A few weeks ago I was at the PRIA Conference in Adelaide to attend the annual Fellows Dinner
I was sitting opposite someone who has been in the industry for about as long as me – which incidentally is about 20 years more than the RMIT program has been in existence. Like a few of the older members of the industry who seem to think the past was better than the present he was bemoaning the quality of students coming into the industry and holding forth, while waving a glass of wine, on their shortcomings.
When we got a word in, two of us sitting opposite, told him he was completely wrong and that, in fact, industry entrants from degree courses were probably better educated, smarter and better equipped than we were when we started out. There are many reasons for that – higher education standards generally and, more importantly, the existence and growth of courses such as the RMIT PR Program now enjoying its 25th birthday this year.
Incidentally, the same people complaining about graduates are also the same ones who are constantly saying that the industry needs to get a seat at the top table and be in boardrooms. It is, perhaps, the PR version of the Australian cultural cringe and it is a refrain I have been hearing for about 40 years. It too is wrong.The reality is that the PR industry is already in the boardrooms of companies, charities, government agencies, NGOs, political parties, industry and professional associations, arts bodies and all the myriad of other organisations you might be working with in the future.
Successful practitioners are the trusted counsel for the Chairs, CEOS and C-suite members of the organisations they work for.Tonight is just a stepping stone to achieving the status of a trusted counsellor – someone who advises on things as diverse as:
- Liaising with governments and influencing policy
- Managing crises and issue
- Positioning organisations with investors and/or stakeholders
- Understanding and interpreting the implications of social, economic and political change
- And, above all else, being the voice that – in the words of the great management theorist Peter Drucker – brings the outside inside an organisation.
Your involvement in:
- Coping with changing communication techniques
- Developing corporate strategies and social ethical codes
- Struggling with the significant agents attempting to construct their version of reality in a post-objective post enlightenment age
Will be the nitty gritty of your career in future years. I say tonight is just a stepping stone because – despite you being a very bright and well-educated lot – this is just the beginning of your career development.In the years ahead you will also need to understand the significance to the organisations you work for of such things as:
- Management theories (and fads). In this respect it is not all fun and games because at some stage or other you will find yourself working for a manager who comes in turns everything upside down and then leaves after two years to inflict similar punishment on another organisation. You will need to develop a change management communication program to support this even though you know the staff are deeply cynical about the messages, have heard it all before and understand what the manager is really saying. It’s even worse than having to talk to journalists although as you get more senior you have to do it less and then only with more senior journalists who tend to actually appreciate your help.
- The evolving worlds of behavioural economics and psychology
- Organisational structures
- How to read a balance sheet
- The laws and regulations affecting organisations
- The interplay of countervailing forces which shape the environment in which your organisation works
- And how to build relationships with the stakeholders whose ultimate consent provides your organisation with the licence to operate.
But don’t worry – you don’t have to learn it all overnight. Most importantly, what you have learnt in the past few years will provide you with a platform which will underpin the acquisition of the further skills and knowledge you will needs to develop your career.
And I am sure you will have fulfilling and rewarding careers in the decades ahead. Some of you will choose career options which bring professional and significant financial rewards and some will choose options which bring professional satisfaction and deep emotional rewards. Some of you will get bits of both during your working lives.
But, no doubt in another 25 years one of you will be up here saying happy 50th birthday to the RMIT PR program just as I am saying happy 25th birthday and congratulations to the graduates.