A critical point that many hiring companies often bring up is the lack of practical experience among new graduates. This observation does not apply for public relations majors at Illinois State University. Those students get the opportunity to apply what they have learned as part of their capstone classes.
A case in point is COM 377 Public Relations Campaigns taught by Associate Professor Rebecca Hayes. COM 377 gets students out of the classroom and into the community, working on behalf of a local small business or a nonprofit client.
After two months of preparing the students with the skills and knowledge needed to develop a solid public relations campaign, the second half of the semester focuses on meeting the client and getting a better understanding of the client’s needs and goals.
“The value of this class project is getting students practical experience in a safe and supportive environment,” Hayes said.
Besides giving the students this valuable experience, the community also benefits from this project. Hayes seeks to develop partnerships with clients that otherwise might not have the time or financial means to hire someone to help them reach their public relations goals. These clients usually are nonprofit organizations or small local businesses. Past clients include Main Street Yoga, Sugar Mama Cupcakes, and the Bloomington-Normal YMCA.
Although the client varies every semester, the structure of the course is the same. Within every class, the students divide into five campaign teams competing against each other as public relations agencies. During the second half of the semester the teams apply what they learned about effective campaign design during the first half of the semester to develop public relations campaigns for the client. The teams pitch their final campaign designs to the client during the last week of the semester. The client gets to choose the winner during finals week.
“For the winning team, it’s a big deal with a long-lasting effect,” Hayes said. “People keep on talking about this achievement, ‘winning the class,’ even years later.”
Beyond the grade earned for the project, often at least one of the students may become an intern for the client to carry out the winning campaign.
“I enjoy this class project greatly because I really get to know the students and the students make connections in the community by representing ISU very well,” Hayes explained. “This project is a confidence piece for all the students and a great piece for their portfolios.”
Hiring a School of Communication Redbird definitely has its advantages, thanks to class projects like this one that directly blend theoretical understanding with pragmatic matters of effective and ethical public relations.
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