Do PR Practitioners Hate Public Relations Theory?

public relations theoryI recently read the article Toward Pragmatic Public Relations by Bob Batchelor, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State University.

Batchelor’s article suggested that there is a disparity between public relations practitioners and academic scholars. The article argued that today’s PR professionals have a dislike for public relations theory and believe that experience-based practice is more valuable and effective.

If you’re a young professional, recently graduated from college or still pursuing a degree, ask yourself this: Did your undergraduate education include a strong emphasis on communication or public relations theory?

Consider your academic curriculum.  Were you required to take one or more communication theory course to graduate?  Or did your university place more emphasis in finding internship placement in your field?

Batchelor argues that so much emphasis is put on the value of internships and practical experience during a young professional’s undergraduate career that ignoring the value of theory is almost inevitable.

With countless “gurus” and “experts” lacking academic foundations for their practical tasks, it’s not hard to understand the doubts of similar departments (like marketing and advertising) that are more “serious” about proving financial results for their activities.

As a public relations professional, I found Batchelor’s article to be very interesting and it inspired me to reflect on my only undergraduate education.  My university’s liberal arts curriculum required that communication majors take one communication theory course, but participate in at least two semesters worth of internships.

Neither of my internships stressed public relations theory.  In fact, the summer I spent in a boutique PR firm did not once include a discussion on how public relations theory could be applied to practical activities.  None of the four seasoned professionals in the office seemed to stress the value of theory and encouraged me to utilize my time networking, and developing my writing skills.

Batchelor argues that, if we all operate in this sort of office, then one can’t be surprised when management doesn’t think you’re capable of anything more than writing a press release or contacting a reporter.

During my time as an active professional, I’ve notice a heavy focus on media monitoring, press release writing, media pitching, and social media account management but a noticeable lack of interest in public relation theory. Perhaps it’s the trust in one’s “gut reaction” and experience, or perhaps it is an institutional problem?

Leave a comment answering this question: Do you think PR professionals ignore public relations theory?

Yasheaka Oakley Owens

Yasheaka Oakley Owens is the owner of YOakleyPR, a woman-owned small business that provides public relations, social media, and online marketing support services to small businesses and 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations in Southeastern Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey and Delaware.

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