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Keeping PR-fit throughout the academic year

Teach a course, and other tips for learning and becoming better at your job.
University Business, February 2015
Marc C. Whitt is a 32-year veteran of higher education public relations and marketing.
Marc C. Whitt is a 32-year veteran of higher education public relations and marketing.

For the first few months of a New Year, many of us are eager to get physically fit. And those of us who work in PR and marketing must stay professionally fit by remaining relevant to meet and even surpass those needs our institutions will always have. We must stay ahead of the curve as we present ourselves as strategic communicator whose expertise and counsel can be trusted.

Here are but a few important ways you, as a public relations or marketing professional, can remain professionally fit for this year and for the future:

Read, and read some more. Learning is truly a lifelong process. Keep fresh in your work by reading current books, newspaper and magazine articles, white papers, blogs, and various social media postings. This not only will keep your mind active and stir creative juices, but will educate you on the latest trends in the profession. Per Dr. Seuss’ admonishment: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Teach a course. If you can do it, teaching a course in communications is another terrific way to remain fit. The benefits of doing so far outweigh the time it takes for class preparation. Teaching a course during the semester or summer months allows you to know your No. 1 customer—students—more intimately. As they share their view of the world, you will no doubt learn more from them than they learn from you.

In addition, you will become an even more respected and trusted colleague with members of the faculty as you listen to their goals, aspirations, ideas, academic achievements and challenges. Lastly, teaching will encourage you to remain fresh in the literature as you study and prepare for class time.

Go outside your world. Jack Welch, retired chairman and CEO of General Electric, said: “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” Taking time to visit successful corporations, industries, small businesses, nonprofit organizations, and colleges and universities of all types can sharpen your creative edge. All of us can learn from others’ successes. Consider ways you can modify their successes for your own program’s application.

Become tech savvy. Millennials are quite comfortable with technology, and it is vital that baby boomer professionals become just as comfortable and familiar with its applications. We must not fall prey to saying, “I don’t do social media.”

Enroll in professional development workshops. Jump into the technology swimming pool—and learn by trial and error. A significant part of a public relations and marketing professional’s work is now conducted through various digital communication technologies. The more we learn and apply those technologies to our everyday work, the more effective and efficient we will become.

Write often. Writing has always been at the heart of our work. Because public relations and marketing professionals in higher education are expected to create and develop content that is compelling, accurate and timely, it is important that we continually stretch our writing muscles. Whether it’s an op-ed for a local newspaper, a blog post or a speech you draft, take time each day to write.

Get out of the office. Last, but certainly not least, do not take up professional residence behind your desk. Our work, after all, is “public” relations, not “desk” relations. Despite the advances and conveniences of technology, our work is centered around establishing and maintaining relationships for our institutions. We can easily be lulled into the notion that our work is done as long as we can communicate with others via email, texts, video calling or social media.

Make sure to dedicate time each day to meet one-on-one with your institution’s various constituents. They will better value what you do and, in return, you will gain greater appreciation for them as you share your institution’s success story to an eager audience.

Marc C. Whitt is a 32-year veteran of higher education public relations and marketing. You may follow or contact him @marcwhitt.

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