The Summer Public Relations Professional Development Study GuideSuuuuummer time, and the livin’ is easy.

Ok, maybe not easy, but it is when most communications professionals take a deep breath and regroup a bit.

Clients and team members are on vacation.

Reporters and news cycles tend to be a bit slower.

And across the board, people are less focused, tempos shift down a notch, and many of us are either out of the office physically or mentally.

Which means it’s an absolutely fantastic time for some public relations professional development.

That’s why I always like to do a few posts at the beginning of summer, which help all of us (myself included) plan out our summertime public relations professional development strategies

Last year, I wrote about reading and writing tasks to help improve your creativity, word choice, and brain plasticity.

I also covered some online courses recommended by our Spin Sucks community. (I’ll update this one soon with everyone’s current favorite courses.)

This summer, I’m recommending some useful non-communications topics for you to dig into.

So class….let’s talk about history, psychology, and sociology.

Make History Part of Your Public Relations Professional Development

Communications professionals need to understand how and why people communicate and interact.

And we often don’t realize how the study of history can assist with that understanding.

Unsurprisingly, while communications channels and platforms have changed, human communication has not. 

Before there was Twitter, people still wrote “tweets.”

Before there was Facebook, we still had incidents motivated by “group think”.

As Lee Humphreys, Cornell assistant professor of communication, and the researcher who recently uncovered a series of 200-year-old “tweets” said, “We see people using new media for old problems that people have always had to think about and engage with.”

That’s one reason I often write about what we can learn from historical figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abe Lincoln.

What lessons from the past can inform your communications strategy today?

History—the Communications Pro Way

I’m a history nerd.

I love history….but even I sometimes have PTSD from reading through those 300 pound history books we had in school.

Which is why I tend to consume most of my history in audio form.

I listen to a fair amount of historical fiction and non-fiction, but these are my go-to podcasts for a nice 30 minute to one hour hit of public relations-related history:

Slow Burn looks at times of Presidential crisis. Season one is all about Watergate. Season two covers the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Since it’s produced by Slate, it digs deep into media, public opinion, and how communications changed the course of these events.

Revisionist History: Malcolm Gladwell offers a sociological slant on events, historical figures, and cultural phenomena that have been misunderstood or overlooked.

Backstory: The podcast features a topic people are talking about, and explores it through the lens of American history.

Communication, Psychology, and You

A few communications professionals and a psychologist walk into a bar…

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that psychology and communications go hand-in-hand.

And why psychology is a perfect subject to add to your public relations professional development list. 

We must understand why people do the things they do, and translate that into a solid communications strategy, with tactics and messaging targeted to create the desired action.

This is why we develop buyer personas.

Psychology also helps us grasp:

Emily Dickinson was right, the brain is wider than the sky, and it is the job of communications professionals to understand as much as possible about how to traverse it.

How to Get More Psychology in Your Life

There is so much psychology and neuromarketing content out there relevant to communications pros, it’s challenging to decide where to start.

So here’s my quick hit list.

See what resonates with you best:

Sociology and Social Media

Social media is simply sociology hopped up on tech.

Psychology helps communications professionals understand what motivates the individual mind.

Sociology helps us understand the what, why, and how of being social.

Digital media has changed the way society communicates and interacts.

Many sociology degrees now require a social media component.

The two are intertwined.

From word-of-mouth marketing to how social media affects social movements, you need to understand why societies behave the way they do.

You’ll cover a fair amount of sociology in the psychology and history resources provided above.

But here are some sites specifically focused on sociology:

Your TL;DR Public Relations Professional Development Guide

Need a TL;DR study guide?

You don’t have time, but want to take advantage of the broader viewpoint these study areas provide?

Here’s an easy way to get a bit more study-time in your life.

Do you have a Feedly or other RSS feed for your favorite communications and PR blogs (obviously including this one….)?

Add another stream specifically for non-PR focused educational materials.

Remember how in college you had to take those elective classes you scoffed at, thinking they’d be worthless?

And then you found they were some of the most valuable courses you took.

Think of this stream that way—it’s a necessary part of the curriculum for all communications professionals.

Aim to read one non-public relations article each day this summer.

Trust me, you’ll get so much out of it, you’ll probably start doing more.

Blogs to Make You Go Hmmmm….

Some of my favorites blogs to follow include:

  • Futurity: Curates research from the top universities in the areas of science, tech, health, the environment, and society and culture.
  • Harvard Business Review: I think we all know HBR is a great resource, but I particularly love their reading lists. They’ve curated all their best articles on different subjects, and they’re ready and waiting for you to dive in.
  • Mental Floss: Less research-based and more full of the types of things you’d find yourself pondering at 3 a.m., when you’re forced to get up and Google something, to ease your brain of the mystery (which is exactly how I found this blog to begin with).

Let’s Learn!

The moral of this story?

Being a communications professional means a commitment to never-ending learning.

And that learning MUST extend beyond the latest algorithm updates on Google, changes to the Facebook newsfeed, or best practices in media pitching.

It must be as comprehensive as the communications strategies you wish to develop.

As communications professionals, we must remain constantly curious about why we do what we do.

Studying these non-communications topics will help keep you at the top of your game.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is chief marketing officer for Spin Sucks, an integrated marketing communications firm that provides strategic counsel and professional development for in-house and agency communications teams. She is a weekly contributor for their award-winning blog of the same name. Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

View all posts by Laura Petrolino