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Leeds Beckett students offer PR industry insight

Two Leeds Beckett University students have offered their perspective on a debate held to explore the merits of studying a PR degree as preparation to work in the public relations industry.

The Rose Bowl

Final year BA (Hons) Public Relations students Michaella Biscomb and Emma Bowers attended the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) Industry vs. Academics event in London, where Senior Lecturer Robert Minton-Taylor, was part of the debate panel.  Following the debate, Michaella and Emma published a blog post on the PRCA website, which gave their thoughts on the benefits of studying public relations at university and some of the challenges and opportunities for industry and academia to work together more closely.

Speaking about why she chose to study public relations, Michaella said: “I took a couple of years out before University and found myself working in a High School. By chance on the day I started, the lady who looked after the website, social media channels and publications left, and I was the only one available in the office for her to hand over to. On that day I figured out what PR was and decided to go back to University to study it - I wanted to stay in Leeds so I could keep my job and stay at home and it turned out that Leeds Beckett offered one of the best PR courses in the UK - perfect!”

Emma added: “From the age of 16, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in PR. By that point, I'd already completed a number of work experience placements in both PR and Journalism, and knew the former was the industry for me. Despite knowing that a degree was not a necessity, I explored the options and discovered Leeds Beckett's PR & Comms course.”

Talking about the work undertaken as part of her degree, Emma continued: “The work with clients has been invaluable. The Communications Audit project allowed for fantastic insight and experience into real consultancy work. Having worked in a PR agency throughout my placement year, it was fantastic to continue exercising these skills, but in a different environment.

“In my opinion, client work and live briefs are crucial elements of any vocational course. I think it's important for students to develop the confidence to work with clients, and believe in the value of their work. These practical elements of the course also provide a great opportunity for students to work on projects from start to finish, seeing every phase from planning through to presenting.”

Michaella added: “Without real clients and briefs, a PR degree would be useless. The practical elements of the degree have given me tangible skills and experience that I can put on my CV and talk about in interviews - it has also enabled me to build contacts in the industry and get a foot in the door. Combined with the encouragement to undertake work experience and placements has resulted in a well rounded learning experience.”

Explaining how industry and academic can better work together, Michaella said: “Guest lectures and mentoring schemes are really great but I would also like to see more tangible workshops delivered to students by practitioners to enable students to confidently learn skills such as SEO, Social Media Analytics and Blogger Outreach for example. The industry needs to be more proactive in welcoming students for work experience, placements and graduate roles and play their part in equipping and training the next generation of PR's. By the same token, Universities need to present themselves as more approachable and cooperative to the industry.

“I also think it would be nice to see the industry communicating their needs better to academics particularly in terms of research. The Communications Audit module is a prime example of clients communicating their needs and students delivering useful and tangible research - it would be great if this could be replicated with other projects including dissertations. It would enable students to genuinely contribute to the development of the industry.”

Emma said: “I think that there is a definite need for closer relationships between universities and the industry. I love the idea of having professionals work closer with students on an individual level - a mentoring scheme, for example. I think at degree level (especially in the first or second year), students don't always have the confidence to approach PR professionals. So, closer relationships (whether through guest lectures, recruitment fairs, networking events), would bring students face-to-face with potential employers, giving all students a level playing field and the industry the opportunity to spot talent and build those relationships.”

Speaking about their blog post, Dr Ioannis Kostopoulos, Head of PR and Journalism at Leeds Business School, said: “It is very encouraging to see that our undergraduate public relations students engage constantly and productively with our professional bodies and the PR industry in general. This is exactly what we encourage them to do throughout their studies in order to become successful young professionals and members of the local and national business community, even before they graduate.

“Enabling and facilitating discussions between our students and experienced practitioners is a core element of the PR course’s curriculum and Leeds Beckett’s overall educational strategy. Hence, it’s very refreshing to see that our students acknowledge that and actively engage in the dialogue between academia and practice. Moreover, on a personal level it is very inspiring for me to see that my students are willing and able to articulate and provide such a constructive feedback on how universities can improve their courses and make them even more relevant to the demands of the real world."

Leeds Business School, part of Leeds Beckett University, is currently fourth in The Guardian’s league table for PR and journalism studies in the UK and in 2017 is celebrating its 25th anniversary in teaching public relations at degree level. At the heart of Leeds Beckett’s reputation in the PR world are the close links the university has forged with business regionally, nationally and internationally to give students the consultancy, teamwork and skills they need for a successful career. 

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