PR Industry Trends & Keys to Success

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Larry Parnell, Professor and Director of GW’s Masters’ in Strategic Public Relations (SPR) program reviews key PR trends from 2013 and provides an outlook of what to expect in 2014. He also provides insight into how the online SPR courses encompass current trends and modern best practices. Professor Parnell concludes this informative session with suggestions on what PR and Marketing professionals in any environment or setting can do to develop innovative and impactful strategies that position their companies on top.

Transcript

Amanda Walter: My name is Amanda Walter, and I’m going to be moderating today’s webinar.

Our panellist today is Larry Parnell. He’s an associate professor and the director of GW’s Master’s and Strategy Public Relations Program which is offered both on campus and entirely online.

Before I do get started with the content of today’s webinar, I just wanted to go through a couple of quick logistics before going into the agenda which you’ll see now on your screen.

The webinar is going to last 45 minutes to an hour at most that will feature an interactive Q&A session at the very end of the webinar. But feel free to submit questions to me. In the right-hand side of your screen you’ll see a chat window. And you can direct any questions to me at any point during the webinar.

I will be collecting all those questions and reading those out loud to Larry at the very end of the session. And obviously we’ll do the best that we can to address everyone’s questions. But if there’s anyone that we can’t get to, we’ll certainly follow-up with you after the webinar to provide some responses and further information.

And finally today’s webinar is being recorded. If you miss any of the session or if you want to share the recording with anyone, we will be e-mailing the link out to everyone within the next couple of days. So just keep an eye out for that.

And quickly going over the agenda, today’s session is about PR trends and best practices. So it’ll be focusing on some trends that we saw in 2013. Larry will provide some insight into the differences between reported news stories and the things that the audiences actually search for.

He’ll also provide an outlook into 2014 and what you can expect and what you can look forward to, areas that you should look to enhance your training. And obviously we’ll provide a snapshot about the strategic public relations program and how its curriculum incorporates current events and upcoming trends.

And as I said finally, we’ll end with a Q&A session. So go ahead and submit those questions to me at any time in the right hand side of your screen.

Larry Parnell: Well I want to welcome everybody. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us today. I don’t know about where you all are located, but we’re finally seeing a break here. The weather in Washington is close to 60 degrees today. So we’re going to get a lot of melting which will be nice. And hopefully spring isn’t too far behind and winter is on the run.

I think we’ve all pretty much had enough of that. And it’s time for new beginnings and new things, which is what we’re here to talk about today, our program.

But before we get into that, I thought it might be fun to walk you through some slides that I put together for a recent speech I gave to a media relations group on the subject of the differences between what we see as news, from a news media and public relations perspective, and what the public tends to spend its time on. And what that means for us in terms of the challenge and how we go about our business of representing clients and companies and organizations in the media and elsewhere.

So let’s start really with this for a slide. This shows you the top 10 reported stories in 2013. This is as reported in the Washington Post. It is a summary of all media, not just the Washington Post.

And what I think you’ll see there is a combination of celebrities, royal babies and the new pope being named, tragedy unfortunately, and gun violence and the Boston Marathon bombing, some elements of controversy around NSA spying, and war, which unfortunately always tends to make the news.

But the number one story according to the Washington Post in the mainstream media was the shutdown of the United States government. And it’s funny. I was at a session the other day. We were looking at trends and impacts on housing and other things. And the number one factor in terms of public opinion about the economy and confidence has to do with the government shutting down for the first time in its history.

And as this picture illustrates, actually closing national parks and national monuments. So that’s what we’ve come to here in Washington unfortunately.

Be that as it may, let’s take a look now, Amanda, at the stories that people searched for and were curious about in 2013.

Some of these are overlapping. You can see the asterisks, the pope, the Syria civil war, the royal baby, the Boston Marathon bombing. But you also see some things here that didn’t get reported by the mainstream media as the most important news stories of the year, notably Paula Deen and her scandal. And I hope everyone is familiar with the Jodi Arias murder trial.

This is the woman who had three or four different stories about intruders, et cetera, et cetera. Was a media — I’ll say media darling, instead of another word describing her. It was on CNN on a regular basis. And changed her story, changed her look, changed her outcome and people were fascinated by her.

I think the research I did on this indicated that there was something on the order of 2 million searches for news about Jodi Arias in 2013 on Yahoo. So that tells you something about what the popular media and the public is thinking about as you look at these 10 stories and see what it is that the most number searched item was in 2013.

Let’s look at the next slide and sort of compare and contrast a little bit about this.

These are my views. And I welcome input and suggestions from you in terms of questions.

I think what this tells us that issues are less important to most people than are people and personalities. Whether it’s because we can handle that or whether it’s because we are more interested in that, you know, TMZ, People Magazine, et cetera kind of news.

