PR placements – a great learning experience

Posted on: August 20, 2008

In the almost 20 years that the BA (Hons) Public Relations has been running at Bournemouth University, a distinctive feature is that its students spend their third year in a full-time (40-weeks or longer) placement in industry before returning for their final year of studies.


After the first two years learning about PR skills, theory and practices, students put them into action. This can be in a consultancy, government, industry or not-for-profit. In 2007-08, some traveled widely within the UK and Europe and to Turkey and Morocco. Projects they worked on included major TV-based charity fund-raising, car launches, fashions shoots with celebrities and rock stars, and the very challenging ‘Cemetery of the Year’ award.


I have just been reviewing reports by students and their employers for 2007-08 and have found it an uplifting experience. These students have really progressed in their skills, confidence and initiative, whilst employers have welcomed their contribution and commitment. Several have been offered jobs when they graduate. All employers want BU public relations students on placement again.


As well as noting high satisfaction from both sides, it is also interesting to read students’ comments about what they found useful from two years of studies. In their first report, units like Writing Foundation, Written & Visual Communication, and Communication & Marketing Research were salient, as they offered immediate value. Later, the impact of theory, strategic planning and planned media relations could be seen. One commented: “At university, most of the work is theoretical, while on placement, I have been able to implement these theories or have a deeper knowledge of a strategy or action due to knowing the theory behind it.”


The annual organisation of the placements is a big task but it pays dividends all around – students put learning into practice and gain confidence, employers have a talented junior member of staff at a reasonable cost and the university (and Media School) gets reputation benefits.


Most of the world’s PR professional bodies seek industry experience within their accreditation of courses. Usually, this is a month to six weeks during vacation. Perhaps it is time to recognise a ‘gold standard‘ for courses which have the 40-weeks or longer placement as delivering high value to all concerned.


2 Responses to "PR placements – a great learning experience"

Hi Tom, you will recall that the undergraduate degree here ar Charles Sturt University has a specific internship subject, a minimum of four weeks, but usually eight to 10 weeks. By the time students get to the internship subject they have completed at least two other subjects where they have worked with real clients on real projects with real, measurable outcomes which equips them with the necessary skills to be able to function effectively (that’s what the employer feedback reports state). But the most valued outcome of this process is the very high number of these students who are offered jobs by the internship provider.
Donald Alexander, Senior Lecturer and Course Coordinator, Public Relations and Organisational Communication, School of Communication, CSU Bathurst.

Donald – I agree that all internships are of value to students of public relations and that there are benefits of learning and understanding the workplace. At CSU, when I was working with you, many students went into PR jobs event before they finished their excellent course. We had introduced a lot of hands-on units in second-year that prepared them well.

At BU, our students do a much longer and more deeply involving 40+ weeks internship with one or two PR employers. My judgement is that they return for their final year’s studies really well prepared to discuss theory and practice, which includes a 12,000 word dissertation on a specialisation of their chosing.

Comparisons from one country to another are invidious and seldom satisfactory, but my view is that BU PR graduates are very well prepared for entry into the UK’s very international public relations industry which is the world’s most competitive and most sophisticated. It’s not just skills evident to employers but the ability to add value to PR strategy and practice immediately. As I said in my post, it’s a ‘gold standard’ that should be recognised by the industry.

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Tom Watson

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