Why we learn: the push for professional development for PR pros at all levels
October is the month when, as a public relations professional now teaching the next generation(s) of PR pros, I get really excited...
Well…more excited than usual! This happens every year around this time, so students, colleagues and family members have pretty much resigned themselves to the inevitability.
The reason for this uptick in my mood is the annual Public Relations Society of America International Conference that draws attendees from all over to share experiences, learn from others and stay abreast of developments in our ever-changing profession.
I’ve been attending as frequently as possible since I joined PRSA in 1981. Every time, I come back home loaded with new ideas and knowledge, as well as with a rekindled enthusiasm for the public relations profession.
I get the occasional quizzical look from my undergrad students at Curry College, where I teach most of our Communication Department’s public relations courses. Some of them have a hard time wrapping their minds around why someone at my “advanced” (in their eyes, mind you!) age would be so committed to continuing his education.
My answer is pretty simple. “You (students) look to me to provide you with the most current knowledge that will prepare you for your own futures. Our world…that of public relations…doesn’t sit still. New technologies emerge that impact our ability to communicate with our publics. New challenges bubble up that test our ability to respond, react and recover. New audiences are formed that provide opportunities to connect and create relationships that will benefit our client or employer.”
I was taught this by a wise and wonderful mentor 40 years ago when I restarted my life as a civilian Public Affairs Intern working for the Army after an eight-year Air Force stint. Clinton Parks, bless his heart, absolutely lived and breathed the “religion” of continuing education, and he pushed his intern charges to take advantage of every possible opportunity to benefit from the wisdom of others.
And so it is that I try, in my own way, to continue Clint’s legacy by urging, prodding, demanding that anyone who gets ensnared in my “PR web” follow my example. Whether it be in-person at local PRSA or other communication organization events or on-line through tweetchats like PRStudChat, webinars offered by PRSA and other programs, including the International Conference, I encourage these young future professionals to get a leg up on their competition by starting now to build their learning.
The beauty of this continued emphasis on gaining more knowledge is that you will find that others will start looking to you for advice and guidance. They’ve seen that you are committed to keeping yourself up to date on the latest developments, innovations, and ideas. Now they want to benefit from your expertise.
That, my friends, is “why we learn.”
“Society makes no specific demands regarding the education of the public relations man, as it does in the case of the lawyer, architect, and other professionals. Still, we must maintain certain educational standards. If an individual is to give advice to others, he should have knowledge and understanding.” –Edward L. Bernays, “Your Future in Public Relations – Education and Public Relations (ch. 6)” 
PR pros: no matter what level of your career, how do you continue your PR education and professional development?