But the effort it takes to study and learn about an issue and then form an opinion versus just following along on a quick hit basis of who’s doing what to whom, I guess is what one of my takeaways.

There’s also, I think, a sense of powerlessness. I think the lack of the absence of some of these key stories like Obamacare, like the government shutdown, like other major issues that affected our country on the list of what people actually searched for, what they were curious about, if you will, implies to me a sort of a sense of powerlessness that people have about well what can I do about the government shutting down. What’s it mean to me? And not necessarily in outrage and commentary and criticism of what was happening here in Washington and the public rising up and saying enough. That’s one issue.

I think always the story is true of people love heroes. But there’s a fascination with villains and scoundrels. So A-Rod or Lance Armstrong or Paula Deen or anyone who stepped in it in the past year or so became a major, major story.

There’s certainly — and this is going on now with Olympic athletes, et cetera, et cetera. And I think there is an element of — we want heroes. But we also find villains and scoundrels fascinating. Which is why I guess we all like House of Cards and Breaking Bad so much.

The other thing, I think, to take away from this, generally speaking as we look at the challenges of public relations and media relations in particular is there’s many, many sources for news that people go to. And as public relations professionals which ones are we going to rely on.

Are we going to focus only on the mainstream media? Are we going to understand that people want to read USA Today, whether it goes in-depth or not. Are we going to be thinking about stories directly placed on Yahoo or on these web services and search firms?

So these are lots of challenges for us as public relations professionals that we need to be thinking about. Understanding we have a story. We have a product. We have a service we want to bring to the public’s attention. Yet we have a public that is distracted, confused and often just default positions to personalities and celebrities for their news.

So understanding those issues and dynamics impacts your planning in terms of your media relations strategy, at least in my background experience.

So I also thought it might be helpful to sort of at this point, it’s early enough in the new year to take a look back at what happened in our industry public relations in 2013. And then in the next slide we’ll take a look at what is coming in 2014, what I’m seeing.

I think what’s happening in the PR business, continued mergers and consolidations, major firms combine, the most recent one is Omnicom and the French firm, Havas, are going to be combining. Which brings together multi, multi billion dollar billings and advertising agencies into one.

So there’ll be fewer big agencies. As they are looking for economies of scale and geographic footprints in parts of the world where they don’t currently operate.

On the other end of the spectrum, falling out of those mergers and consolidations and in response to those mergers and consolidations, we’re seeing continued proliferation of specialist and boutique firms. And if that’s something you yourself are thinking about doing in your career, there is — we do discuss this and get into this — the challenges associated with running your own business in our program and in one of our classes.

But there are niche firms that are doing quite well, and in terms of specializing in social media or issues management or product placement or whatever they may be focused on. But ironically what ends up happening with those firms they get to a size, they become — if they’re successful and they become midsize firms, then all of a sudden they become candidates to be acquired. And then the process repeats itself.

So it’s a constantly evolving, constantly changing business. One that I’ve spent the better part of my career in prior to coming into the academic world, and one that I just find endlessly fascinating and could talk about for hours. But I won’t do that here today.

No question there’s a continued steady change in social media that impacts, specifically what I think we’re seeing here is the move to mobile. And the requirement that we as communications professionals think in terms of messages and materials that we’re going to put out to our constituents, our customers, our potential customers, to donors, to our employees has to work on a smartphone screen.

And so there are logistical challenges associated with that. A standardized press release doesn’t necessarily read easily and quickly on a smartphone. So you have to think about that in terms of your design and the output.

If you’re going to reach people, and the numbers continue to rise. But the most recent results I saw was something on the order of 35 to 40 percent of people in the demographic age group that you might expect, the sort of the 18 to 30 year old swath there, gets their news mobile.

They get that first. And then go for confirmation to mainstream media. So thinking about getting your word out, you have to think in terms of a message that works in a mobile smartphone format.

Secondly or third we’re seeing on and on a lot of integration between public relations and advertising. In particular as public relations, largely through the advent of social media, but also in other — a renewed dedication to measurement, which is a very big part of our program, we are able to demonstrate ROI for public relations dollars spent, which outshines the advertising ROI if for no other reason the amount of money that’s involved.

The advertising budgets, as everyone on the call probably knows, historically are very big, millions and millions of dollars. The amount of impact you can have on your key audiences through the advent of social media and through targeted PR for a lot less money is becoming obvious and apparent to the so-called C-Suite.

And so public relations is in many cases becoming equal to and/or even dominant to advertising provided you understand how to measure your performance, demonstrate progress and implement programs in a strategic thoughtful way.

Also what we’re seeing is the continued focus on CSR and sustainability as not only a communications strategy but a business strategy with the communications component to it.

