As my 22nd year of teaching at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism commences, the anticipation of a new academic term still ignites the same exhilaration as my first year. The surge of fresh faces ready to dive deep into the dynamic world of public relations is an electrifying experience that never ceases to invigorate and motivate me. It reflects the constantly evolving nature of our field and underscores the irreplaceable contribution of education in shaping the future contours of PR.
It’s an opportunity to share the knowledge and insights I’ve amassed over 30 years in the trenches of PR and marketing. Yet, it’s also a chance to learn from the innovative ideas and perspectives of a new generation of future scholars. The task of ensuring that the curriculum remains current and relevant in the face of such rapid transformation in the PR landscape is a continuous and sometimes arduous journey.
Of great importance to me is to remain steadfastly fixed on the intersection of where public relations converges with digital content creation. We live in an era where organizations have the power to transform themselves into their own media outlets, creating and disseminating content directly to their target audience. This paradigm shift has redefined how we perceive PR—and the PR professionals of tomorrow must be adequately prepared to navigate the digital terrain.
Throughout this new semester, I’ll dive deeply into the revelations of USC’s 2023 Global Communication Report, analyzing its predictions and insights into the evolving corporate communication and reputation management landscape. The report draws a fitting analogy between managing corporate reputation and solving a Rubik’s Cube—each move interconnected, each twist affecting the outcome. Similarly, every corporate action and message shape its reputation.
The report emphasizes several vital points that will anchor my classroom discussions. These include the rising importance of consumer reviews and independent rankings, the role of an organization’s social purpose, the critical impact of corporate culture and the potential for ESG initiatives to serve as springboards for storytelling. This holistic understanding of contemporary PR should equip students with the tools to be effective communicators.
Equally crucial is gazing ahead at the horizon of PR’s future. The profession is becoming inexorably intertwined with technology as artificial intelligence, data analytics and virtual reality reshape its boundaries. Acquiring a profound understanding of these changes—and staying abreast of them—will be critical for the PR practitioners of the future.
So, to my future students and all the PR professionals of the future, I offer this advice:
Stay curious: The universe of PR thrives on novelty, innovation and evolving narratives. Cultivating an unyielding sense of curiosity is more than just a trait—it’s a prerequisite for success in this field. As PR professionals, one is tasked with not only understanding but anticipating trends, and this requires a continuous appetite for knowledge. Reading industry publications, attending seminars, participating in workshops and never ceasing to ask questions matters. By nurturing a curious mindset, you’ll always be one step ahead, positioning yourself at the cutting edge of the industry and ensuring that you’re never left behind as new techniques, platforms and mediums emerge.
Be adaptable: The capacity to adapt is vital in the fast-paced PR industry. In an era where news breaks in seconds and trends shift overnight, adaptability is a PR practitioner’s strongest asset. The tools and tactics that worked yesterday might be obsolete tomorrow. Therefore, you must possess the agility to pivot swiftly and the resilience to accept—and even embrace—failure. To be adaptable means to be fluid in thought and approach, willing to discard old playbooks in favor of innovative strategies. This also means being technologically agile, ensuring you’re adept with the latest tools that technology offers. Remember, every challenge in PR is a lesson; how quickly and effectively you adapt determines how well you progress.
Foster relationships: At its core, public relations is about the delicate dance of human interactions. The relationships you foster today might well be the partnerships that drive your success tomorrow. Whether it’s maintaining a good rapport with journalists you have worked with, understanding the needs of your clients or valuing the dynamics within your own team, every relationship counts. Good PR is as much about listening as it’s about speaking. So, always make time for one-on-one interactions, remember important milestones and ensure that every stakeholder feels valued. Building trust isn’t an overnight job, but a consistent and genuine effort will pave the way for meaningful, lasting connections.
Think strategically: While PR does involve sharing information, it’s the strategy behind the dissemination that often determines its effectiveness. Every campaign, message or initiative should stem from a well-thought-out strategy that aligns with the broader objectives of your organization or client. Always ask yourself: “What’s the end goal?” “Who’s our audience?” “How will this message resonate, and what channels are most effective for delivery?” PR is as much a game of chess as it’s an art—anticipating outcomes, predicting responses and always being two steps ahead. By thinking strategically, you ensure that every move you make is purposeful and every message you craft hits its mark.
As we embark on this new academic term, I’m reminded of the wisdom imparted by Benjamin Franklin: “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” The art of teaching goes beyond imparting knowledge; it’s also about igniting a passion for lifelong learning. I look forward to learning from my students, guiding their evolution and helping pave the way for their future success in the dynamic field of public relations.
Stefan Pollack is President of The Pollack Group and an Adjunct Professor at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.