fall into the trap of being too career-building-centric in their writing.

    So many of my colleagues ask me how I come up with topics to talk about. Their problem, they tell me, is that they have lots to talk about, but it doesn’t relate to PR (which is, of course, the purpose of our assignment). I tell them to write about anything they’re interested in, but find a way to apply it to PR or communications. I really think it’s possible to make anything applicable without sounding too stuffy.

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  • As a PR student myself, I cannot overstate the value of blogs. A big part of PR is listening, so if you want to learn about PR, why not listen in on some of the industry’s finest? My Google Reader and a big bag of RSS has taught me as much as my classes have, without question.

    Also, if you hope to engage with communities in the future as a PR pro, or counsel a company on how to do so, I would think you should be at least as knowledgable, if not more, than the community on how to communicate productively. Blogs are often a large part of that, so why not try blogging? Better to fumble through it as a student than to botch a client contract , I think.

    Anyway, great post, hope you have a speedy recovery Mr. Thornley.

  • Joscelyn,
    The fact is that you do blog (you had a good post on the California primaries as recently as this week.) This has given you an enormous advantage over others at your level – both in understanding how to deal with bloggers (this was evident in the very intelligent comment you made in a group discussion about blogger relations when I was last in the office) and in developing your own very distinct personna.

    So, Jos, I am looking in others for their potential to become what you have become – a highly valued, accomplished practitioner who speaks with credibility and understanding.

  • Rayanne,
    Good question about Facebook.

    I’ll read what people are willing to share. It’s just one piece of a social media profile.

    I also view Facebook as a “comic book” format compared to the weightier, more content rich blog. So, my expectations are different for each.

  • I am on the fence with this one. As one of Gary’s students, I definitely see the value of putting myself out there in the social media space.

    But at the same time, I think it’s a bit overwhelming, especially for me and my colleagues, to think that we now have to be a part of every little thing that goes on.

    For example, I really enjoy my blog. It’s an outlet to give me something to talk about, it helps me clarify information about PR in my mind, and I find it gratifying to see people comment on my posts and either agree or disagree with my opinions.

    But aside from that and my Facebook page, I really don’t want to have to jump into every new bell and whistle the Internet offers. I am not interested in Twitter, I don’t care about MySpace and I like my IPOD for music and that’s about it.

    What I’m trying to say is that I want potential employers to know that I have the skill and capability to use social media tools when needed; I just don’t want to have to be forced into using all of them every time so I can be considered for a job.

  • I applaud Gary for being a forward-thinking professor, but please don’t leave out The University of Georgia’s Dr. Karen Russell and Dr. Kaye Sweetser. I am in Dr. Russell’s Word of Mouth Marketing class this semester, and took Dr. Sweetser’s Social Media course last semester. They are opening Grady College’s eyes to the world of social media and online branding. Because of them, I have started a personal blog, a blog for our chapter of PRSSA, registered on LinkedIn and have become a Twitter addict. Apart from that, I know how to apply these tools in marketing and public relations. I can’t thank them enough for preparing me that much more for a job in communications. What an exciting time!

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  • As a PR student as well, I can explain how much I have gained from reading blogs and becoming apart of this community. I think it is shocking that many of my other colleagues have not taken advantage of this opportunity available to us. Just as Tom has noted, it is the little lessons you gain from the practitioners online that sticks with you.

    It was my minimal presence with social media and blogs which landed me my part-time job at dna13 in their marketing department.

    However, I do agree that some blogs can be too career-building-centric. I have a hard time picking topics to blog about and practically finding the time, but that is why I am still learning.

  • Your post could not have come at a more apropos time! I just did a talk for my PR Strategies at Niagara College this evening on how to start a blog for an assignment for the rest of the class. Is January the month of the blog?

    It was hard to believe that in a class of 35 I am the only blogger. I know we have some people in the class who doubt the usefulness of blogs but you can be sure I’ll link to this post so others can see that blogs (and social media in general) have applicable use in the working world – especially for PR practitioners.

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  • Joe,
    Thanks for you comment. You make one statement, however, with which I’d demur.

    You say: “I want potential employers to know that I have the skill and capability to use social media tools when needed.”

    My underlying point is not that social media are NOT tools that can be picked up when needed and then discarded. Social media is about relationships. And a good relationship is more about giving than taking.

    Social media may not be for everyone. But for those who jump into it sincerely, it will open new doors to self expression and finding communities or interest that they will understand and be part of. This is a tremendous asset to them as they develop as individuals and as they develop their careers.

  • Such wonderful advice to student bloggers, Joe. What a parallel universe we live in: I’m always most impressed with students who speak clearly, listen genuinely and respond respectly to their colleagues and professors. And, if they display a “isn’t that neat/I’d like to try that” attitude, I recommend them for internships, pass along job leads and stay in touch long after they’ve graduated. Good for them. Good for our program.

