Can graduates turn around PR’s image problem?


This cartoon is featured by  who highlights also the way public relations practitioners have been featured in movies.  He claims this public image problem is caused by PR people who aren’t being ethical – and that these folk outshout those of us who are hard-working, honest, and ethical.  

We’ve discussed some of these points in the seminars I take with the first year Public Relations undergraduates at .  It has been interesting to see them consider the pros and cons of a press agentry approach (where the focus is on getting coverage and truth is not essential).   I believe they will have the right intentions when they go out on placement and eventually enter the industry.  But I fear they will be coerced into poor practices by clients and their bosses.  The challenge is not just to tell them what is right, but empower them so they are able to stand up against unethical practices.

We hear a lot of criticism about the standard of PR graduates, but maybe in this area, there is a lot the industry can learn from the newbies.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

5 thoughts on “Can graduates turn around PR’s image problem?”

  1. How can a fresh graduate know when the time is right to try enlighten their bosses and co-workers? I would imagine it’s a fine line between being eager and just plain cheeky.

  2. That’s why we need to give them confidence from Day 1 – it isn’t about either being eager or cheeky, but an informed, educated practitioner. Those employing graduates shouldn’t look at them as young people who know nothing, just there to do as they’re told and learn “how things are really done”. Instead, they should respect the fact that graduates have solid understanding and can bring something to any job in PR. Of course, graduates need to be willing to learn, but so should anyone employing them. One of the skills we need to equip graduates with is the tact and diplomacy to communicate professionally in such inter-personal situations.

  3. Tact and diplomacy, yes, I see. I was told once you can say just about anything to anybody with a smile on your face.

  4. I don’t think the answer lies with graduates – the problem lies (as always, and in every other industry) with the people running the PR agency/company. If you’re new at a company and your boss tells you to do something, you do it whether you like it or not. If you really don’t like it and feel strongly enough, you walk out.

    Until PR is a properly regulated with relevant fines and sanctions for poor practices, it will continue to get the negative publicity that it does. And I say this as the owner of a PR agency (with morals and ethics, I hasten to add!). 🙂

  5. Danny – I agree that the main issue over ethical practices is further up the hierarchy in organisations than graduates. I suppose that I believe we need to ensure that graduates have an ethical foundation in PR on which they can draw, particularly when they are able to influence, even just at the basic task level. At the least, they need to know where they draw a line and would be prepared to walk away from a job, not just think all PR is unethical.

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