PR and the ‘chick’ factor: The women of Kent State tell us how to lure men to public relations

I promised to share some of my students’ ideas for attracting men to public relations. All 14 students on this project were women, and all are in their first PR class following the basic “Principles” course.

Duh! Fix the Website. Students learned that our website is first point of contact for most prospects. They also learned that our site does little for those seeking information about the PR major at Kent State. What little info we have there is out of date and hard to find. male.png

Students suggest we create a separate landing page for PR. While we’re at it, they said, give it a masculine look and feel, using colors and typefaces that appeal to men. Insert short video stories on successful PR majors, and make sure plenty of them are men. Students can produce the stories as part of class assignments, thus illustrating the hands-on professional focus of Kent’s program.

female.pngAfter creating the landing page, students suggest we focus on search engine optimization. No sweat. In the fact-finding stage of the project, students learned that KSU has a staff expert on SEO, and guess what? She happens to be a graduate of the PR program. Yeah, she’s a girl.

Publicity? Forget it. Informal research tells us that mainstream journalists would rather write about hemorroids than public relations people (even though both are perceived by journalists as pains in the ass). But seriously, students recommend we not waste resources pitching MSM about “men in PR.” No matter how you twist it, the story has little news value and little potential impact. Go direct.

Face-to-Face. Is there a better way to connect to people and build relationships than F2F? The ideas in this section aren’t revolutionary, but will help us share our stories with young men and those who influence them.

  • See the people and tell the story: Send two-person “ambassador teams” (one male, one female) to college fairs at KSU’s top 25-30 feeder schools. Prior to the evening events, teams will offer to visit high school journalism and/or English classes to talk with students and faculty about PR careers. Because the Kent program is a tad short of male ambassadors, students suggested harnessing loyal PRKent alumni to join the teams. More than 300 alumni subscribe to our PRKent “Classmate Updates.” About 20% of those are men.
  • Connect to prospects who visit Kent. Some 1,500 high school students who visit Kent State for communication and journalism-oriented events each year just might be interested in PR. Why not use a series of round-table discussions and small-group presentations at these conferences to spread the word and expand the prospect list? They’re here. Talk to them!
  • Connect to high-school teachers visiting Kent. More than 150 high school teachers who advise student media visit our campus each year for training and development. Why not make the “public relations option” a key message in these meetings of influentials? In the process, we can point out the opportunities for PR’s “new minority group.”
  • Train the advisers on campus. Assign PR faculty to visit staff meetings to discuss the PR major with those who advise first-year students at Kent State. Goal is to turn advisers into messengers for the major. Emphasize in these sessions the growing opportunities for PR’s rarest candidates: young dudes.
  • Sponsor events like “Test the Toys.” Attract undecided male freshman to an event at our new JMC facility. One suggested event, “Test the Toys,” includes video game competitions (a “guy thing”), along with a chance to test high-end audio and video equipment (more “guy” stuff) in our new $21-million facility. Hell, we can even put them on TV in our $2.5-million studio. But in the end, the fun and games create F2F opportunities through which undecided freshman can connect to PR students and faculty.
  • Sponsor “shadow” days at Kent. Working through high school teachers, encourage young men to visit campus and spend a day attending PR classes and events.
  • Persuade local chapters of PRSA and IABC to support a regional program that will spread the word about PR careers to local high schools. Ensure that among the key messages is one that underscore the opportunities for men. Encourage the use of male role models in the program.

Create Facebook connections to prospective PR students. Our admissions office provides list of high-school prospects who have expressed interest in communication-related fields. A preliminary check shows 90% or more have Facebook accounts. Big surprise, eh? Let’s talk to them student-to-student!

The students’ plans call for enlisting PRSSA members to generate conversation with these prospects. Prospects also will be invited to join Facebook groups, and those groups will have regular discussions and “event” invitations. Those events may be virtual or F2F, since a majority of our prospects live within 60 miles of campus. Idea of the Facebook campaign is to create connections, not to sell or promote.

Develop partnerships with “guy” majors. Some of the majors most attractive to men have natural tie-ins with PR: sports management, finance, criminal justice and political science. All four disciplines depend upon public relations. PR students suggest that we create official “concentrations” in 4-5 of these areas and promote them.

At the same time, my students say, why not encourage majors in those male-dominated fields to consider the public relations minor? By attracting more men to PR classes — majors or minors — more students will graduate with an appreciation for what public relations is and what it can do.

