COVID-19 in the Industry: Dr. Patrick Bishop on Public Relations

One of the theories in self-development is the only way that we grow is outside of the comfort zone. This is definitely outside of the comfort zone.

Public relations is the communications function of all organizations, so it has been right in the middle of everything during this pandemic. Dr. Patrick Bishop, Professor and Public Relations Program Coordinator at Ferris State University, weighed in on the ways that COVID-19 is shaping the industry.

For one thing, news media and company emails are in no shortage right now. This means that the Public Relations industry is stepping up in new ways to convey the plethora of constantly evolving information.

Dr. Bishop also suggested that this could be a time to test and observe ideas taught in the classroom. One of the PR classes at Ferris is called Crisis Communication and deals with conveying information in the middle of something unexpected—like the spread of the COVID-19. He says it is important to remember the lessons we have learned in the classroom and observe if they are being applied in the real world.

Public Relations jobs are also adapting in the midst of the pandemic. In order to keep employees healthy, most PR positions have switched from office-centered to working from home. This means video platforms like Zoom, Facetime, and Microsoft Teams are being used and learned much more than they have been in the past. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, and Dr. Bishop explained that learning new methods of communication can help us, both personally and professionally. As he pointed out, “one of the theories in self-development is the only way that we grow is outside of the comfort zone. This is definitely outside of the comfort zone.”

I think we will be faced with a different communication environment.

Even after people are allowed to return to work, there will likely be some changes in the way the industry operates. “I think we will be faced with a different communication environment,” Dr. Bishop explained. “There is going to be a huge growth in the area of technical communication, but I also think people are realizing how important the human connection is.” In some ways, he even suggested that social distancing could actually help us to connect. Instead of isolating, he proposed that some individuals are using the time to connect with their community or start a conversation with individuals they don’t typically engage with.

Within the classroom, there are also numerous changes. Since all Ferris State courses have shifted to providing online content, it has been a huge adjustment to change the way students work. As a professor of a highly interactive course, Dr. Bishop is confronted with a special set of challenges in the transition. “We have to be more intentional now,” he explained in regard to student interaction both in the classroom and in student organizations. “We have to break through all of the noise, and really want to make happen.” In fact, many of his students are doing just that—enough so to make him consider more online class offerings for Public Relations in the future.

It’s been really cool to just be who we are, wherever we are.

So, despite all of the challenges, there are silver linings. “I think people are a little more forgiving right now…I think people are more likely to reach out to each other,” he said of the crisis. “We are also starting to get a combination of the work-life balance.” This is a result of video conferencing instead of meeting face to face; individuals get a glimpse into each other’s unique environments. In the past, work and personal life have been completely separate, but thanks to technology we are getting to know our peers and coworkers in a new light. In the words of Dr. Bishop, as he picked up his dog and held him up in front of his webcam, “I never would have been able to do this in the classroom. It’s been really cool to just be who we are, wherever we are.”

Program:

Public Relations