Shop Talk: Strategic Communication


Public Relations is commonly defined as the way a company communicates with the public and the media, a position that every company needs to survive. The SJMC offers, and has offered, various classes to prepare students who are interested in the industry of public relations and other related fields.

Currently, Associate Professor Frank Durham teaches “Strategic Communication Campaigns.” Before this, he worked as a public relations professional.

“Public relations professionals must be well read in the minute-to-minute news and be prepared to use and interpret social science research to develop strategies customized for clients,” Durham said.

“Public relations professionals must be able to write in a range of formats—perfectly and quickly,” Frank Durham said.

Looking Back

In the past two decades of his time at the SJMC, Durham has watched the strategic communications curriculum change to prepare students to enter the professional media world. He said students often blend courses from different media skillsets in creative ways to be more versatile in the marketplace.

Jen Swearingen (BA ’99), director of marketing for Elvis Presley Enterprises in Memphis, Tennessee, never considered a career in marketing when she graduated with a journalism degree. But when offered to her, this position combined something she was really interested in (Elvis) with the blended skillset she learned at Iowa.

Jen Swearingen promotes Elvis Presley’s Graceland.
Jen Swearingen promotes Elvis Presley’s Graceland.

“As a journalism major—and even working at The Daily Iowan as a reporter—I learned what it takes to communicate effectively,” said Swearingen. 

“Being able to effectively communicate with co-workers, consumers, executives, etc., played an important role in my success.” In her current role, the PR and marketing staff are all considered one team and work together on a daily basis, Swearingen said.

Eyes Facing Forward

Paul Jensen, the SJMC’s internship and placement coordinator, said he has seen the interest and placement in public relations positions trend significantly upward over the past decade.

Brandee Britt (BA ’15), the University of Iowa’s assistant director of Athletic Communications, was one example of that growing interest. She credits her journalism degree for much of her success today.

“I am forever grateful for my Iowa J-school education,” Britt said. “First and foremost, the J-school taught me how to write effectively and efficiently.” Britt said 90 percent of her job is writing, and many of the skills she uses, she learned as a journalism student. Britt also credits the Public Relations Campaigns class she took her senior year for giving her important hands-on experience.

“I can honestly say it was one of the best classes I took,” said Britt. “I had the opportunity to work with real-world clients.”

The most important skill a strategic communications professional can have according to all three experts? Being able to spread messages and communicate effectively. From Iowa City to Memphis and beyond, it has been proven that strategic communication is key. 

Brandee Britt covers a Hawkeye basketball game.