Illinois State public relations students don’t have to wait until college ends to get real-world experience.

The senior capstone for public relations majors, led by School of Communication Professor Rebecca Hayes, requires that the students design a public relations campaign for a client. This year’s client was the Pontiac Office of Tourism. Previous clients have included Sugar Mama Bakery, Special Olympics Illinois, Homes of Hope, and Bike BloNo.

On April 30, six groups of Illinois State students presented their public relations campaigns to the Pontiac Office of Tourism. In the end, the group comprising myself, Ali Seys, Jessica Perri, Morgan Mallory, Maggie Ziemann, and Grace Johnson was chosen as the winner. Our plan will be implemented this summer in the city of Pontiac.

“This class allows seniors to use what they’ve learned over the past four years in service of the community, since we typically work with nonprofits and small startup businesses,” Hayes said. “This gives the clients public relations and advertising strategies that they might not have been able to afford otherwise.

“The most fun thing for me, and I think sometimes an equally motivating and terrifying thing for students, is that their work will actually be used by clients—and that gives students amazing pieces for their professional portfolios.”

The project began March 6 when Illinois State public relations alumna Liz Vincent ‘00 and Bob Karls from the Pontiac Office of Tourism requested that our class create a public relations campaign to increase hotel guests. We broke ourselves into six groups that began research immediately. We conducted surveys, interviews, and content analysis to gather information about the target audience and Pontiac. Our group even toured Pontiac to better understand the city and its residents.

Each group created objectives, strategies, and tactics best fit for the client. Some of these plans included trip packages, live concerts, billboards, social media plans, and internship programs.

The Pontiac Tourism Office chose this team's pr plan. Bridget Anders is second from right.

The Pontiac Tourism Office chose this team’s pr plan: Maggie Ziemann (left), Ali Seys, Jessica Perri, Grace Johnson, Bridget Anders, and Morgan Mallory.

Pitch day was both exciting and nerve-racking. As a group, we were excited to showcase our public relations campaign, but nervous for the same reason. We had less than 10 minutes to present almost eight weeks of work represented in a report of almost 50 pages to three Pontiac Office of Tourism representatives.

This class gave me and my classmates hands-on experience working with a real client and the confidence to do so in the industry after college. I can now say I have created a complete campaign from start to finish for an actual client.

To read more about research, creative expression, and scholarship at Illinois State University, follow @ISUResearch on Twitter and look for the inaugural issue of the Redbird Scholar. The University’s new biannual magazine focused on faculty and student research will be published in print and online for the first time in September.

Bridget Anders, who graduated in May with a degree in public relations, served as an editorial intern with University Marketing and Communications in spring 2015.