By Benjamin Easley
I have learned that, as a public relations student at Ball State University, I had better listen to whoever is delivering the Schranz Distinguished Lecture in Public Relations. It doesn’t matter what the focus is or who is delivering it, the Schranz Lecture is worth my time and attention. Last Wednesday, Dr. Melvin Sharpe took the podium to address the changing nature of the PR field and the advancements that will move public relations forward.
Dr. Sharpe founded the Indiana Public Relations Conference, the International Public Relations Research Conference and taught classes in PR at Ball State University for more than 25 years. Dr. Sharpe’s speech looked to the history of the practice, but also to the future. Sharpe’s address, “Facing Public Relations,” outlined necessities for PR today and tomorrow. Here are a few reminders for students and professionals alike:
1. We must communicate and collaborate within the PR profession.
Sharpe remembered PR giants such as Betsy Plank as he relived how PR professionals have collaborated in the past. Sharpe believes strongly in collective efforts to unify the industry such as PRSA and PRSSA. He believes that PRSA certification is extremely important to any public relations university program. Supporting PRSSA and similar student groups is essential for students because of the educational and future professional benefits.
2. We must define public relations and expose it to the world.
Sharpe pushes for a solid definition of ‘public relations,’ not to limit the field, but to help others understand it. The public and the media must understand what ‘public relations’ means as a practice and as a profession. Sharpe believes that we must give the public and the media an ability to evaluate PR professionals. The practice of public relations is all over the globe, and Sharpe believes we must define our craft for a shrinking world to understand.
3. We need to develop new skills and hone old ones.
While Sharpe admitted that older generations are not as comfortable with new technologies, he contends that we all need to “grab on and dig in” to social media and other new opportunities. Sharpe highlighted several skills he believes essential for students: working in teams, management communication and research presentation. He also stressed the importance of research skills.
4. We must be honest and pursue honest relationships.
According to Sharpe, honesty is one of the hardest ideals to pursue in public relations. It is also one of the most important. We shouldn’t allow people to think of PR as just whitewash for dishonesty. He encourages students to meet upstanding PR professionals that they admire, and advises “there’s nothing wrong with asking someone to be your mentor.”
Twitter was used during the second interview portion of the Schranz lecture. Attendees tweeted questions for Dr. Sharpe with the hashtag #Schranz11. The questions were selected and presented to Sharpe by Brad Wilks, a fellow PR professional and a graduate assistant of Dr. Sharpe during Sharpe’s time as a professor at Ball State.
Questions for Sharpe included topics such as social media, advice for international students, ethics of using behavioral science, research methods and many, many more. Students also asked many questions about ways to get ahead in the PR industry. Sharpe spoke again on how changing technologies are affecting PR and how new media give us new and conflicting views. He believes that PR serves as the check that journalism needs. Sharpe touched on many other topics throughout the Q&A and in conversations with students at the reception after the lecture.
A big thanks is owed to the Ball State University Department of Journalism for sponsoring the event. Cardinal Communications, Ball State’s student-run PR agency, also deserves recognition for event logistics and support, as well as managing the Schranz Twitter leading up to and during the event. And the largest thanks go to Dr. Sharpe for presenting such a compelling and insightful reminder to all of us currently working in, and soon entering into the PR industry.
Benjamin Easley is a junior public relations major at Ball State University.