For this faculty spotlight, we sat down with Ed Powers, Professor of Practice within the College of Professional Studies, about the Master of Science in Corporate and Organizational Communication program and his professional experience.
Ed Powers, Professor of the Practice for the MS in Corporate and Organizational Communication program, is an experienced corporate communications executive with a strong base in adult learning and curriculum development.
He began teaching at Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies on a part-time basis in 2008 and joined as a full-time faculty member in 2017. During his time at Northeastern, he has taught courses in 10 topic areas and was the architect for the Public and Media Relations concentration.
During his thirty-year career in the industry, Ed gained experience in nearly every facet of corporate communications, working for companies in half-a-dozen industries and serving as the chief communications officer for several billion-dollar organizations.
He holds a Doctorate of Education from Northeastern and a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. His unique combination of industry experience, academic training, and hands-on teaching enables him to provide students with powerful learning experiences in organizational communications and public relations. Outside of teaching, Ed’s personal interests including hiking, biking, walking, and spending time with his new granddaughter.
Q: First, an icebreaker: Tell us one fun fact about yourself or something most people don’t know about you.
I come from a family of 10 children. I was born after my mother had six girls in a row, so my wife says I’ve been completely spoiled.
Q: What drew you to the field of communication?
When I earned my bachelor’s degree, my plan was to become a high school teacher. However, I graduated during a recession, and most school systems at the time not only weren’t hiring, but they were also laying off teachers. I previously had been a reporter at a daily newspaper. I liked certain aspects of the job, such as the investigation and writing, but I knew it was not the career for me. A friend who had followed a similar academic path as mine had landed a job working at a public relations agency and told me my journalism skills were transferrable to the PR field. The best role I could get initially was as an unpaid intern at a PR agency. Yet, that led to a part-time job and ultimately to a full-time position. During that first year, I found I was hooked by the satisfaction of helping a company or organization increase its visibility through various forms of publicity.
Q: What is your specialty within the discipline?
My core skill is in public relations. Over the span of my 30-year career, though, I have gained experience in virtually every facet of integrated marketing communications.
Q: What makes this work meaningful to you?
Three aspects of the work stand out for me. One is creating quality communications content that effectively tells an organization’s story. Two is helping the organization build positive relationships with its key audiences. Three is gaining the trust and respect of leaders within the organization on the impact of public relations and marketing communications.
Q: Tell me more about your career before coming to NU.
I spent 30 years in the public relations and corporate communications field. I like to view my experience from three different perspectives. One is that I worked in multiple industries, including computers, construction, defense, paper, electric utility, and government research. I strongly believe that a public relations professional’s core skills are transferrable among different organizations.
Two is that during my career I’ve been involved in the many disciplines that make up public relations and corporate communications. These include media relations, employee communications, advertising, customer communications, speechwriting, community relations, and digital communications. The diversity of experience enables me to bring a broad perspective to my teaching.
Three is that I worked as an individual contributor, a team lead, a function manager, and a chief communications officer. Having performed these different roles, I can share my thoughts with students on how I might perform a project as a public relations employee and how I might evaluate a project as a public relations supervisor.
Q: What attracted you to Northeastern University and the College of Professional Studies?
I think Northeastern’s focus on experiential learning matches what students need to know to succeed in the workplace, which is fantastic. It fits perfectly with what I have to offer and with my personal philosophy on how learning occurs best. I am fortunate to have known my faculty director, Carl Zangerl, for many years through our mutual participation in professional associations. He offered me an opportunity to teach on a part-time basis and that led me to discover that I love the connection with students. It also led to the opportunity to join the College of Professional Studies as a full-time faculty member as the program matured and grew.
Q: What do you consider your biggest research or industry accomplishment(s) thus far?
