Distinguished PR panel highlights 60th anniversary

April 24, 2008
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Distinguished PR panel highlights 60th anniversary

Harold Burson, Carol Cone and a number of other distinguished practitioners and academics helped Boston University celebrate the 60th Anniversary its Master of Science Degree in Public Relations, Wednesday, April 23, 2008, on BU’s Charles River Campus. The world’s oldest public relations degree was first offered during the 1947-48 academic year at BU.

The highlight of the day-long event involved a panel discussing “Progress and Public Relations: A Look at Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going.” Burson and Cone were joined on the panel by Dr. Otto Lerbinger, Professor Emeritus at BU and Paul Rand, President and CEO of Zóloco Group, part of Omnicom Group and Ketchum. Dr. Don Wright, Professor of Public Relations at BU moderated the discussion that attracted nearly 200 practitioners, academics and BU alumni to BU’s Photonics Center.

The spectrum of guests at varied stages of their public relations careers provided a diverse range of perspectives on the past and the future of the field. Burson led off the panel discussion with an optimistic outlook and when asked how things have changed in the field, he highlighted the positive progression in the recognition and appreciation of the public relations function. Rand cautioned that these are “challenging and confusing times for public relations,” as the use of traditional and new media channels become more fragmented than before. He said these challenges have forced the field to “evolve and to continue to evolve” very quickly.

New media, particularly the use of search engines and the idea of increased immediacy, were emphasized as important factors in shaping the future direction of public relations. Other economic developments that have changed the practice and will continue to guide the evolution of the field include an increasingly integrated global economy yet specialized market segmentation.

Cone pointed out the concept of a social contract continues to impact the practice. She describes social contract as a recognition that “companies needs to earn their license to operate…by crossing (their) objectives with core needs of society.”

The ever-animated Dr. Lerbinger, who taught public relations courses at Boston University for 50 years before retiring recently, provoked sporadic laughter and applause throughout the session with his energy. He noted the increased presence of public relations as management function and stressed our field ultimately is an applied social science whose main purpose is forging, reinforcing and changing attitudes and behavior.

The panel also strongly affirmed the importance of writing skills in public relations regardless of media used to disseminate messages. As Burson pointed out, “the changes we’re seeing are not in strategic thinking, but in creative and innovative ways we’re now delivering messages.”

Included in the list of dignitaries who attend the panel discussion and/or spoke earlier Wednesday in BU public relations classes were: Bill Nielsen, the former Corporate Vice President – Public Affairs and Corporate Communications, Johnson & Johnson, who represented the Arthur W. Page Society and spoke in the corporate communication class; Bob Grupp, President of the International Public Relation Association, who spoke in the international public relations class; Dr. Stephen Greyser, Professor Emeritus at the Harvard Business School; and, Keith O’Brien, Editor-in-Chief, PR Week.

Public relations education in BU’s College of Communication is part of the Department of Mass Communication, Advertising and Public Relations which earlier this academic year was named as first in the nation in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index, a highly-respected ranking based upon scholarly publications, grants and awards.  In addition to enjoying an international reputation for research excellence over the past six decades, public relations education at BU also has a noted reputation for being practical and for producing graduates who are very successful in the workplace.

T. Barton Carter, professor and chairman of the department, has pointed out, “Our department is a mix of professionals and academics, so what this Chronicle ranking shows is that we’re able to maintain a balance and achieve excellence in both areas: professional training and professional recognition, as well as scholarly recognition of our faculty’s research and writing.”

Public relations graduates from Boston University are highly regarded on the job market. Dr. Tobe Berkovitz,  dean ad interim of the College of Communication, says, “An important measure we have about how successful public relations education is at BU is the fact organizations that hire our graduates not only frequently say good things about them but also return to us each year encouraging our students to apply for their jobs or internships.”

Public relations classes at Boston University are taught by six full time faculty members whose backgrounds represent a unique balance of practical and theoretical credentials. A seventh full-time public relations faculty member will join the BU team this coming September and the university also has the Harold Burson Endowed Chair in public relations as well as several adjunct faculty members from the greater Boston professional community who teach public relations courses.

Classes in communication theory and research that are required of all public relations majors are taught by four other full-time faculty members with doctoral degrees from major universities. BU’s library holdings include the papers of noted practitioner Edward L. Bernays who many consider to have been “the father of public relations.” Harold Burson also has made arrangements for BU to acquire his papers. Public Relations Journal, PRSA’s quarterly, scholarly, online journal, also is edited within the department.

In addition to the Master of Science Degree in Public Relations, Boston University also offers a Bachelor of Science Degree with a Public Relations emphasis through its Department of Mass Communication, Advertising and Public Relations.