It is an anniversary that has slipped by seemingly by no one noticing, but it is now 40 years since tertiary training in public relations commenced in Australia.

The year was 1972 and I remember it well as I was a young, and probably brash, President of the Public Relations Institute of Australia (Victoria). There were many discussions about the need for graduates to work within the industry and learn how it all works rather than be captives of academia. We also wondered if any bright young people would even be interested to take the course.

40 years since tertiary training in PR commenced in Australia

David Potts was the driving force as the first Senior Lecturer in PR Studies at the then Mitchell College, Bathurst and we were also guided by his experiences from his time at San Jose University in California.

Let’s put the history to one side. After 40 years let me start the discussion to evaluate in a brief blog the upside and the downside:

Upside:

Stunning improvements on so many levels that is hard to start to mention them all (hopefully your comments will pick up on some of these). There is also the improvement from overall education and understanding and improved gender equality. 

PR technique improvements: If we were still doing what I did in the late 1950s and early 1960s, I don’t think I would have a client. Improvements range from the diversity of the techniques we use and the range of skills we employ.

Technology. This is the elephant in the room. So much of what we do today has an online dimension on which we have to guide clients into how appropriate it is to their needs. This aspect of PR will also be deeply involved with our ongoing direction in the future.

Downside:

Technology obsession. The younger PR practitioner is too obsessed with the means of communication, rather than communication. Don’t just send an email, pick up the phone and talk. Regrettably that can also show up bad telephone and vocal communication skills. This is so obvious but is it taught in the PR Uni courses?

Intellectual arrogance is a problem that many young graduates exhibit. The ‘I am very smart and I have a degree’ syndrome. I have encountered this many times in employing young graduates who are disappointed that hard-nosed business people don’t immediately say ‘yes’, don’t have a clue about communication and couldn’t care less. They are only interested in the bottom line.

Gender imbalance. In my time in PR the profession it has gone from 95% blokes to 95% girls. It is not a problem to me because one of my PR first bosses was female, the best (and cleverest) Chairman was a Dame, my grandmothers and mother were female, as also is the love of my life and my two amazing daughters. So what’s the problem? If a profession was all blokes, I would be equally upset although I do accept that there are some jobs that do need a bias, such as Rugby League where you do need big boofy blokes with big muscles and hard heads, but aside from that it would be better if the gender balance in PR was 50/50. What do you think?

One final thought on the downside is ‘spin doctoring’. Is it a desirable or less desirable off-shoot of PR? It is an interesting subject for the future, which I will leave to another blog.

I would value your comments on the upside and the downside of PR education after 40 years, so please contribute to the debate?

-Dennis Rutzou