We have a course on CSR in our program. It’s something that I’ve done some research in. I’m working on a book with one of our faculty members on this very issue. Because the notion of how to do CSR effectively, and as important how to communicate it to the right audiences in the right way to get the desired reputational benefits is something that is in demand. And it’s an opportunity for us as public relations professionals to get the so-called seat at the table.

So I feel strongly that sustainability is going to be a very big part of our career in this profession going forward.

And lastly as we started this conversation with the notion that media relations is a constantly changing situation. The platforms are different. The audiences’ attention is shifting from the mundane to the complex. And our challenge in how to reach them must take into consideration all the distractions and issues and factors that are impacting them.

And they’re not just waiting there to hear the news about the new product, the new service, the new CEO, the new candidate that you are representing. They’re getting bombarded with messaging.

So how are you going to get through that in an effective way and reach them where they are, how they want to be reached in a way that gets them to do something that you want them to do: vote, donate, buy, endorse, whatever.

And all that is going on. And is a constant source of change. And is something we spend a great deal of time on in all of our courses, but specifically in the media relations course which is ongoing right now in our face-to-face program. And I think coming up in a couple of semesters in the online format.

And there’s a focus certainly on social media in that. But it’s more on strategic messaging and then how to deliver it, than it is on the particular platforms that are out there, because they change so much.

Okay so what does all this mean in terms of the current year? Well as I mentioned before, direct person-to-person communications, you know, one to one versus one to many going on, storytelling is becoming very important as a way to get a point across. And I don’t necessarily mean Once Upon A Time storytelling. I mean testimonials, case studies, examples of how a product, service, company, organization, cause, what ever you’re involved in has impacted, benefitted, or some how or other been useful in somebody’s life.

And that is what people absorb and relate to. And the research indicates that storytelling and personalized messages to audiences the way they want to get them, where they want to get them, how they want to get them is how we’re going to have to deliver our messages.

Continuing to rely on press releases, press conferences and events, we will miss a large part of the audience because of the impact of social media, because of the focus on mobile platforms, and because of the fact that the reporters just don’t have the time or the resources to be going to these events.

And they want to do it online. They want to do it mobile. They want to do it quick. And we have to be able to deliver that to them in a way that they can digest it and use it. Otherwise we’re going to miss them.

I mentioned the previous slide, as PR ascends and advertising at levels and maybe even decline, it will be an increased emphasis on measurement and ROI for PR dollars spent. It’s critical that we not just put out news releases and generate stories and then show a bunch of clips and say, wow, didn’t we do a great job.

We need to link outcomes to the activities that we do. Like I said, product sales, votes, donations, cause — people getting involved in a cause, participating whatever. And those things with the advent of social media and measurement tools that we talk about in our research and measurement course are demonstrable and defined. And what CEOs and clients are looking for.

Now if you look at how to get our message out, as I mentioned before, traditional PR materials, news releases, press events, et cetera, we’ve got to go beyond that. Those are all important. Those are all part of the toolbox.

But new content on new platforms is becoming what is expected, because others are doing it if nothing else. And we need to be responsible and effective in that regard.

And as I mentioned at the outset, there are so many ways that people get information now. Do they get it by reading the paper? Do they get it by looking at the paper online? Do they get it by going to a search engine first, finding out news, and then back channelling their way to the publication?

Or do they rely on Twitter or blogs or Facebook for their news. And then work their way back to a publication, if at all.

I heard an interesting statistic yesterday. On the one hand the trust in institutions like government and business, the gap has never been wider between those two. There’s actually increases at the Edelman report that just came out.

The trust in business has moved up substantially from 2008-2009 when there was so many problems in the business. And the decline of trust in government, in part because of the shutdown and the continued logjam in Washington, has declined. Yet you want to get a message out, people are — there’s a decline also in people going to corporate websites for news.

They’re going to — the dominant source for people getting information, according to this research, was search engines. And then from the search engine they go to the publication or the corporate website. So it’s interesting how the process has evolved.

Our view and the basic foundation of our program and our — the program we built at GW, that I have been involved in since the beginning, is that in order to be successful in this business, we need to move beyond being really good mechanics. That is to me — you know, it’s okay. But I think really the value add, the rewarding careers, the upside potential and compensation and rank and satisfaction is to be a strategic advisor.

To be a strategic advisor you have to understand all these factors I’m discussing. You have to then determine within that framework what is the best means to get your message across. And you have to be respected enough by your client or your company to give that advice, have it be implemented, god willing work, and then be in the position where you’re not called in after a decision is made to write a press release.

You’re called in as a decision is being made and asked what will the impact on the market be? How will the media react? How will our customers react? How will the government react if we do X, Y, Z?

