What are some of the books you have selected for this semester?
I don’t think textbooks are ideal, but I do use them in my classes, supplemented by many articles, current case studies and social media. For my intro class (which is a sophomore/junior level survey class), I use “Think Public Relations.” It follows PRSA teachings and guidelines and provides a good base in strategic thinking as well as a glimpse at how the profession works in a variety of settings (corporate, non-profit, government, etc.). This book is the “ADHD version” of the book I used previously, “Public Relations Strategies and Tactics,” by the same authors. I call it that because it is a faster read, with shorter chapters and lots of color. The other book is more in-depth, but since many of my students are not PR majors, they seem to like this one better. They had many complaints about the longer version and weren’t doing the reading. My major criticism of both of these books is that they provide little critical perspective, which I believe is extremely important. I address that in my lectures, along with the fact that textbook theories don’t always work in real life.
For my junior/senior “writing and methods” class, I am trying out a new book (for me, anyway), “Public Relations Writing: Principles in Practice.” It is a textbook/workbook combo. The reason I chose them is that the workbook provides scenarios, background information and research for fictional clients that the students can use for their writing exercises (releases, feature stories, brochures, etc.). This makes my life much easier, since I don’t have to invent clients and research every time we do an exercise. We’re only a couple of weeks into the semester, so I don’t know how well the books will work yet. I also require the current AP style guide for this class.
What non-PR classes do you feel are most important to supplement the education of an aspiring PR professional?
I think all PR students should take classes in media theory, advertising, marketing, journalism, pop culture and psychology. We don’t offer integrated marketing communications at PSU, but I would strongly recommend it if we did. The lines between advertising, marketing and promotion have become increasingly blurred, and many students who want to go into PR, especially in small markets like Harrisburg, will find that the jobs are really integrated marketing positions. They may be asked to do advertising, marketing, fundraising and even design (a big mistake, which has led to a real dumbing down of design, IMO), so some basic graphic design classes are important as well. Depending on an individual student’s interests, I might also suggest classes in public affairs, public policy and/or business.
What was the most memorable class project/ student submission you have seen in recent years? What can other students take away from the examples?
My writing and methods class is required to do a team project where one student represents a corporation and the other a non-profit institution. Together they develop a corporate social responsibility campaign that will meet each entity’s goals and objectives. The best one I’ve seen was a partnership between an athletic sportswear company and an inner city non-profit that proposed a summer education program for teens geared to decreasing the drop out rate. It was original and well-planned, including in-depth secondary research, a realistic budget/timeline and measurable outcomes. I use this as an example to show students that they can have big, creative ideas but still ground them in a strategic framework.
Do you incorporate social media into your curriculum? If so how?
I do use social media in my curriculum, but I teach it as a tool, just as I would other tools. I stress that social media is not an end unto itself, but must be grounded in good strategic planning. I don’t try to keep up with the “latest thing,” because there are simply too many to keep up with! Instead, we focus on social as a concept. Students are required to follow me on Twitter (which they always grumble about), partly because so few of them use it, and partly because it is so easy to push out articles that way. I have an assignment in my intro class called “Twitter Topics,” where students are required to write short reaction papers to articles I tweet over the semester. The intro class also has a “blog analysis” assignment, where they must find and critique four PR blogs. The methods students keep their own blogs (I used WordPress last semester and am trying tumblr this semester) where they post their thoughts on industry news and trends, as well as reactions to my tweets.
In the classroom, we often look at websites and You Tube. Sometimes we follow an interesting campaign online — for example, we have followed “Baby Carrots” on Twitter and I use their website in a discussion about targeting and demographics. I always have guest speakers in both classes, and this semester we will have a Skype guest – a social media employee of Chobani yogurt. The senior team project must include plans for Twitter and a Facebook page, and in addition to print releases, they must create a social media release using Pitch Engine.
Do you use social media to connect with your students outside of the classroom?
As I mentioned, I am tweeting to my students, usually several times a day, mostly with interesting articles. I also keep a blog (ajsauer.tumblr.com), but I am not posting regularly. I’d like to incorporate it more, but right now I simply don’t have enough time. I don’t use Facebook with classes, although I have considered creating a group page for each section and may in the future. Also, I will not friend my students until they have graduated. For me, Facebook is more of a personal thing. Of course I do stress the importance of maintaining a “good” social profile, and I ask students to keep a separate school-related Twitter account so that I am not reading about their wild weekends and boyfriend problems! I think it’s important to maintain a line between school and personal life, for my sake as well as theirs.
For PR professionals who do not have an academic background in PR, are there any particular classes you would recommend they audit? Must read books? Suggestions to help fill educational gaps?
I don’t know about other PR profs, but I didn’t study PR in school. My undergrad degree is in theater, my master’s is is media studies, and I did doctoral studies in media as well (unfortunately ABD). All my experience with marketing and PR is work-related (off the record, this is only the 2nd year I’m teaching PR, my prior teaching experience is in integrated marketing and mass media). So while I think it’s great that students can study in their chosen field, I don’t think it’s entirely necessary. In fact, I’d like to see more PR students take classes out of the field, as I mentioned above, to give them a broader perspective. And keep up with current events! For people already in the profession, I’d suggest they audit an integrated marketing comm class and maybe research methods. As far as books are concerned, my academic background steers me more to critical and historical books, rather than the latest by David Meerman Scott, Seth Godin or Brian Solis! is (although these are all good). I think a must read for all PR professionals is “Toxic Sludge is Good for You,” and right now I’m reading “PR! A History of Spin” by Stuart Ewan, which is fascinating. These are older books, but they provide an excellent critique of the profession. I truly believe that we must strive to be ethical practitioners, and it’s important to understand some of the more unsavory things that have been done in the name of PR, in addition to understanding how PR helps shape popular culture.
About Amy Sauertieg
Amy Sauertieg joined the faculty of Penn State Harrisburg in Fall 2010, where she teaches course in Public Relations, Event Planning and Public Speaking. She began her career developing and marketing entertainment vehicles for such companies as Procter & Gamble, Kraft Foods and Anheuser-Busch, and has been a marketing and public relations executive in a variety of industries, including television, economic development and social services. Previously, she taught at the Fashion Institute of Technology (SUNY) and Marymount Manhattan College. Ms. Sauertieg is a member of the PRSA and is a board member of Healthy Media Choices. She received her BFA in theater from Boston University and her MA in media studies from The New School.