When I was offered a position as a full-time lecturer at California State University, Fullerton, six years ago, I was notified that the PRSSA executive board had already elected me to serve as their Faculty Adviser. Though I did not know any of the board members, I had been recommended by the outgoing adviser, a mentor and former professor of mine.
As the semester began, I dutifully attended bi-weekly board meetings where I listened as they discussed upcoming events, programs, membership challenges, budget updates, and the upcoming PRSSA ICON in Boston, to which we would be sending over 20 Chapter members. The board seemed to function efficiently and effectively, and I struggled to figure out my role as their Adviser. I soon learned, however, that the Faculty Adviser plays a critical role on even the most efficiently-run PRSSA board.
Serving as a Faculty Adviser carries a lot of responsibility, and whether they specifically pursued the role or were “voluntold,” the Adviser can bring invaluable experience, insight, and connections to the Chapter. Board involvement of the Faculty Adviser can greatly enhance the experience and benefits that the Chapter provides to its members.
Business Insights. Faculty Advisers can help the board establish and maintain sound business practices. For instance, the Adviser can provide insight into one of the most important — and most challenging — responsibilities of the board: budget management. Providing instruction and mentorship on how to establish and maintain a budget not only ensures the board maintains fiscal responsibility but provides solid financial guidelines for the operation of the Chapter in areas including fundraising, programming, events, and more.
Curing the Cobbler’s Children Syndrome. While PRSSA boards are comprised largely of students studying for professions in the field of public relations, they are often so focused on programs and events that they neglect to put their public relations training into practice. Faculty advisers can provide valuable insight into public relations strategies and tactics to promote programs, drive membership, enhance fundraising efforts, and promote the great work of the Chapter across the campus and within the local community.
Breaking Down Barriers. Sometimes, making an event happen or taking it to the next level only takes a simple phone call or email from the Faculty Adviser. Advisers often have personal or professional connections that would otherwise be out of reach to students. Leveraging these connections can often help the board secure speakers, agency tours, or professionals for networking events that can take Chapter programming to new levels and create more exciting and impactful engagements for Chapter members.
Strategy. “If you build it, they will come.” A great movie, but a largely ineffective strategy. The most exciting panel or event will fall flat if you don’t promote it correctly. I’ve seen many great panels in my Chapter struggle to draw more than 30 attendees because the promotions were placed on the wrong channels. The Adviser brings years of experience in strategic communication and can help the board develop and implement the strategies for delivering impactful messaging to the target audiences on the platforms that they utilize.
Stability. Perhaps one of the most important roles of the faculty adviser is the stability they provide to the board, both throughout the year and into subsequent years. Advisers not only ensure a smooth transition from one board to the next, but they can bring best practices and lessons learned to each new board to help each board run more efficiently than the previous one. They can also bring a valuable third-party perspective to the students that can provide clarity and logic when the board is faced with challenges or opportunities.
There are several resources available to Faculty Advisers that can be of great value, regardless of whether they’ve served in the role for years or this is their first year. PRSA’s Tools for Advisers provides a variety of resources that guide advisers in ways to help strengthen Chapters. “The Buzz Session” — which I host two times each semester — and virtual town hall meetings — hosted by regionally-assigned members of the PRSSA National Faculty Advisory Council — provide Faculty Advisers an opportunity to discuss challenges and share best practices. I would also encourage Faculty Advisers to join the Faculty Advisers for PRSSA Chapters Facebook group to collaborate and share ideas throughout the year.
Ken Hagihara, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the PRSSA National Faculty Adviser and Faculty Adviser for the PRSSA Chapter at California State University, Fullerton. He is also the president of Integrity Public Relations, Inc., and a retired U.S. Navy public affairs officer.