That’s the difference between being a mechanic and being a strategist. For me there’s no question what I’d rather be. And I’m hoping that the people on this call agree with that, and are interested in a program like ours that will help you do that.

So let’s talk about the job outlook. I mean that’s what it’s all about. Can we look forward to opportunities once we get our degrees or new opportunities in the industry if we already have a job?

And this is research from the Bureau of Labour Statistics. Their 2013 report. The good news is that the employment of public relations specialists, which is sort of the entry to middle level category, is projected to grow 12 percent per year from 2012 to 2022 with a median salary, which means some above and an equal amount below, of about $54,000 U.S.

That’s the good news. And this is being driven by the fact that organizations understand that their public image and their reputation impacts their sales, or their employee recruitment and retention, their ability to raise money, to get votes, whatever their agenda might be.

And the need that they need to keep pace with this social media stuff that’s moving so quickly. And they need people who understand that and can apply it as a tactic. And then reach the audience that they’re trying to reach. That’s the good news.

The bad news or the challenging news is that there will be strong competitions for jobs at these organizations that provide this service inside and outside, because of the fact there is job growth. Because of the fact that people are going to programs like ours and others to get this master’s degree to advance themselves, so they have the credentials that other people don’t have.

So it really comes down to the good news is there’s jobs out there. They pay reasonably well with upside potential. The market is looking for people with this skillset. But like anything else, it’s hot. Everybody else is going after the same jobs.

So the difference in our view is it’s your educational credential and it’s your experience. It’s not — traditionally when I was coming up through the agency business and on the corporate side, it was experience. Where did you work? What have you done before? What background do you have?

Now it’s that plus. Do you have an advanced degree? Do you have –what’s your undergraduate degree in? What’s your background in? That’s becoming more and more expected and required and is the reason why programs like ours are doing as well as they are. And why people like you are on this call listening to me talk about this industry and this sector.

There’s an opportunity to take advantage of this. But it requires that you have the degree and the background to do it. And that’s what our program is all about.

So let’s talk about our program. You’ll take a look at it. You’re welcome to look at our website and understand some of our courses.

The key thing about our program, based on the background I’ve just given you, is that our program is application based. It’s practical. It’s applied.

It is not — with all due respect — overly theoretical or overly academic. It is not necessarily designed for people who want to go through get their master’s, then go get their PhD.

Some of our students do that. But that’s the exception. Most of our students are looking to be smarter, faster, better and ahead of their competition for jobs and opportunities. And they think an advanced degree will help them do that. And more and more research is telling us that’s the case.

Specifically within our program we have eight required courses, two electives and a capstone. And all the course work starts with fundamentals. Regardless of your level, you can always be a better writer.

Media relations, if you have some skill and background in that, you can learn new techniques and tactics from our faculty that come — all of our faculty, like myself, I’m the only fulltime person. The rest are all working professionals who do what we do every day. And then come to the classroom at night and talk about it with our students. And put you in a position online or on campus to be able to apply what you learned the night before or the day before the next day on the job.

That’s the litmus test, as far as we’re concerned, is the work that you are producing and we are helping you get better at, ready for the board room. Are we going to prepare you to be the person who comes in and they say what do you think we should do. And you’re ready to give advice and counsel based on your background, training and experience with us.

That’s the bottom line. That’s what motivates us.

On top of that I think it’s very important and fair to say notwithstanding where you got your undergraduate degree. That’s important. But probably one of the most important things that you’re going to decide and it’s going to be on your resume is the institution where you get your advanced degree.

There’s lots of choices out there. And you have to think in terms of the brand and the marque value of the institution that is there on your resume with your master’s degree in PR next to it.

People react to that. If they don’t know the school, if they don’t have a positive impression of it, if they’re not familiar with it, it’s less impactful than if they know the school like a GW or the other fine schools that are out there, because they know what to expect from students who come from those programs.

GW in addition to its brand and its recognition both here in the U.S. and around the world has an amazing alumni network. And our program now in its seventh year, we have a cadre of very high profile and increasingly successful graduates of the SPR program who are doing really interesting work both here in D.C. and around the world, because we had online students from all over the world.

And that network of people that you tap into as a student, both while you’re with us and after you graduate, is very, very powerful. And we see all the time referrals of jobs and candidates and ideas back and forth, and people getting suggestions from their colleagues about how to handle a given situation or a problem.

That’s part of what you get when you go to a school like GW. And it ought to be part of your consideration in terms of thinking about which program is the right one for you.

So I’ve talked a lot now. I think it’s time for me to hear from you guys and answer any questions you have about GW and advanced degree in public relations, or the industry. Anything you’d like to chat about, I’m happy to do it.

