Today, I was able to interview Grant Turck, the Pepperdine University student that is leading the fight to save the public relations program at his University. While I may not agree with his Quixotic adventure – when you have a leading public relations expert calling for the end of PR and the adoption of marcom, you have to wonder how long PR degrees are going to last – I do give him credit for fighting what he believes in. And, on today’s college campuses, you rarely see students fight for anything.
Grant Turck moved from metropolitan Cincinnati to Los Angeles to try his hand at acting, but got bitten by the public relations bug while spending a summer back home in Ohio. Turck came to Pepperdine for PR because it was a specialized program at the University – and now, he wants to see the major go beyond just his graduation year. Turck chose Pepperdine for three reasons: the experience, the education, and the location.
When Turck found out that Pepperdine was proposing to cut the program – looking to cut it because of its lack of viability, although he believes that “there has yet to be a full review beyond just cutting it” – he began to mobilize forces to save the program. Besides public relations, though, the school is also supposedly looking at advertising to be among the programs cut, but to offer both public relations and advertising as minors. Turck believes that this would be the first step to merging public relations and advertising into an integrated marketing / communications major – it is “the University’s attempt for a three-for-one deal at Pepperdine.”
Turck notes that the public relations major already does require upper-division courses from outside concentrations, such as marketing, journalism and advertising, so PR with marketing is already covered. The integrated marcom major – it’s a buzz word from 10 years ago – and Turck’s worry is that Pepperdine is just going to start teaching students to be marcom generalists, not specialists, with no surefire knowledge in any one field.
When asked whether or not his quest was for a dying discipline, Turck responded that he does not believe that public relations is dying, but rather that “there is a necessary need to directly tie PR into sales, corporate strategy. There needs to be more return on investment, a better way to measure the end-results of public relations, whether it is sales or something else that is tangible. There needs to be a new way to look at PR.”
Turck is now looking at a way for alumni to save the program by earmarking donations for the public relations major, or he is hopeful in finding a large public relations firm or conglomerate to step in and donate the money to save PR. Turck is getting ready for an outreach program to raise the money – stepping forward with a positive campaign to proactively save the campaign, forcing Pepperdine to keep the program because the funding would be from outside sources.
He is working with PRSA's LA Chapter President, Cynthia M. Harding, who is providing advice and ideas on how to approach the situation, and he has also spoken to Rhoda Weiss, treasurer of the National PRSA Board, who has also offered a lot of advice and support, as well as proactively calling to speak to Dr. Robert (Bob) Chandler, chair of communications division. On the campus front, Turck has attended the University’s first PRSSA meeting on campus, sharing his thoughts on the subject and offering advice to other PR students, as well sitting on the board of Pepperdine's PRSSA Chapter.
On a final note, Turck noted that his campaign is going well, that he has received tremendous response from alumni thus far, and that the alumni seems to be backing Turck. He is hoping that the next stage of the campaign to fundraise raise $300,000 for the program will be enough to save the program.
My final thought: I think that Pepperdine would be better off calling the program “marketing communications” instead of the dinosaur term “integrated marketing,” but that’s a horse for another day. Speaking as a philosophy major who worked at the college paper, if students want to make an impact in the marketplace, they would be better off with another major than PR which is too commonly identified as press relations. Nowadays, marcom is considered what used to be just public relations: analyst relations, customer relations, outreach programs – and it may be too late for the industry to reclaim PR as all encompassing public relations that includes media relations.