I feel most proud of my role in helping to launch our capstone course, Projects for Professionals, which now is in its third year. This is truly a course in which students take what they have learned and see how well they can apply their knowledge to a real-life project. A student must assess the communications needs of a client organization and develop recommendations that the client can implement. To be effective, the student must develop a strong working relationship with the client, often overcoming resistance and other obstacles. It’s a challenging experience for the students, to say the least. I enjoy seeing students go through the cycle of being uncertain in the beginning, to starting to put the pieces of the puzzle together in the middle, to becoming self-confident in delivering well-grounded ideas during the final presentation.
Q: What courses are you teaching in the coming year?
I will be teaching Introduction to Public Relations, Advanced Public Relations Content, Ethical Issues in Organizational Communication, Managing Communication Resources, and Projects for Professionals.
Q: Can you describe one or two in more depth?
Introduction to Public Relations is a fun course that is part overview of the field, part review of key principles for successful PR programs, part review of successes and failures found in case studies, and part hands-on activities performed by junior-level PR staff. For the signature project, students must appear on camera as a company spokesperson, having first prepared talking points and anticipated likely press questions.
Q: Are you involved in experiential learning opportunities for your students? Can you share more about them?
I am very excited about a new program we are launching this fall that will provide a highly realistic experiential learning opportunity for students in our PR concentration. We are integrating four key elements, elevating experiential learning to a new level. The first is that we have created a virtual public relations firm that the students will join to work on actual client projects. The beauty of the virtual approach is that regardless of where they are based, our students will be able to participate in the firm. The second element is that we are running four core courses one right after the other. The significance is that the sequence matches the steps a public relations team would take in developing a campaign for a client. The third element is that we are working with one client throughout the four courses. We have done client work in the past on a class-by-class basis. This is the first time that we will work with a single organization in researching, developing, and executing their public relations plan. In essence, the client project builds from term to term. The fourth element is that our students will use the popular HubSpot marketing platform in performing work for the client. In doing so, they will gain experience in using a tool that adds to their marketable skills.
Q: Where do you see the future of your field headed? How can students prepare to meet the changing demands?
This is a fantastic time to be in the public relations field. The technology advances of the past two decades have transformed the industry and created abundant opportunities. Organizations of all sizes now realize they must have public relations professionals to tell their stories and protect their reputations. It’s no longer a “nice to have.”
The career advice I give to today’s students is to marry an understanding of what makes for effective organizational communications with a knowledge of how today’s technology opens up countless ways to communicate. The first part requires knowing your key audiences and developing content that matches their needs and wants. The second part requires more than just knowing how websites and social media work. It entails figuring out how to use the right channels in the right way to develop ongoing relationships with key audiences.
Q: What are you reading right now?
On the professional side, I’ve just read The Practice of Public Relations by Fraser Seitel. It’s the new textbook I will be using in my Introduction to Public Relations course this fall. The author has done a great job of working in examples of major public relations events and issues that have occurred during the past couple of years. On the pleasure side, I am reading The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. It’s about two brothers within an Indian family who are very close growing up but then take divergent paths as they reach young adulthood.
Q: What’s one industry-related book or publication that has influenced you?
This summer I read Authentic Marketing by Larry Weber, a leading voice in the public relations field. The main message is that companies today must have a purpose that demonstrates their benefit to society, not just through products or profits or jobs or charitable donations. Rather, the organization must be consciously thinking about how it can apply its resources to make a positive mark on society. The impetus is that the public, influenced in large measure by millennials, increasingly expects companies to play this role.
Q: What advice would you offer to prospective graduate students interested in the MS in Corporate and Organizational Communication program?
Once upon a time, public relations meant writing press releases, answering press calls, and perhaps helping prepare a speech for an executive. Today the field is so much broader. It includes social media, websites, blogs, videos, e-newsletters, community relations, employee communications, and more. My advice to students is to look at all the individual roles that fall under today’s PR umbrella. Choose the ones that best match your skills and interests. From there, become not just technically proficient, but also understand how what you do can support an organization in achieving its objectives. While PR skills are in high demand, being able to describe how your skills can make an impact will set you apart from other job seekers.
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