Amanda Walter: All right, thanks so much Larry. We have had a couple of questions start coming in. And again just a reminder to everyone, go ahead and submit your questions in the chat window. And we’ll start going through them. A few people have asked about kind of the evolution that with social media entering the picture now, how can they become more adept at using social media when a lot of the training that’s out on the Internet is specific to the source that it’s coming from.

Larry Parnell: There’s a lot of platform-based training that goes on. And that’s from vendors who obviously have a product or a service to sell.

There’s also organizations, and we’re members of many of them, that offer training and programs in this category. What I think though is that they don’t offer — is that it does not come from accredited institution with an academic credential.

We are agnostic about the platform that is to be used. We do focus and discussion the various options that are out there.

Our consuming passion and drive is what’s the best way to get the word out to accomplish your goals and your strategic objectives from a communications perspective. And if it’s Facebook fine, if it’s Google Plus, if it’s Pinterest, if it’s Twitter, all those things are talked about as tactics and vehicles to accomplish your goal.

So we do case studies and walk throughs of how organizations have done that. And if it just so happens that one of the various platforms is what they focused on, that’s fine. But it’s not really training per se on Google Plus or Facebook.

Amanda Walter: Also another question is as PR kind of evolves and as marketing communications and traditional PR all kind of integrate, what do you see as the future of the profession; and whether digital shops will become more prominent or will phase out; if PR people are now going to be expected to kind of be masters at all the different platforms? Or will there still be some separation between different responsibilities?

Larry Parnell: Well I think it’s a very good question. I think one of the dangers is that we can get caught up in the shiny new object, whatever it is that’s out there. And become the world’s greatest expert on how to use Facebook to sell a product or a service.

The problem with that of course is Facebook may not be the best option in a given situation if we’re talking about marketing communications. I think that the danger for the profession is that we don’t want to produce a generation of people who are jack-of-all-trades and masters of none.

And our goal is to provide familiarity with the various platforms, traditional as well as social, direct, indirect, and all the other disciplines that we talked about, research, and issues management, and other things like that, to be a complete communications person and master that.

And then the application of how to get the word out becomes a mechanical exercise based on your knowledge and your exposure and your experience. And not necessarily you’re an expert in one platform or two platforms. But you’re not a strategy thinker so you’ve become just a very good mechanic. And this goes back to my comment before.

I believe that the industry will love in the right direction. I think the market will reward strategic thinkers, continue to do so regardless of the platform by which we deliver our message.

Amanda Walter: As companies become, I guess, more involved in communicating in many different platforms, as these platforms evolve, are there any tips to kind of keep content fresh and connect with the media and still be valued at what your communicating out there so it doesn’t kind of seem like it’s flooding the marketplace?

Larry Parnell: Well I think that’s — I think it’s a good question. But that’s always been the challenge.

I mean whether it was mailing out press releases back in the old days, or faxing things out, or sending them out as an e-mail attachment, or links in your Twitter, it’s all about the quality of the content.

And if you are saturating the market, doing a shotgun versus a rifle, all those kind of clichés, the media, especially now, because they have less time, fewer resources and more demands to publish not only in their weekly, or monthly, or whatever the frequency of their publication is, but they’ve got to keep updating things online all the time.

Your content needs to be fresh and current and relevant to what your audience wants to hear about. And if you try to force into that content, messages that done connect or resonate with the audience, or in this case if you’re going through the media, aren’t relevant to that reporter, then you’re going to make yourself very quickly obsolete.

Because they’re just going to delete anything that comes from you because the perception is going to be you’re not paying attention to what I need and what I want. So therefore I’m not going to pay attention to you.

So that’s never really changed. The only difference is the pace at which this happens now versus maybe 10 years ago. But ultimately the fundamentals are the same.

You need to understand the right message to the right audience, delivered in the right way to accomplish your goals. And not be caught up with I’m going to blast fax 1,000 people, or e-mail, or put something on Twitter and figure that’s enough in terms of follow-up with the media.

The same skills that you learned early in your career apply now. It’s just in a different environment and perhaps at a different speed.

Amanda Walter: Do you see the sort of best practices differing any whether it’s B2B or B2C?

Larry Parnell: There are certain elements to that. I mean I think you have to understand it goes back to the audience again.

In a B2C situation, you are the details of the technology or the product components or the what makes it unique and special may not be as critical to a consumer as their view that it’s fresh, exciting, new, stylish and useful.

So a lot of material sent to somebody about the inner workings of an iPhone are better now versus five years ago may not be relevant to the person who just wants a cool new phone.

So you have to think about the audience there.

In a B2B situation, where they’re looking at more the technical aspects of it and more the challenges associated with this product or service, there may be a need to be a little more in-depth and a little more thoughtful about what you say because they’re also maybe purchasing thousands of units versus individual units. And their decisions are going to be based on a lot more in-depth research.

