Bringing market realities to the PR classroom — It’s a fast track here, just like in the ‘real world’

We all know twitter.pngthe business is changing by the hour. No, make that by the second. And I’m sure it’s true. I learned it from Twitter. Twitter’s been all the rage for maybe two weeks now — center stage in the Web 2.0 world until the next new toy comes along.

If you don’t know about Twitter, not to worry. You probably were focused on 5 or 50 other phenomena affecting audiences in the online world. And if you’re feeling a a little out of breath, join the club. No one can really keep up these days. You simply run faster today than you did yesterday, then you do the same tomorrow.

ksu.gifHere at Kent State, we’re studying the morphing business of public relations, and we’re looking closely at PR’s intersection with social media. We’re NOT rewriting the curriculum, mind you. But we’re constantly rethinking and adjusting it to fit market realities.

To serve our students and the profession, educators in PR can no longer assume a traditional role of “observer/researcher.” There isn’t time. We need to bring the changes to our classrooms almost as they unfold. As a result, we sometimes find ourselves learning and teaching simultaneously. There’s no “comfort zone” in our little niche of academe anymore — not if you’re doing your job.

A while back, in a comment to Les Potter’s blog, I said that our PR faculty were “working overtime” to incorporate social media into the classroom. Here’s how Web 2.0 affected us in just the past week.

In the PR Online Tactics class, every student is blogging about PR-related topics. It’s an attempt to immerse students in the medium and to help them demonstrate critical thinking to peers and to prospective employers. The “conversation” will come with time.

I’m only sitting in on this class, but students are tapping my vast, 6-month history as a blogger. Yep, when it comes to social media, we’re all relative newbies and all unsure of what Web 2.0 really means or where it’s going. Faculty and students find themselves exploring it together. So far, so good.

In the PR Case Studies class we learned how Cleveland ad/pr leader Liggett Stashower is using social media and viral video to promote products as disparate as glue, faucets and detergent. VP and Partner Chris Baldwin showed some outta-the-box approaches to break through the clutter. He told us how social media have turned the ad biz upside down in the past five years.

Smart guy that Chris. Kent grad, too.

Update: To see what they’re up to at Liggett, check this viral video for Loctite, this social-media site for Moen, and this crazy sweepstakes for 20 Mule Team Borax. Oh, yeah. If you remember Borax, you’re clearly as old as the dirt it once removed from your grandpa’s coveralls! But it’s a new day — for you and for Borax.

In our Ethics & Issues classes, YouTube clips trigger many a discussion. Only a year ago not a single student in my class had seen YouTube or even heard of Lonely Girl 15. Today, a good many of those students are hooked on the site and gems like this one from SNL that went largely unnoticed until it hit social media.

hillary1984.jpgWhat’s next on the ethics front? When our students return from break on April 2, expect a lot of discussion about the“Hillary/1984”and the “I Feel Pretty” clips. Once we learn who’s responsible for these productions (that should take a day or two, max) discussion will shift to transparency — or the lack of it. Our law class is also having a field day with copyright issues tied to social media.

On the research front this week, I met with colleagues to discuss a project that’ll focus on the interconnectedness and the credibility of blogs. In the end, we hope to better understand how citizen journalists influence the MSM and public opinion as a whole. Where I’ll find time to keep up with that project is the $64,ooo question, and my wife is the one asking it!

So yeah, I’m having a devil of a time staying in this race. We all are.

But if we don’t, we’re dead meat. That’s the message I got from Chris Baldwin’s presentation the other day. He didn’t actually say it. But he didn’t have to.


10 Responses to Bringing market realities to the PR classroom — It’s a fast track here, just like in the ‘real world’

  1. lespotter001 says:

    Lead on, Bill. What you are doing is as cutting edge as anything I’ve seen, and believe me, (like you) I’ve been looking and looking. Thanks for the comment tipping off my learning community to this informative posting. With your permission, I want to quote from it for More With Les.

  2. Bill Sledzik says:

    Quote away, Les. And thanks for the compliment. However, your comment and my response may be proof positive that we’re all working far too hard and far too long to say ahead of things. It’s 10:04 p.m., and March Madness is reduced to white noise in my living room. Something wrong with this picture? My wife will answer this differently than I.

  3. Gary Schlee says:

    You’re so right, Bill. It can be daunting to keep up with social media developments, let alone incorporate them into curriculum. I posted a few weeks ago about some social media tools we’ve dropped into two courses: a PoRtFOLIO blog of student work and a podcast series called Walking the Line which should go live this week.

    To do it effectively requires that we dive into these media along with our students. But just how much time do I have to blog, podcast and wiki (okay, maybe wiki hasn’t morphed into a verb yet)? On the positive side, I’m finding it’s fun to explore. I just try not to get flumoxed when I hear about other academics taking field trips in Second Life, or using Twitter to carry out a discussion about the potential dangers of … Twitter!

