Opinion: Studying public relations in a pandemic

By Sydney Wyer                                                                                                                                                                                     Marshall University                                                                                                                                                                               Ripley, WV

Now that we are well into 2021, we have a better understanding of our new virtual learning and work environments. As a public relations student at Marshall University, it has been fascinating to watch the unique and creative ways that everyone has worked through the challenges of a global pandemic. Almost everyone, including those with limited experience with technology, have figured out how to make the virtual shift work for them and their organizations. We have all gotten a glimpse into the lives of our peers and coworkers outside of the typical work or school environment. I have met my classmates’ siblings and pets, and I have seen them roll out of bed and join our virtual class meetings without their usual professional appearances. I personally love getting more comfortable with one another and recognizing the imperfect human characteristics that we all have. 

Seniors and graduate students in the spring 2021 capstone course in the public relations academic program at Marshall University have researched, planned, and are now executing (entirely online — in both asynchronous and synchronous formats) a strategic communications campaign to create additional awareness designed to increase the membership of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA)-Marshall University Chapter. The campaign centers on building PRSSA-MU, an organization established in 1978, back into a thriving organization on campus and in the broader community. PRSSA-MU is one of the oldest chapters in the United States, and we are aiming to uphold the organization’s mission – to provide exceptional service to our members by enhancing their education, broadening their professional network, and helping launch their careers after graduation.  

The members of the student PR agency that is running the campaign have come together as a team, building strong connections completely through a virtual platform. None of us could have predicted that our last semester of college- especially our capstone class that ties everything we have learned together, allowing us to put into action a real-world strategic communications campaign – would have been virtual. We have, however, successfully pushed through the difficult learning curve to keep up with the ever-changing trends and expectations of the discipline, nation, and world. 

Each day brings a new lesson for journalism, media, public relations, and advertising students, including everything from political communications, maintaining customer trust, and how to stay relevant on social media with an influx of content coming in every second. My classmates and I often discuss how crucial it is that we pay attention, 24/7/365, to the communications we see outside of the classroom and the office. According to Anne Gregory in her study titled “Powerful PR: a force for the future,” up to 80 percent of the news media are influenced by public relations efforts. Given this amount of influence, it has been beneficial to us as soon-to-be professionals. We have been able to watch as current professionals in the field handle this new style of communication during the COVID-19 pandemic. As result, I think it has been the most beneficial period of my education. We will keep watching, keep studying and keep practicing until we are professionals ready to take on the massive challenges of the future. 

Public relations efforts are everywhere, and our group is paying attention. The mutually beneficial relationships that companies and organizations build with their audiences- through earned, owned, shared and paid media shape our world. We are actively studying how relationships are being built and maintained as the world is putting itself back together. The ethical standards of honesty, reliability and transparency are what my peers and I are striving to showcase in our work this semester. It is our hope that these same tenants of the Public Relations Student Society of America (parent organization of PRSSA) code of ethics become a part of the work of all professional communicators. If so, it becomes a better community, state, nation and world in which we work and live.