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  • Mr. Thornley,

    While I realize that I don’t actually know you — as most of your respondents seem to — I felt compelled to add to the discussion above upon reading your Jan. 29 entry.

    What I found most interesting was your comment about following the “twitter stream” of potential employees; James McNally’s coments responded nicely to that:
    “It was about my life, in all its messiness and confusion…I don’t write hoping that some employer reads my blog. In fact, I naively hope that they don’t,” he said.

    In my blogging, I also write with complete honesty from my heart; essentially, nobody even knows that my blog exists. Were I under the belief that other people — especially potential employers — might be scanning my blog, I would be very inclined to alter what I wrote in response to such a Foucaultian form of observation, thereby compromising the honesty and integrity of my submissions.

    All that to say: how do you know you can trust what you see on a potential employee’s blog, facebook account, etc.? It’s too easy to construct an ideal representation of self when targeting employers.

    Thank you for your time, and I’m looking forward to your response.

    Very best,

    Tannis B.

  • Tannis,
    You say, “how do you know you can trust what you see on a potential employee’s blog, facebook account, etc.? It’s too easy to construct an ideal representation of self when targeting employers.”

    I believe that you can tell a great deal about a person by reading their blog posts over time. In their choice of topics. In the quality of their reasoning and their writing. In the way they react to comments.

    Having said that, I’m not arguing absolutes. No rock solid guarantees. We all get fooled sometimes.

  • Mr. Thornley,
    Thanks for your reply.
    I suppose it would be easier to trust an interviewee’s blog if the date extended far beyond the moment you met.

    That said, how far back do you typically look into a person’s blog when you’re considering hiring them?

    I agree: there are no rock solid guarantees. It should also be noted that I’m not challenging your ideas on blogging, only questioning them as I am a budding communications professional. It’s interesting to listen what industry leaders are saying about the field, and the direction it’s going.

  • Tannis,
    The number of posts and time span I review depends on my interest in the candidate.

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  • Joe, you may be interested in the new “Teaching Social Media” section of the New PR wiki that some of us have been working on this semester. It includes a list of classes with links to our students’ blogs, class blogs, and other resources here:
    We’re a small but growing bunch!

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  • As a Journalism graduate, I was always told by others – to start a blog. I never entertained this idea because, I thought I didn’t have anything to say, and I assumed no one would want to read my ramblings. Well my attitude changed drastically when my professor Gary Schlee informed our class about the blogging requirements. A light bulb went off in my head.

    Blogging gives me the perfect atmosphere to do what I love – I love to write and communicate with others. It is so gratifying to have conversations with people I wouldn’t normally converse with. In essence, it reminds me of the life of a reporter. Reporters have the opportunity to interact with a variety of people on a daily basis.

    I embrace the merits of web 2.0. It is just a shame that others struggle with the overall concept of this space. It’s the perfect forum to agree, disagree and debate issues. It’s a beautiful thing and I’m glad Gary ushered our class into this thriving space.

  • Riannon J.

    As a PR student, I certainly see the merits of embracing “the new PR” and becoming familiar with the world of social media, especially blogs. However, like several other respondents, I question an employer’s right to delve so deeply into the private lives of potential employees. We have all been warned that the PR industry does not always prioritize work-life balance, but surely every employee is entitled to some personal life, completely separate from their work life.

    Also, I don’t think that a blog is necessarily an asset: many are riddled with errors and some take stands which might prove unattractive to employers. Proud ownership of an online voice can lead to problems as well as benefits.

    Other respondents have emphasized the importance of a willingness to learn about and explore social media, which makes a great deal more sense to me. This is still a relatively new and experimental medium, in the early stages of its evolution. It seems much more important to be engaged in evolving with social media than to become entrenched in its current forms.

    And is there no concern that too much focus on social media will corrode the basics of good PR – strong writing skills and an ability to talk to and build relationships with actual people?

    I enjoy exploring social media but I am increasingly worried that too many people are seeing it as the ultimate PR mechanism at the expense of other important and established means of communication.

  • I too am a student of Gary’s and let me tell you that I was like so many others with regards to my attitude about blogs. I thought that blogs were only for super computer wizards who spent hours online, and that I would never need or want to create one.

    This all changed once I started to really learn and understand what they were all about and just what kind of power they had. I by no means am a seasoned veteran in the blogging world, I’ve had mine up and running for only a month, but in that month, my knowledge has expanded exponentially. This would have never happened if Gary hadn’t introduced social media to me.

    I feel that those who don’t know much about the blogosphere are the ones that refuse to create blogs and engage with other bloggers. This is quite unfortunate. What is even more unfortunate is that so many colleges/universities are not teaching the importance of blogs to their students.

    Throughout the blogosphere, it is clear that we all feel the same; that blogging is an important part of public relations and a great way to build trust, reputations and relationships.

    But what about those who are not connected to this world? How do we get them to see just what blogs can do?