  4. Judy Gombita says:

    On March 16th the Friday “Web” columnist for the Globe and Mail (7 section), Ivor Tossell, wrote a hilarious article about Twitter:

    Reading online column now
    Twitter’s little farts of consciousness may appeal to twits and twerps

    I think the sub-hed is a good lesson to drive home to your students: critical thinking whether in social media or otherwise (i.e., qualitative thought) beats quantity of output, any day. Hopefully the end-result communication will be both clearer and more palatable to their readers, too.

  5. Bill Sledzik says:

    Thanks for that link to the Globe & Mail, Judy. It’s a great piece that pretty much sums up my view of Twitter: a gigantic waste of time and of NO value to me whatsoever. But I honestly feel the same about Facebook. I see lot of connecting going on, but not a lot of thought going into the messages. It all seems lame to me, but clearly I’m missing a point that’s crystal clear to millions of others.

    But if Twitter can maintain a following, it may be an interesting element to integrate with viral campaigns aimed at the younger demographic — at least until Twitter is overwhelmed by porn spam!

    Still, I try my best to experiment with the online toys that don’t require a steep learning curve. You just never know what you’ll find. I was able to test Twitter in a few minutes. I can’t do that with Second Life!

  6. Judy Gombita says:

    You’re welcome. Tossel is a very good at spotting (often deflating) the technology and web trends, and I find his prose quite elegant and usually amusing. His column is one of the first I turn to in Friday’s paper.

    I think Twitter is a cross-breed of IM and micro-blogging, which indeed might suit perfectly the short(er) attention spells of the Millennials.

    My 16-year-old nephew told me back in the fall that FaceBook was the happening space (he dissed MySpace). Even though it was originally conceived for the university crowd, high school-aged participants quickly glommed to FaceBook and began getting on board in droves. (I remember he had twice as many FaceBook connections as I had on LinkedIn!) Next time we’re talking I’ll twitter this concept for feedback.

    For Gen X and older, my observation is that Twitter mainly appeals to small-shop consultants and agency types, ones that are looking to further “brand” their services or selves online. (Ditto for bloggers and podcasters.) In the corporate world, I’m not hearing of any significant take up and, quite frankly, I can’t see any use for it that isn’t covered off already by existing communication vehicles.

  7. Julie Powell says:

    This blog is very interesting. I am a recent CSU graduate, and I wish we would have done a similar unit on social media, search engine optimizaiton and other important up-and-coming pr tactics. Luckily I was exposed to google reader, web 2.0 and the blogosphere relatively early. I’m going to add you to my reader and would be very pleased if you considered joining the Northeast Ohio Marketing Forum (blog) that I’m trying to start up to create some conversation about marketing and pr in our region. Thanks for all the info! Oh, and I haven’t updated my twitter in about a week – I may still be cooking dinner or reading Learning To Love You More.

  8. Bill Sledzik says:


    I’d be pleased to join the forum, though I consider myself a PR person, not a marketing person, and I’m one of those who sees a significant difference in the two. As for Twitter, it was a shortlived experiment for me. I watched, I listened, and didn’t see a place for it in my life. I do see the potential for marketers, though.

    Sounds to me like you jumped into social media regardless of what was happening in the classroom. Let me know more about the Marketing blog when you get time. It’s always good to expand the conversation. (Update: Clearly I should have tried your link first. I’ll look it over tonight!)

  9. mattsmith81 says:

    About Twitter, I was wondering what sort of ways do you think Twitter could help businesses? I could see a practical use in making people aware of your whereabouts, but what else do you see that could benefit the user? I have my own twitter account, but I can’t seem to find a good use for it working in a small firm.


    P.S.-I am a recent advertising graduate of George Mason University, but was accepted to Kent State’s Airway Science program after I graduated high school. The powers that may be kept me here…and you guys beat us this season (in basketball).

  10. Bill Sledzik says:

    Really had not thought it through, Matt. But I recall back when IM was first taking off that companies would make an effort to plant conversational threads into the networks — to create buzz. One campaign, if memory serves, was to get college students talking about one of the Febreeze products that eliminated the need for ironing. (Though I never ironed clothes in college, nor did I know anyone who did!)

    To create this buzz, you need something unusual to talk about, and something that fits the lifestyle of the network you are infiltrating (I can’t believe one who teaches PR Ethics used that word!). And with Twitter, it’d have to be really brief (ditto for IM). Idea I had was to create conversation, then insert links, perhaps to help spark a viral campaign on YouTube or some other site. Worth brainstorming, and I’m sure many have already.

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