Getting ahead in the age of distraction
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series for PR/communications students on getting ready for a career in the industry. For more insights from David, follow him on Twitter @davidlian.
I recently had the opportunity to speak to a large group of students at a local University College about social media and communications. Stepping on to campus seemed like a throwback to my student years, and the burning question I wanted to answer was: What would I have told a younger me if I could do a “Back to the Future?”
With that consideration, here are three points I think budding students looking to work in communications should take to heart:
1. Focus on the principles, but realize that the medium will change
Back when I was still in University, my lecturers had already realized that the Internet was going to be the dominant medium. So we were trained in a course on “Journalism in the Information Age.” Unfortunately, whilst the course tried to look forward to the future and predict what journalism would be like once the Internet rose in importance, the idea many books and academics had then was more like Geocities than Facebook.
So I learned a bunch of theories on how the newsroom’s functions would change and how journalists would be coding HTML pages in school – only to realize the world has changed when I got out to work.
But it isn’t a lost cause unless you’re dogmatic about it. Many of the principles of journalism and PR still apply and if I were going through the course all over again today, those would be what I’d focus on.
2. Get ready for the melting pot of communications industries
There are advertising degrees, broadcasting degrees, multimedia design degrees; and then there are public relations degrees. One trend that’s affecting the PR, marketing, advertising and media industries today is we’re seeing an increasing convergence into what it means to be a communications professional.
Suddenly, the media buying agent who is used to understanding the world in impressions and clickthroughs, needs to also understand how to manage communities and engage consumers – or find a partner for it. Similarly, for public relations pros who’ve been great at managing conversations, there is also a need to understand, propose and create platforms where those conversations can happen.
So, what should a student do to prepare? My advice: take as many wide and varied electives as you can. Even if you’re gunning for a PR degree, it doesn’t hurt to take some elective classes in marketing or broadcasting. In fact, a wide base of cross-discipline knowledge will really help.
3. Read-up and stay current on industry trends
It’s easy to stay in your college “bubble.” And as much as I love Habermas and McLuhan, your college years aren’t just about the compulsory reading you get with your course readers and textbooks. More than ever (thanks to the Internet), your learning experience should involve getting into the habit of reading good blogs (shameless plug: like Hypertext) covering the communications industry. The digital and social space are deeply embedded into the communications industry and, on top of that, they are evolving at light-speed. A simple practical way to keep in-touch is to setup a Google Reader account with RSS subscriptions to popular social media and communications blogs in your country. If all else fails, Mashable is always a good bet.
Stay tuned tomorrow for more advice on getting ready for a career in PR!
Image courtesy of David Lian.