  • As a PR student and also a new blogger myself I will weigh in on this issue. I think it is a great idea that Gary is making his students write blogs as part of their education, he certainly sees the value in social media and its strong connection to public relations. It is important for young people especially to realize the importance of blogging and the impact it has on any PR campaign and initiatives.

    However, I feel that if one is forced to make a blog for school they might feel limited by what they can write. For example, if I knew that I was being marked on my content I would probably not write anything groundbreaking, shocking or pushing the envelope for fear of getting a bad mark.

    I am not sure how the students are being graded, that would be interesting to hear as I haven’t seen it posted. ( although I might have missed it seeing all the comments in the thread!)

    In addition, as a reader I feel that if I knew a blog was being written by a student for the purpose of a class assignment, I might not see the blog as being truly genuine and really expressing the personal views of the writer. I feel like they might post something without actually really believing it, because they feel as if it was something that they instructor might want them to post.

    I am not saying this is true in all circumstances by any means, it is a great initiative by Gary and Centennial college, I certainly wish Humber was doing something like this for my program as it really gets good conversation and new ideas going which is always the goal of PR.

  • Hi Mr. Thornley,

    Thanks for the response and clarification to my comment. Having posted my own diatribe on social media, since commenting on your site, I have had a chance to hear from both sides on the issue of Twittering.

    A lot of people have given me some great Feedback about my concerns:

    David Jones comments, “There is no value in any tool until you’ve determined that there is a real-world use for it. You’ll never know unless you give it a shot.”

    Rayanne Langdon writes, “At it’s very basic function, it’s a fun way to engage with others who share your interests.”

    And, Judy Gombita says, “I suppose there’s no harm in experimenting with setting up an account and observing for a bit. How useful it is/how big a drain it is on your time will be determined by how much you monitor Twitter and/or participate.”

    So, I have to agree with you, social media is definitely more about creating and developing relationships; those I have made just through listening to others comment on my blog (intangible and temporary as they are) seem immeasurably more satisfying.

    That said, however, to be honest, I probably won’t join Twitter (yet), but I also no longer see it as a useless extension of the social media space. That’s at least one step in the right direction. 😉

  • Robert DaCosta

    Blogs and social media are becoming integral parts of how pr practitioners
    measure their success. What seems to be the issue however, is how do we measure a blog’s effectiveness? By number of hits or comments?Or actual content and opinions? What holds more value? Social media is truly the future of public relations. As a student at Humber College in their pr program, we are using social media more than ever before. This frontier presents immense opportunities, and learning to utilize it will become vital for any successful practitioner.

  • Hi Joe,

    I was just doing a little back reading of your blog to get me in the mindset for your seminar tonight (I’m so excited) and after reading through the many responses to this post, I’m left with another question which has not been discussed.

    Do you think that a person’s ability to create online relationships in the blog world is a reflection of their ability to create in-person relations? I wonder if a person/student might focus so much on their social media presence that they could lose sight of the importance of being able to communicate face to face. Maybe it’s a stretch – any thoughts?

    Looking forward to tonight!


  • Kerri,
    From my first experience with blogging, I have been struck by people’s desire to meet and spend time in the real world with the people with whom they have struck up online relations. This has given rise to Bloggers Dinners, gatherings like Third Tuesday and the huge turnouts for the numerous unconferences organized by the community. In my experience, rather than making people lose sight of the value of real face to face relationships, social media has actually enabled people with mutual interests to find one another. By the time we all meet in the real world, it’s like we are already in a vigorous discussion.

  • Your comment is a credible one, James.
    I am one of Gary’s students and I must admit that this blogging assignment was not one I met with anticipation. I hold quite an opposite view from Joseph: the benefits of social media in PR are met with dangerous consequences. I do not have a facebook–never will– precisely for the reasons he’s mentioned. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe in making a first impression personally rather than fibre-optically.
    I must admit, though, that my blog is growing on me. I can understand your concern with this type of project becoming an extension of the resume. The most impressive blogs are those that draw the audience in with plenty of stories and personal examples and then relate those to the profession. I urge you to take a look at a few of my colleagues blogs, you will be amazed at the contributions that we are making to the PR profession.

  • Brandon, your presence here in this conversation already proves that you’re jumping in with both feet, and I think that’s a great thing. It’s funny that I appear to be the skeptic here. I’m certainly not skeptical about the value of participating in the online community. I just want students to have a fuller picture of what a blog can be. I’ve met literally hundreds of people through my blog, many of them in person, and though I can’t say I started it or continue it for the purpose of getting a job, it’s only natural that by meeting so many people, you may end up working with some of them.

    I would just say that you should try not to approach this “assignment” like something that has to be done for a professor or an employer, but try to see it as a way to make connections to other interesting people around the world. One or two may end up being your bosses, but try to keep that out of your mind when writing.

    Good luck to all of you and welcome to the conversation!

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