So you’ve got to think in terms of how to communicate to them and reach them at many different levels in many different ways. A straight on message via Facebook or Twitter or whatever may be a good start, but they’re going to be looking — both as consumers and a business customer are going to be looking for an endorsement of that idea from third-parties, from experts, from people in the media they trust who say this is a good product or service.

And it’s going to — they’re looking for confirmation of their own inclination before they actually make a buying decision.

So you need to think in terms of multiple levels of communications aimed at the same result. Which is to get a purchase or a sale or a donation or a vote.

Amanda Walter: Something that you had touched on is kind of the rising focus on measuring ROI and communicating that. What are some of the tips and tools that are either currently available or on the horizon?

Larry Parnell: Well there’s a lot of resources out there. I mean the good news is that on social media there’s a lot of organizations that provide fairly in-depth, sophisticated analysis of what’s being said about your organization or your product or service out there that are worth looking into. And the names of which are all readily available. So they can give you a sense of what the market is thinking.

That also helps you in measuring your impact if you can — you know, the sentiment for a new product or service is positive, the conversations on Facebook and Twitter are supportive then you were able to demonstrate to your product manager that the public relations work you’ve done, the event you staged, or the debut you did, the third-party endorsements you’ve organized around a product or service is generating a good response in the market based on media coverage, inquiries to the website, conversations online, et cetera. All those things can be documented now.

Historically, you know, 10-15 years ago, these were not options for us. And it was more — you were almost completely dependent upon 800 number enquiries and media coverage to show that you were having an impact. And there was a tendency for people to talk about things like impression which is how many people are subscribed to the Wall Street Journal and therefore you get a quote, “million impressions” if an article appears in Wall Street Journal.

But that’s pretty false because that assumes that everybody who gets the Journal read that article, which obviously is not the case.

So we’ve moved way beyond advertising value equivalence and impressions, and into specific measurable activities where you can link PR outreach and news coverage and positive conversation to sales. And there’s stuff that we talk about in our research and measurement class that will equip our students to be able to do that.

Amanda Walter: Thank you. And just a transition to a couple of questions about the program and credentialing itself. Can you give a little bit more information about the importance of or the value of a master’s in PR as compared to some sort of license or certification?

Larry Parnell: Well there are — you know, I think there’s — the typical conversation that I’ve seen over the years in the industry there is an APR that the PRSA supports. And that’s a very important and worthwhile activity. But that’s an individual activity really. It is not something that has been demonstrated so far to have any currency in the marketplace.

No one’s going to give you more per hour or more in your salary if you have an APR versus if you don’t. So it’s done more to demonstrate your personal commitment to education and development.

It’s not necessarily the same as a CPA. But it is something that a lot of our students do. And we support that.

But I think what is happening, and because of the desire for the marketplace to really put a handle and a value and a ranking on candidates for jobs and/or clients picking agencies, a master’s degree from an accredited recognized institution like a GW has currency in the marketplace. People understand that what means.

Now 10 years ago the idea of an advanced degree in public relations was unique. And in most cases it was people who were going to go on to get their PhD. And they were academics, and they were sort of in this ivory tower and nobody really understood what they did.

The past 10 years or so and the seven or eight years we’ve had this program, there is a rise of application based practical programs in part driven by the fact that the market changes so much with social media and other factors and the increasing demands on being able to demonstrate ROI and measurement for your work.

And in order to master that skill, you can take courses in programs offered by associations. That’s fine and very valuable.

But if you can go to the marketplace with an advanced degree from an institution that includes that in it’s curriculum, the market receives that. And we started to see there was a study done, put out by PR Week in their annual salary survey. And they were — the sampling of the people they took to talk about what their salary was and what their upside career potential was, one of the statistical — the demographics of the group was something on the order of 40 to 45 percent had advanced degrees.

Now admittedly some of those are MBAs. Some of those are law degrees. But what we’re seeing, we ourselves have graduated over 150 to 200 at this point, students with master’s degrees in PR just from GW. So looking at it across the marketplace to the other schools that offer these programs, and it’s becoming more of a — it’s a differentiator between you and someone else who doesn’t have that.

Because regardless of the background and experience somebody may have, that’s valuable. But that’s becoming almost table [stakes 0:40:27]. They expect you to have experience in the industry that you’re working in. But they also want to see have you taken the time out to further develop your career and yourself and your skills by getting an advanced degree, or taking courses or a certificate program somewhere.

And I think that the market has started to recognize and pay for. There’s not enough evidence out there to demonstrate conclusively that a master’s degree means you get the job and I don’t. But anecdotally where we’re seeing is that’s what’s going on. As more and more people come into the marketplace with an advanced degree, it’s the new normal. And it’s what people are expected to have to advance themselves in organizations.

