Professor Steve Manuel Offers More Than Just PR Lessons
Many, if not all, public relations students can probably recall their first public relations class: COMM 370. In a lecture hall filled with a couple hundred other students, public relations hopefuls remember the same few lessons: know how to write, never say no comment, and be informed. The class is praised for being dynamic and engaging, thanks to none other than Senior Lecturer of Communications Steve Manuel.
Manuel graduated from Penn State and has taught at the university since 1996. He currently teaches Public Relations, Crisis Communications, and Photojournalism. Before returning to Penn State to earn his Master’s degree in 1992 and then later instruct, Manuel built himself an impressive résumé in military public relations.
Manuel started his career as an enlisted marine and combat photographer for 12 years. After he was commissioned, he stayed within military public relations including, most notably, serving as the spokesperson for the Department of Defense from 1992-1996. After working a full career, Manuel made the decision to retire from the Armed Forces and teach at Penn State to pass along his experience to students just starting to get into the field.
Despite his long career in public relations, he believes that the field hasn’t changed much. “PR hasn’t changed. What has changed is the speed at which you do it,” Manuel said. With the rise of social media, what used to be called the “golden hour” when responding to press is now the “golden minute,” which he stresses in his public relations class.
His experience has been the foundation for the popularity of his classes. Not only does he use the textbook and theory as the basis for the class, but he also uses his own personal experience to supplement it. “You have a textbook and you have theory… but it would be a really dry class just based on those,” said Manuel. “Here’s the book and here’s what I went through. There are exceptions to every rule.”
Anyone who has taken one of his classes can attest to the fact that at least once a class, the room erupts into laughter from his personal stories. “I somehow connect the anecdote to that particular topic of that day,” he said. Along with personal stories, Manuel uses videos of public events or public relations theories being executed in real life to show how something aligns with theories or what could go wrong.
With weekly quizzes on current events, Manuel stresses to his students the importance of knowing what’s going on in the world. “This is a field where you have to know what’s happening. You can’t advise a CEO if you don’t know what’s going on,” he said. Beyond current events being vital to a public relations career, Manuel stresses the importance of that being a factor in being able to intelligently speak to adults.
In addition to teaching, Manuel still keeps with his passion for photography. His military photojournalism background set him up for what he shoots today. His office is lined with some pictures of the people he’s met from traveling with the USO to shoot tours in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. He can also be found on campus shooting sporting events, especially football.
On every COMM 370 exam, Manuel asks what skill does any public relations person need. The answer is always the ability to write. He also stresses to his students to strike out the words “like” (out of context) and “can’t” from their vocabularies. With that, he wants students to focus on their strengths, but also acknowledge how they can use those strengths to improve upon their weaknesses. “You’re going to succeed on your strengths,” he said.
“There are certain things you can’t do…I can’t dunk on a 10 foot rim but I can lower it to six feet and slam dunk it – adjust, overcome.” Manuel said. For lasting advice for students, he stresses to never give up, don’t be afraid to ask for anything, and you don’t know what you can do until you’ve tried it.
“I’m not here to fool you…I’m here to challenge you and I’m here to teach you something.”