A story of superhumans – inspiring a PR generation

Today I met the 2012 intake of public relations students at Bournemouth University. To use the vision of the London 2012 games, this is the next generation that we need to inspire to lead our occupation. A quick poll (well asking them to put up their hands) revealed pretty much all use Facebook, but perhaps a quarter have a Twitter presence and a handful can be found in LinkedIn or Pinterest. So are they a digital generation – who live an always-on, hyper connected lifestyle, ruled by apps and online news?

If they are not, then they will soon need to address this gap in their competencies as they look to engage fully with the world of public relations, and indeed, modern University education. Rather than Google and Wikipedia (which undoubtedly have become their primary sources of information at school), we expect them to engage with online learning resources, electronic journals and ebooks, web and mobile based communications, respected blogs (such as PR Conversations) and social media based professional networks.

Their future careers need to be about more than getting to grips with the tools of digital communications however. We need to inspire them to change perceptions and become highly regarded strategic managers. This aim requires the practice of PR also to change its perception of students and not see them only in terms of craft skills destined to follow a career that relies on time-served and step by step promotion up the agency or corporate ladder.

In the new world of work, you need to create your own opportunities – this was the message from the final year students who came along to share experiences of their placement years. If you want to be recognised and have a great personal reputation, this takes superhuman effort rather than floating along waiting for chances to come your way.

As the Summer of superhuman efforts in the Olympics and Paralympics fades into our memories, it is worth reflecting on how perceptions were changed during a few weeks of inspirational sporting endeavours. At least for a while, our opinions of being British changed. We felt a vicarious satisfaction in delivering a world-class games, that reflected our unique culture and showed the rest of the planet that we are more than the impressions often left by our politicians and drunken holidaymakers.

One legacy that it is hoped will have longevity is a new view of those with disabilities – thanks in part to the Meet the Superhumans campaign by Channel 4. This involved more than a short promotional video however, as Channel 4 had invested in getting to know the Paralympic athletes over a two year period. But the phrase, superhuman, was inspired and helped reposition the Paralympic games, and its competitors, as people who demonstrated superhuman abilities rather than disabilities.

But without the achievements – and genuine personalities – of those who participated in the games, no creative communications campaign would have altered perceptions. What challenged our opinions, beliefs and attitudes was the realisation that the athletes were, to an extent, just like us. Well, in reality, they aren’t like us, as most of us never aspire to, let alone achieve, the pinnacle of our potential. Whether that’s being a medal winner, or delivering a personal best, it means striving and sacrificing to realise dreams.

That also means being better than the previous generation – I genuinely want to be inspired by those entering public relations. Yes, as an educator, I can help them on their career paths. I can introduce them to the theory and practice involved in public relations, and encourage them to engage fully with digital communications and future trends. But what inspires me most is when they push this further and show what they can achieve. Only they can change the future perception and opinion of public relations.

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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.

4 thoughts on “A story of superhumans – inspiring a PR generation”

  1. Hi Heather!

    I am currently doing my final year PR and have to choose a dissertation topic and I am really struggling! I am doing an internship at a online based community for danish people living in London which will involve finding sponsors and to promote the website through various ways of my own choice. Do you think this is something I could take advantage from when choosing a topic as I have all the information available about the company? Would be extremely grateful if I could get an answer from you!
    Kind regards

  2. A dissertation needs to start from the theoretical perspective so although you may have an opportunity to undertake research, you need to think first about which area of your studies is relevant and how this offers a question or research objective to be investigated. For example, how does sponsorship relate to reputation management? Is this an area of PR that you have thought about and could read more in terms of perhaps looking at how reputation is affected by sponsorship issues. Are there guidelines or models that you can look at and so consider these in developing a sponsorship approach for the organization?

    1. Thank you! I was thinking of something about how a company with limited fundings can use an integrated marketing approach or benefit from using IMC. (They rely much on sponsorship and they sell advertising space on their website to companies with an interest in their customers (mainly Danish and Scandinavian people) The different blogs on the website also serves as a tool where companies can pay to get promoted) I would then research the different tools in the communication mix they are using in order to see which is the most beneficial one. Do you think that sounds like a good question/questions?

  3. As I said, the dissertation needs to start from the theoretical perspective – what is the theory you would be investigating? What reading informs your consideration of IMC and selection of specific tools? I cannot possibly provide specific advice – that’s what you have a tutor for on your degree course. I’m sure they will say the same as I have though in that the concept needs to be related to academic models, theory and reading rather than starting from the perspective of practice.

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