Amanda Walter: There’s something you just kind of briefly mentioned. And maybe you can just give your perspective.

With all the different kinds of degrees out there, whether it be an MBA or something specializing in communications, how would you compare this type of degree, the strategic public relations, compared to other related communications degrees?

Larry Parnell: Well, I mean, there are — as you’re looking at these programs, now that there are so many choices out there, it’s really important to do your due diligence, to look at the curriculum, to look at the faculty, to look at the syllabi that are on almost all the websites of these organizations, and see if they’re going to be talking about the stuff that you think you need to know or want to know or want to learn how to do better.

Part of the challenge that we’ve seen as we develop this program over the past few years — back to the question about the MBA — is that there was a gap in our program. And what we’ve done is we’ve added a course, which is — you know, some of our students find is very scary until they take it. But it’s the fundamentals of business and management for PR professionals.

And it is sort of like a — I say this softly — a little mini MBA. But the purpose of it is to make sure that you understand the language of business, the basics of profit and loss, the basics of building and managing a budget, et cetera. That’s a skillset that as you rise in an organization you’re going to be expected to have. And you’re not going to be discounted by your organization because you’re just a PR person not knowing about business.

So the purpose of this class is to give you that.

It’s really the same thing, as we don’t teach our students necessarily to become communications researchers. But we do teach you, through the research class, how to manage that process, how to get benefit out of the process of working with communications research people.

So similarly, this program and this class is designed to help you work with finance and operations people who don’t really understand what you do. And usually that means they don’t pay attention.

But if you understand what they do and how what you do impacts that and how what they do impacts you, then you can have a dialogue and a conversation and move forward. As opposed to be, quote, “there’s a numbers person and there’s a PR person and never the twain shall meet.” So we’ve tried to bridge that gap with this class.

And what’s happening now in many of the major MBA programs is they’re inserting basic communications courses into their MBA programs because they recognize they’re producing a generation of future business leaders who don’t know a thing about communications. So the market is seeing that, and driving that change.

Amanda Walter: One, I think, final thing to touch on is there are some people in the webinar today who are less familiar with the evolution of online degree programs, and the differences or similarities between online and on campus degrees.

Larry Parnell: Sure. Well the online experience is, it’s unique and one that we’ve been working at for about five or six years now.

The courses are very focused. You take one course at a time for six weeks. There are facilitators that are available to help you in small groups work through the process. It’s done on a platform that allows you to download lectures, videos, demonstrations and other things.

There is a discussion section that is essentially the same as raising your hands in class and asking a question. You are graded and monitored on that. That’s how that class participation comes up.

And what we’re finding is that because it is required that you participate in order to get points for discussions, the dialogue and the dynamics of it are pretty exciting.

And what we also find is that these online students build a community of learners where they do a lot of stuff around and offside from the class that keep them developing and moving forward together.

So the online program moves along very quickly, six weeks at a time. There’s a two-week break and then another course. You do one course only at a time on almost every occasion. You can double up towards the end if your schedule requires that. But for the most part it’s six weeks at a time, two weeks off and then six weeks on again.

And the biggest challenge, frankly, that our students tell us is time management. Is making sure that you have time for your life, for your job and for your school. But you get to a place where you know you’re working on something and you’re focused on getting it done.

And just like you take time out to go to class for two and a half hours on a weeknight, you do the same thing. But you do it in the comfort of your home and you end up with a degree from a university like GW, never having to necessarily leave wherever you’re from.

We also, because we want people to feel connected to the school, we do offer residency opportunities in D.C. We typically will have a long weekend where we’ll bring in our online students. We have guest speakers. We have faculty involvement. We have a reception. We get to know each other.

They can tour the campus. We have activities to do in D.C., so you can see the city and get to know it.

We’re also looking at down the road having online and face-to-face students get involved in overseas activities. We have programs and classes in the major capitals of the world. We’re looking at that as a future opportunity for our students.

And so I think the online experience is typically the students are experienced and have a background and want to get that advanced degree. The on campus students tend to be somewhat younger. Obviously based in the Washington area. But both are aspiring to be better and smarter and quicker at accomplishing their PR objectives.

It’s the same curriculum. It’s the exact same degree. There’s no asterisk or no note on it that says you got it online.

You got a master’s degree from George Washington University whether you come online or on campus. It’s the exact same degree, same courses in many cases, the same faculty.

Amanda Walter: Actually we just had two other questions come in. A couple of people attending today from outside of the U.S., over in the U.K. and overseas…How are global components worked into the program?

Larry Parnell: Well we’re adding in some global courses for that specific reason. We’re getting more and more students from around the world.