Other items of interest:

  • Raise funds for scholarships for young males. Yikes! The PC crowd will bristle at that one. But we have other scholarships designated for minority students, don’t we? Touchy subject, but worth exploring.
  • Package a lesson for high-school teachers. Teachers of journalism and English say they don’t talk about PR careers because they know little or nothing about those careers. Why not package a lesson (with slides, video and handouts) to help teachers explore a lesson about PR. As part of the package, offer to send guest speakers. Point out in this lesson the opportunities for both men and students of color.

I could go on, but you get the idea. There’s no magic here. Just PR 101. Create effective communication that serves the audience and opens relationships. Hell, it’s so easy even us guys can do it!

What pleased me most about the students’ plans was their willingness to tinker with programming and policy to make the major more male-friendly. They went beyond communication to adapting the organization. Pretty symmetrical, eh?

But no one went went so far as to suggest we rename the major to something, well — something more macho. Got any ideas?

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Post Script: If this problem had cropped up when I was in college, I’d have suggested this — one of the greatest rock songs ever — to serve as our theme. I may be old, but I still have the edge. Dudes! Where are you?

7 Responses to PR and the ‘chick’ factor: The women of Kent State tell us how to lure men to public relations

  1. I doubt a name change would do too much – if anything you might alienate the small group of incoming students that actually have a clue about what PR is!😉

    Or of course we could all just play nicer with our “evil twins” and have a little comm-style orgy, giving into the integrated marketing communications label that tries to devour marketing, PR, advertising, and various other narrower communications-related disciplines.

  2. Bill Sledzik says:

    When the men we surveyed were asked to choose from a list of alternative majors, about half chose “public relations.” It may not be a perfect name for this profession, but it’s been around for 100 years and a good many folks understand what it is. Sadly, a good many also view the term “PR” as synonymous with “party planning” and “publicity.”

    BTW, the next most popular name was “strategic communication.” A number of schools use that, and I plan poll some of them about their gender mix. I’m betting men prefer “strategy” over “relations.” It’s not our fault. It’s the DNA!

  3. Breeze says:

    I see a lot of value in the research listed here, Bill. Getting the right information into the hands of the interested–-and those who influence them–will have a huge impact on PR’s profile.

    What I don’t see (yet, anyway) is how raising the major’s profile will necessarily translate to more men choosing to study it. Is it just a law-of-averages approach?

    Having read the proposed ideas, what I said above largely holds true. Of the listed concepts, only a couple actually targeted male students or prospects. The rest were across-the-board ways of raising awareness of PR as a major–which is a good thing, to be sure. Whether it will result in reducing the gender imbalance is another matter entirely.

  4. Bill Sledzik says:

    You are correct, Breeze. But you have to do both. You have to create messages and introduce them through channels that — by their nature — reach both male and female.

    We found that high-school influentials don’t really get what PR is about. When we educate them, the become messengers for PR — not “men in PR.” But if you include in that message info about the opportunities available to the underrepresented (men and people of color), you just may have an impact on the guys.

    It’s difficult to single out men on the college campus, too, since academic advisers aren’t assigned advisees by gender. But again, if they know of the options, they are more likely to steer young men our way, saying, “Dude! Have you thought about PR?” This will be especially true if we can establish partnerships with those “guy” majors like sports management, criminal justice and the like. Think about it — PR with hockey sticks and guns!

    Still, the students’ website strategy, the partnership with “guy” majors, the “Toys” event, the scholarships, and the Facebook campaign can and will target prospects by gender. And sending male role models into the high schools should also have a similar effect. On the other hand, when we hold meetings to discuss PR careers, we can’t exclude the women.

    I thought we might target students in all-boys high schools, but those have pretty much disappeared in NEOhio. Besides, the kids from private schools aren’t in our target market. I’d explain that, but you’re a Kent grad, so I don’t have to.

    You know, when I was in college — back when Mott the Hoople released “All the Young Dudes,” we were able to pull in young men with kegs of beer and more kegs of beer. Life was so simple. Then they raised the drinking age — the killjoys!

  5. Breeze says:

    I understand of using, as I called it, the law-of-averages approach. I guess I was expecting something more revelatory regarding the gender-specific nature of the issue being addressed.

  6. Bill Sledzik says:

    I’m not big on revelations, but I sure do like that word: revelatory. Which syllable gets the accent?

  7. Breeze says:

    I dare not divulge nor disclose such data.

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