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Let me begin by acknowledging my bias – I LOVE public relations. It has the ability to connect people with organizations, make their voices heard, and establish real, positive, two-way, life-changing communications. True public relations is transparent, ethical and most of all — truthful. Public relations professionals everywhere cringe when we see propaganda, “spin,” or hear communications people like Hope Hicks say she told “little white lies” for her employer. These are unforgivable. They are not public relations. And to be honest, I’m really tired of people associating them with public relations.

EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. I see another example of a communications person from the current White House doing one of these unforgivable behaviors. It makes the public question public relations as a profession, and it makes people question me. Why would I teach such a profession? What are my students learning? How can the public ever trust a public relations person when this is what they see public relations people doing?

So let me be clear. THESE ARE NOT PUBLIC RELATIONS PROFESSIONALS. They were not trained in public relations. They do not hold public relations degrees. They do not uphold public relations values because they were never taught them.

Press Secretaries

  1. Sean Spicer, Bachelor’s in government, Master’s in national security and strategic studies.
  2. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Bachelor’s in political science.

Communications Directors

  1. Hope Hicks, Bachelor’s in English.
  2. Anthony Scaramucci, Bachelor’s in economics, J.D. from Harvard.
  3. Bill Shine, Bachelor’s in communications.

In addition, counselor to the President and some-time spokesperson — who the public also likes to see as a public relations professional — Kellyanne Conway, holds a Bachelor’s in political science and and J.D. from George Washington University.

NONE, I repeat, NONE of these people has a public relations degree. The closest is Bill Shine who has a degree in communications. However, this former Fox News producer and executive has no background in public relations. Furthermore, in the vast majority of communications programs a (as in ONE) public relations course is offered as an elective. As I often tell my students, you need FULL IMMERSION into the public relations field through your area of study in order to create a good foundation for a public relations career. One course offered by a communications department is not going to cut it.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Hope Hicks did have public relations experience in addition to her English degree. However, her less than five years of public relations experience with agencies in New York focused on sports and fashion (not exactly government or political level communications). While the experience she had in public relations agencies is great — without an educational foundation in public relations she spent her time on the job basically doing what she was told (which could be why she was telling little white lies for Trump as she was never educated about the ideals of truth and transparency).

In my Introduction to Public Relations course at the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication where students can major in public relations, I discuss government public relations, political public relations, lobbying, and public diplomacy. The students and I get to talk about how government and political public relations are used to create dialogue with citizens, build relations between government organizations and their communities, ensure active cooperation in government policies and programs, serve as the public’s advocate, shape public discourse, evaluate the effectiveness of policies, create messages that include diverse opinions, and promote cultural values. I bring in current and former communications directors, press secretaries, public affairs officers, public information officers, and political campaign directors to directly examine many of these issues.

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Our students also get full immersion in public relations writing, public relations editing and design, public relations research, and public relations campaign development — all while learning about what they should do (ethics) vs. what they can do (law), the underpinnings of public relations in a global society, public relations models and theories, public relations tools and technologies, and public relations stakeholders. That’s the beauty of a public relations degree, we get to go in depth into how a public relations professional should act, think, and communicate with the public – and it doesn’t involve propaganda, spin, or little white lies. 

So stop calling the current White House Press Secretaries and Directors of Communication public relations people. They didn’t earn it. They don’t deserve it. And they certainly don’t represent the public relations profession.

And don’t even get me started on NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch who is a journalism school dropout.

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