Our focus though remains on sort of our approach to strategic public relations that is — knowledge that is a platform agnostic. It’s geographically — you know, doesn’t matter where you are in the world.

We do talk about doing business in the U.K. or China or Africa or U.S. is different. My own experience heading up PR on a global basis for Ernst & Young taught me that.

So our courses really are inclusive of our global students. We are also very flexible and work with people regarding schedules and deadlines and timelines for getting work in, given the fact that people are on different time zones.

As you know, we’ve had students who are on active duty in Afghanistan. So we can accommodate pretty much anyone’s particular challenges. The requirement is that they be committed to do the work, to participate and to benefit from it. And the rest will work out the details.

But we do have an increasing focus on looking at the work from a global perspective, and how to do communications effectively across various platforms and various geographies. Because that is something, as I mentioned, that I learned the hard way years ago, needed to be a part of my experience. And so I’ve built it into the program so it’s part of students’ experience going forward.

Amanda Walter: Perfect. And just one final question is if you can review the cost structure of the program and how it compares to other similar degrees?

Larry Parnell: Our online degree program is comparably priced to both our on campus as well as our competitors. I don’t know all their various price points. But the cost of completing the degree program of course is about two years is somewhere in the vicinity of, I think, $50,000.

We are getting to a point with alumni and awareness of these programs where we hope to start having some monies available. But candidly at this point, it is up to the student, either through student loans or employee reimbursement. Many companies do that. And students should definitely look into that and find out if your organization will reimburse you.

We have students from PR firms and corporations and associations whose company will provide tuition reimbursement provided they get a B or higher in their classes, which is fine. Because if you don’t have a B or higher in our classes, you’ve got a problem anyway. So that works out pretty well.

The degree program takes a little bit over two years to complete. Students are welcome, and many do come, to graduation here in Washington, D.C. And I think our pricing is actually comparable and lower than many of the other major brands that you might be looking at and hearing about.

But on a per credit basis, it’s about $1,400. And you can do the math across the 33-credit program.

It’s not insignificant. But you have to look at it as an investment in your career and your future. And hopefully over the course of a couple of years students can make that investment and it’s going to pay off for them hopefully down the road.

Amanda Walter: Yeah, absolutely. And like you said in the beginning, the Bureau of Labour Statistics has a lot of data on employment opportunities and growth at advanced degree levels.

Larry Parnell: Right, plus we do have a career services — I should add, we have career services people that will assist our students. Once you’re part of the GW family, you have access to the online network and our career services people in terms of jobs, opportunities to relocate, come to D.C., work elsewhere.

We get increasingly, and as my background and having worked in [inaudible 0:51:57], is I hear all the time about job openings. And I pass them along to our career services people. And our students have access to that LISTSERV and can apply for these jobs and get support and references and contacts and stuff through the GW network, which is a pretty powerful thing.

Amanda Walter: Yeah, that’s a really good thing to point out is the full support services that are available to students obviously before they’re inquiring about the program. We have an enrolment advisor that you’ll be in touch with — as in the students and prospects — that she can help point you to information about financial aid and funding options and employer reimbursement like Larry mentioned.

A few things she can provide information about the career services and other full level of support that students receive as those students in the program. That really there is a full support network here for every student because we’re equally invested in ensuring that you’re successful as well.

Larry Parnell: And if students are in proximity to the Washington area and would like to come and visit us on campus and sit in a class that’s always an option as well. They’re welcome to do that.

Amanda Walter: Perfect, thank you. Well let’s go ahead and wrap things up. I’m going to leave the Q&A chat session open for another 5-10 minutes. But if there’s anyone who has any questions feel free to still continue submitting those to me. I’ll provide those over to our enrolment advisor to follow-up with everyone accordingly.

Likewise if there’s any specific date and time that you’d like her to follow-up with you, just leave that with your name and number and e-mail address and I can forward that over to her.

As you can see on the screen, we are currently accepting applications for the summer one term. That was classes coming up in April. The deadline is right around the corner though. So if you are interested in starting in our summer term certainly reach out to our advisors and get your application started right away.

And again I just wanted to thank everyone for taking the time to join us. Thank, Larry, for his time today for pulling all this together. And also just one reminder, if people haven’t seen the announcements that we have sent out recently, the GRE is no longer a requirement for admission. If you have a GPA below 3.0 certainly ask your advisor about that and what you can do now in lieu of necessarily taking the GRE or submitting that. So she’d be happy to provide further information.

Other than that if there’s other terms that your interested in of course now you can apply for those as well. You don’t have to wait until the recruitment period opens up. The sooner that you apply the better and that way you can find out a decision sooner and start working on your funding and get ready for the student load.

So thanks again everyone. I will keep everything open. And we’ll send the recording link out to everyone very soon.