After graduating from MacEwan University's Public Relations program in 2011, Crystal Wood had acquired a decade's worth of experiences working within various industries and for organizations of all sizes. She had always planned to have her own public relations firm, and recognized that local businesses needed support and her expertise in the middle of a global pandemic.
So in 2020, she made the leap to begin her firm. Starting small, she researched potential clients and reached out to offer public relations assistance.
"Offering public relations expertise is one way to support small local businesses," says Wood, who also sees her firm as an open door to mentoring MacEwan PR students. "I would love the opportunity to one day build their experience through my firm and help them in starting their own firms."
Wood is passionate about giving back to the program that helped her find her career path.
Learning Public Relations at MacEwan
The Public Relations program has been a staple of MacEwan's offerings since the then community college opened its doors in 1971. Colin Babiuk, who graduated from the program in 1989, spent his post-grad years building his career in the public and private sectors, where he handled issues management, stakeholder relations, media relations, marketing and more. When he returned to teach in 2008, he was tasked with restructuring and re-inventing the Public Relations program for the next generation of professionals. The program has been adapting to new developments, and following standards set by the Canadian Public Relations Society and the International Association of Business Communicators, ever since.
"Students get the knowledge, skills and abilities they need to step into roles as entry-level PR practitioners as soon as they walk out of MacEwan's doors," says Babiuk, assistant professor and curriculum coordinator for the Public Relations program.
Students study how to apply the RACE formula (research, analysis, communicate, evaluate) in their projects. They learn how to problem solve, think critically and be open minded. They develop excellent writing and grammar skills, social media proficiency and understanding of PR formats for news releases, briefing notes, articles and more. They prepare communication strategies and plans, as well as learn how to integrate key and consistent messages with marketing.
Most importantly, says Babiuk, the program teaches ethical communication in every course. "Students learn from day one that qualified PR practitioners provide verified information free from spin," he adds. "I tell my students on day one that if they want to 'spin' — there's the door."
Wood describes the in-class experience as collaborating with colleagues. As part of the relationship-building feature of the program, students learn how to leverage each other's skill sets while working closely on intensive projects throughout the term. The relationships that develop follow them into the field.
"When we go out into the world to practice public relations, we encounter each other throughout the rest of our careers," says Wood. "It's a small community."
Babiuk and Wood also note the importance of having a program developed and taught by people with years of experience working in public relations. Their dedication to the field inspires students and graduates to not only connect and build their network, but also to secure the program's reputation for producing excellent work.
For that reason, the program is highly respected by the communications/public relations community.
"We've heard from organizations say that if they have a choice between practicum students from different educational backgrounds, then the MacEwan PR grad is the one they want," says Babiuk. "They know the quality of grads we produce."
Hands-on experience in the field
The practicum portion of the program gives students an eight-week workplace experience. Wood says after completing the practicum, she was career-ready. "You walk out of the program with the skills to work immediately," she says. By the time she graduated, Wood hadn't just learned about public relations — she had planned and executed social media strategies, drafted communications plans, and wrote and published communications materials for real organizations.
Because of the program's stellar reputation, Babiuk has no trouble matching students to opportunities. In fact, Wood was offered four different positions as part of her practicum, choosing to work for Edmonton Tourism where she gained a valuable mentorship opportunity that helped her break into Edmonton's economic development industry. Since then, she says she's had an interesting career path that has seen her in roles in marketing and internal communications at the University of Alberta, as well as starting her own firm.
"It's an interesting time to work in communications," she says. "Dealing with COVID-19, and the communications and issues management that have come with it just reinforces how important it is to get the right information out to the right people at the right time."
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