EDITOR’S NOTE: Chapman University has so many fantastic programs at the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts that sometimes stories get lost in the shuffle. We wanted to showcase this great piece about our Public Relations and Advertising program from the Spring 2015 issue of In Production magazine because we felt it highlights everything that is great about the program.
Although learning a concept and taking a test to demonstrate that you know it can be difficult, taking what you learn in class and applying it in the real world can be, in some instances, “a constant, never-ending uphill battle,” says Rachel-Jean Firchau, a senior Public Relations and Advertising major.
Working with a real client is never simple. Working with people with differing points of view and facing limited time and money not to mention the simple realities of things not going the way you planned—are all part among the most frustrating—and best—learning experiences of getting out of the classroom and putting a PR plan into action. As ten students participating in this years’ Bateman Case Study Competition discovered, the rewards were very, very real, but they didn’t come easily.
Each year, the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) challenges students across the country to create a PR campaign on a given topic. This year’s client, Home Matters, is a national movement designed to promote the idea that every American should live in a safe, nurturing environment with access to education, health care, public spaces and community services. Key to this movement is increasing people’s engagement in their communities, because connecting neighbors can result in stronger, healthier and safer communities.
For Chapman’s PR students, developing practical ways to deliver this message presented some very real obstacles. Uyen Nguyen PRA ’16, learned that “getting refused is part of the process,” as her team approached potential partners in developing their campaign. The team developed a number of plans that they ultimately had to abandon as impractical given the time they had and the connections they didn’t have.
“In school we work on theoretical projects and get to spew out ideas, but half of those wouldn’t work or would be incredibly difficult to enact,” says Christian DeKay PRA ‘15. “It’s interesting to actually have to be rationally accountable to your creative side.”
Nguyen agrees. “The most creative idea cannot become a successful campaign if it does not align with the client’s goals, the market features, and the target audience’s characteristics,” she says. “Working for an actual client pressed our team to demonstrate the impacts of our campaign,” she adds. “If evaluation is the most overlooked component in classes, it is one of the most essential parts in a real campaign.”
For Nguyen, the process helped her see how PR people need to be effective storytellers to deliver a client’s messages and how telling a compelling story “is to subtly integrate different tactics, from writing, talking to filming and designing,” she says. “Therefore, a competent PR professional needs to be well-rounded. It does not mean that all PR specialists have to be excellent writers, speakers, filmmakers and designers, but it is very beneficial knowing how to work efficiently in all areas, and being able to tell your stories yourself.”
Implementation also means choosing the channels and routes that will best deliver your ideas and messages, says Firchau. That includes trying new tools, as DeKay explains. The project “definitely broadened my view of what the industry does. For example, I never would have thought a community service campaign would be a PR tool, but our event helped us to reach and influence hundreds more than we could have without it.”
The Results and Rewards
“The most rewarding moments were seeing how delighted the residents of Woodcrest and the employees of NWOC were with our final product,” says Firchau. “It was amazing to see how all our hard work was appreciated by those we set out to help. In particular, I was absolutely thrilled when I overheard some of the Woodcrest women gushing over the article (about their work) in the Fullerton Observer, knowing that I was the one that made that possible for them.”
For DeKay, the most personally rewarding part was “seeing the effects of what our service event accomplished; we were able to actually help community members firsthand, and we got to bring vastly different groups of people together to do it.”
And beyond the immediate rewards was a confirmation of choosing to study PR in the first place. As Nguyen puts it, “participating in the fast-paced, demanding and dynamic world of PR through Bateman has made me love this path even more.”
What They Did
The Good Neighbor Nation team addressed the divide between college students and residential neighbors that many campuses experience. Neighbors object to loud parties and parking problems; students often don’t think of the place they live for four years as home, but as only temporary. The team created a series of community service events to get Chapman students out into the community to show Orange neighbors that students care and want to connect.
The Meet Your Neighbor team worked directly with NeighborWorks Orange County, a non-profit that is part of the Home Matters movement. The team elected to get involved with a NeighborWorks community-building program in the low-income, largely Hispanic Woodcrest neighborhood of Fullerton. They created a number of social media training tools and conducted social media training to help local community leaders reach out to their neighbors and engage people in projects to improve the community. In addition, they recruited a team of Chapman documentary students to create an animated PSA to showcase the services offered by NeighborWorks and a longer character-based documentary on the same subject.