We all agree on PR being an industry that emphasises freedom of speech, democracy and limited censorship. It needs diversity to be born and permanent resources to survive and grow.
It is more than obvious then, that in a communist country, PR in the way we understand it today would be a failure and moreover an actual crime, as the Government is the only one to dictate what is good and what is bad for the population. But what happens to a country when it finally frees itself from all the restrictions and local shops start to display on their shelves more than one brand of sugar, milk or soap?
It took Romania almost 10 years to understand the value of PR in a modern, democratic society, but in 2010 we can proudly say they have a growing industry of “communication” and also, an education system for public relations.
Mihaela Nita, or Mili as she likes to be known, is a third year student at the University of Bucharest, specialising in Public Relations and Communication. Being on her final year she decided to share and analyse some of her experience with PR, hoping that in this way, she could understand more of it herself.
I only waited for Mili for five minutes. She doesn’t have a habit of arriving late, but sometimes combining leisure activities with work with full-time education may lead to a certain compromise, placing one of them lower on the daily planner. She seems fresh, colourful, red-haired with green eyes, contrasting with the dirty traces of snow on the pavement and the gloomy atmosphere on this cold December day. We decide for a coffee on the same street as the University of Bucharest, a friendly and familiar place packed with loud students. She is still a bit confused about my wish to interview her but as we discuss the topic she smiles and admits she might not be very accurate in answering as she is barely an apprentice in the Romanian PR.
“I was born in the middle of the mountains in an extremely dull town. Thank God for the library, the playhouse and the Internet. In the universe I created for myself I felt I had a very effervescent life: I befriended Marquez, Cortazar, Ezra Pound, I stared at contemporary versions of Shakespeare… and I started a blog.”
That is how she begins to tell us about her love story with communication: with words and inspiration. When I ask her why she chose PR she goes straight for the answer: “To be honest, like almost every teenager I longed to live the “copywriter” dream: ideas popping out of my head whenever, people worshipping me, crazy ads and glam actors.” However, it was not Sex and the City’s Samantha that made her take a life changing decision as she admits that after doing some research and reading a few books: “I came down to earth (it didn’t hurt). I fell in love with branding, and Public Relations amongst it – and our relationship is pragmatic and sure-footed.”
It was then time to leave mum and dad and head for the big city, where higher education and strong work field provided the perfect environment for a PR fresher. “As soon as I moved to Bucharest I tried to make up for the lack of dynamism of my home town, so I meddled in everything… I joined a PR student association, I went to every little conference on Marcomm, I wrote for a site on a daily basis and then I got a job as PR assistant in a lovely company.”
Although she became a workaholic and she loves everything about her job, she wants to keep her options open. “If it hadn’t been PR, it would have been journalism or any sort of writing. I can’t imagine myself outside witty words and good causes.” She is determined to stick to the creative industries, but from time to time she’d like to take some breaks and do “crazy” things. “I have friends who at 30 decided to study philosophy, giving up the bright career in banking and friends who went on a long Balcanic trip to listen to music and dance.” Street artists like Katie Sokoler inspire her.
I am sure many Media and Communications students in the UK are curious about how PR is taught in other countries, but Romania is completely different, its study methods seem to puzzle some. Mili tries to explain the confusion by telling me something about the course she is on:
“In Romania there is practically no undergraduate course which focuses exclusively on PR, we also have modules in Anthropology, Mass media, Law, Semiotics, Philosophy etc. Although at first it may seem that these lectures have little in common, at the end of the year they all come together into a unifying concept. This means that my uni helped me broaden my perspectives to the extent that I don’t see PR as solely a technical domain. In order to be a good PR person, it is not enough to know the meaning of terms such as BTL, pitch, WoM etc; it is important that one has interest and skills as diverse as possible.”
Assignments are not that different, it is their number that counts as in Romania. A student has an average of six exams each winter or summer, adding to a number of diverse projects, from research work to planning and creative pieces. However, the fact that modules are strictly separated in lectures and workshops helps the student become more familiar with the tasks and understand the teacher’s demands. “While during courses we are overwhelmed by the amount of academic information with a lot of googling to do afterwards, the workshops are more laid back and personal. Most after-school projects are not only about interaction, but they also need a lot of research and creativity. For instance, I loved it when we had to think about a branding campaign for our Uni, or the time we went into city or national branding.”
Many students in Romania don’t have the privilege to be part of the world of work at such early stages but Mili has been with her company since her fresher’s year. It wasn’t easy in the beginning but she never gave up despite the fact that sometimes coursework and office requirements exhausted her. After two years of experiencing the industry she can confidently talk about it, trying to describe it.
“PR received its biggest boost from the growth of CSR activities in Romania. However, we are just starting and there is still room to grow. Let me mention some good things: the amount of sites on Romanian PR, the awards, the student associations on PR, the numerous conferences. Of course, many people who are not related to the field still think of PR as purely customer service.”
Mili considers that the PR industry in Romania has been till recently the unwanted sibling. Advertising was all it took to make a product gain the trust of the consumer in this fast developing society that finally had a free market, liberated from all political constraints.
The international experience seems to be top priority for all students, but it is a must for the ones studying such new and dynamic courses as media and PR.
Many choose the Erasmus programs and leave their country for one or two semesters, returning to finish their initial course. Others consider that the most valuable part is the postgraduate phase and go for an international MA or PhD diploma. Even though factors like money, love and family are between her and her dream of being an international student, Mili says she would love to get a master’s degree outside the country.
“Berlin sounds good! Oh, but London too! The Netherlands doesn’t scare me and neither does France.” However, when it comes to work, things don’t seem that easy anymore: “I’m sceptical about working in PR in another country, because it would take me some time to know and understand my target audience. PR sometimes speaks a universal language (the language of doing things well), but that isn’t a general rule.”
Although I wanted to know a lot more about her, I knew Mili had to go to an “Imagology” lecture. However, I couldn’t give up before she told me how she sees the whole PR drama after three years of Uni and two years as PR assistant and what would she tell a prospective student. She paused and then said:
“I would just recommend all students to read everything that comes to hand and not necessarily just on PR.” Before anything else, a very good knowledge of the world is the key to success.