Gaining Real World ExPeRience

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Posted At: December 10, 2008 3:03 PM
by Brandi King

Having hands-on, real world experience when you graduate can be a valuable asset when entering the workforce. Most students gain that experience through internships or course work. However, with the competitive nature of the public relations industry, it becomes increasingly important to set yourself apart from others through other activities and attributes. Student-run PR firms provide students with the opportunity to have that real world experience, and set themselves apart from the rest by having actual PR firm or agency experience. Student-run PR firms offer qualities and experiences not always gained through internships or course work.

Student-run firms can be found at many colleges and universities throughout the nation and are nothing new. Firms like Ball State’s Cardinal Communications, the recipient of PRSSA’s 2008 Dr. F.H. Teahan National Chapter Award for Outstanding Chapter Firm, have been around for years. For 32 years, Cardinal Communications has worked with many local, state and national organizations. Similar to most firms Cardinal began with the goal of providing students with real world experience outside of what is learned in the classroom. “Students wanted to put their classroom knowledge to good use,” says Cardinal Communications Client Operations director Elaina Gemelas.

Unlike the traditional classroom setting, student-run firms are able to experience direct, face-to-face interaction with clients, the frustrations and obstacles that arise with most campaigns and working independently without the guidance of a professor. According to Theresa Henley, University of Alabama professor and faculty adviser for student-run firm Capstone Agency, in a classroom setting professors serve as buffers and may skew the assignment of developing a PR campaign to suit the class curriculum. However, in a student-run firm, students must learn on face real world problems and decisions without the professor as a buffer. However, most firms do have advisers who may assist when necessary.

Student-run PR firms provide a wide range of services. For instance Cardinal offers strategic public relations planning, communications research and design, branding and identity development, graphic design, web content and design, media planning, publications, employee relations, community relations and integrated marketing communications. “Cardinal Communications helps students build and enhance their skills through a variety of projects,” says Elaina Gemelas. Offering such varied and broad services affords students the opportunity to focus on the area of public relations that interests them most.

Like real PR firms or agencies, student-run firms follow structured chain of commands. For example, Cardinal Communications’ chain of command begins with three executives who oversee the firm’s operations; second are the senior account managers also know as SAMs who serve as group leaders; third are the account executives who are the right-hand men to the SAMs; and finally there are the account coordinators who make up the remainder of the group. Also, there is the faculty adviser who provides oversight for the firm.

With the title of a student-run PR firm comes the responsibility of maintaining ethical practices and being held accountable. The faculty adviser supervises such standards. The Public Relations Student Society of American also has set standards through which student-run PR firms can gain credibility and a sense of accreditation. If a firm meets the national standards and submits a PRSSA Progress Report, it can become a “National Affiliated PRSSA Student-Run Firm.” This affiliation supplies many benefits to the firm as well as its members. Because student-run firms are held to the same standards and principles of an actual firm, students are better prepared for a real-world firm.

Many student-run PR firms are recognized for their work and dedication throughout the nation. Along with Cardinal Communications, past recipients of the Dr. F.H. Teahan National Chapter Award for Outstanding Chapter Firm include Ohio University’s ImPRressions and University of Northern Iowa’s PRide. Florida A&M University’s PRodigy recently won two Capital City Florida Public Relations Association Awards.

For their hard work and dedication, students obtain several benefits with participating in a student-run firm. “The knowledge and professional development I’ve gained during my three years as a member have benefited me tremendously in my overall understanding of public relations and in classes,” says Gemelas. Students gain more than just experience. “The organization also has rewarded me with great friendships and networks,” Gemelas says.
E-mail Elaina Gemelas, Cardinal Communications client operations director

E-mail Theresa Henley, University of Alabama advertising and public relations instructor and Capstone Agency faculty adviser

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