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When times are tough, Australians get tougher.

It's harder now for new graduates to get jobs than at any time since the mid-'70s and that's for the traditional disciplines, not novel new ones such as communication, marketing and public relations.

Australia was behind many countries in establishing sound public relations education. Then in the '80s PR courses proliferated. The pool of PR graduates grew so rapidly that there were difficulties placing them, even in a very buoyant economy. Many were not as well credentialed as their degrees suggested.

The Public Relations Institute of Australia has since established an accreditation scheme for tertiary institutions offering PR education. A registered consultants group also is finding its feet, with another for new practitioners, but too many young communicators are having to settle for less than their expectations.

Major media have contracted too, particularly newspapers affected by the over-enthusiastic entrepreneurship of the '80s. The result has been a mass migration of press, radio and television journalists to public relations, further swelling the pool of unemployed communicators.

Less business has produced desperation-level charges for services, too.

PR, advertising share less

There is rhetoric about public relations benefiting at the expense of advertising and business promoting harder in a recession, but in reality there's simply less for everyone.

Many mature, as well as young, communicators are willing to do all sorts of things, with little regard for the winning of goodwill and the measurement of results.

The trade journals talk about "the powerful effect" of a PR campaign in "extending the reach of a client's advertising" or using PR skills to "achieve marketing objectives." The PR industry itself all too often talks about crisis or issues management or employee relations, but not enough about its problem-solving abilities.

This doesn't help higher management's perception of PR. It creates an impression of reactivity rather than proactivity, and sometimes irrelevance to the serious aspects of corporate business. Although management by objectives seems to have gone out of fashion with many companies, it conjures favourable images of the management skills and purpose of professional communicators.

All this creates a big challenge for the industry organisations to which we belong. They have a responsibility to ensure that the fragmentation which has occurred and the proliferation of small operators don't do permanent damage to the profession. They need to focus on quality, keep costs down and attract members; they won't do so by being snobbish or charging up-market dues, or seeking compulsory accreditation ... there are simply too many practitioners who don't belong to any of these organisations, yet who do an excellent job.

The institutions in which communicators learn also have an important role to play. They must produce products that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with management, and focus more on subjects such as communication theory, goals and objectives, research, negotiation and quality -- less on the tools of the trade.

My neighbour is a 31-year-old architect who studied for seven years to acquire his skills; by and large, the communication graduates I meet don't have specialist skills that are sufficiently sharp and are the equivalent. Such skills must be sharpened, but surely not at the university. We need more internships for this, once communicators graduate.

The good performance of many Australian communicators is not enough to change management perceptions significantly, either; such performance must be creatively promoted to management and it needs a lot more creativity than we're seeing at present.

It's a lot to ask of our industry organisations, which are driven by the energy of too few first-rate people, their endeavours spread too thinly. The recession, we hope, will provide us with the opportunity to boost their ranks.

Gerry Mulholland is principal, MMA Public Relations PTY, Ltd., Rozelle, NSW, Australia.
COPYRIGHT 1992 International Association of Business Communicators
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Section 4: Communicate Globally by Communicating Locally; public relations in Australia; includes related article
Author:Mulholland, Gerry
Publication:Communication World
Date:Feb 1, 1992
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