Posted At: November 4, 2013 9:00 a.m.
by Courtney Cox
The job market for those pursuing a career in public relations can be very competitive. Experience in the field and an impressive portfolio are necessities for recent graduates searching for employment, as well as for current students looking for internships. One way for students to gain hands-on experience and build a portfolio while in school is through working for their university’s student-run public relations firm.
Student-run firms benefit students by providing them with the opportunity to design and implement campaigns for actual clients while enhancing their professional development. Students can also gain knowledge of basic business operations and learn how to work in a professional environment.
According to the PRSSA website, PRSSA chapters operate more than 100 student-run firms around the country. Among these, there are 34 firms that are currently designated PRSSA Nationally Affiliated. This recognition is given to the best and most successful student-run firms that demonstrate a “solid PRSSA/PRSA connection, a high level of professionalism and an effective structure.”
Among this list of elite student-run firms, Texas Tower PR at The University of Texas at Austin and Capstone Agency at The University of Alabama are two that have experienced tremendous growth and success during the past few years. The students’ clear dedication to providing quality services for clients and passion for the public relations industry make them both well deserving of recognition from PRSSA.
Texas Tower PR
Texas Tower PR, student-run firm at The University of Texas at Austin, has been PRSSA Nationally Affiliated since the spring of 2010. The mission of Texas Tower PR is “to provide quality services, partnerships and results to local Austin nonprofits” while giving students the opportunity to gain valuable experience.
“Relationships matter,” said Hugo Rojo, Texas Tower PR director and junior public relations major at UT Austin. “You may have all the tools and skills needed to thrive in the industry, but if there’s no desire to meet people and see others grow, you won’t be as successful.”
Texas Tower PR works exclusively for local nonprofit organizations in the Austin area and provides a wide range of services based on clients’ needs, such as social media strategies, content development, media relations, event planning and more.
“Our ‘community feel’ is what sets us apart from other student-run agencies around the country,” said Rojo. “We have a focus on celebrating nonprofits from the Austin area. This helps us fulfill our mission to be a purpose-driven organization.”
This year, Texas Tower PR has welcomed two nonprofits to its list of clients: The Energy Resource and Conservation Program at The University of Texas at Austin and the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. The firm has also worked with the equestrian therapy organization Minis and Friends, Cancer Support Community and the Latino theater group Teatro Vivo.
“We’ve been lucky to work with clients that believe we deliver quality work,” Rojo said.
Texas Tower PR has been recognized as the leading student organization providing community service in Austin, a legacy Rojo and his team are working to continue. During the past summer, the firm underwent a complete rebranding phase that included the launch of a totally redesigned website and establishment of the New Business department, which opens up an opportunity for potential new clients.
Rojo’s advice for students who may be considering joining a student-run firm is: “Do it. The friendships you build through teamwork teach you a lot about others and yourself. It’s a great way to get out of your comfort zone and truly apply what you learn in the classroom to real clients.”
Capstone Agency is an integrated communications firm at The University of Alabama “whose goal is to create campaigns and materials that are both innovative and effective.” Capstone is also a PRSSA Nationally Affiliated firm with 65 current members, a record-breaking number for the agency.
“Capstone Agency’s success stems from our position as students to provide fresh, creative ideas and our passion to create effective campaigns for our clients,” Firm Director Jacquie McMahon said. “The work environment is great and continues to improve each year as our agency processes become even more streamlined and organized.”
McMahon is a junior at UA, majoring in public relations with minors in business and communication studies. She joined Capstone Agency in the fall of her freshman year and previously held the position of assistant firm director before becoming firm director this year.
“Originally, I decided to join Capstone Agency as a freshman to get involved on campus and dive into the public relations field,” she said. “My experience since then has only increased my passion for the industry and my excitement to make this my full-time job.”
Capstone Agency offers creative design services, traditional media relations, digital services such as social media and website development, and account services to ensure clients are getting the best results possible. The six departments produce tailored, quality work for Capstone’s clients. For example, the New Business department discovers potential local and national clients, while the Insights department is responsible for formative research and evaluations of campaigns.
“Though our classes and professors at The University of Alabama are fantastic, there is nothing like real-world experience,” McMahon said. “Nothing prepares you for a client crisis or the fast-paced agency environment like experiencing it firsthand.”
Capstone Agency has partnered with a number of clients and hopes to add more to the list this year. The firm has provided services for several campus organizations and is continuing its involvement with the Student Health Center and UA’s Student Government Association. Capstone is also currently working on developing a new website and social media plan for The Alabama Board of Physical Therapy, an anti-bullying campaign for Tuscaloosa City Schools, and the LessThanUThink (LTUT) campaign.
LTUT is an anti-binge drinking campaign that has earned more than $124,000 and is the firm’s largest project to date. “LessThanUThink has provided great experience since Capstone took it on as a client in 2010,” McMahon said. “Our students have had the opportunity to film a public service announcement with former basketball star Shaquille O’Neal and manage media relations when that PSA premiered at the college football national championship.”
According to McMahon, the past three years of working for Capstone Agency have helped her develop professionally and taught her valuable skills that are crucial for a successful career in public relations.
“My involvement with Capstone has allowed me to continuously push my professional boundaries and learn more about the field,” she said. “It has not only provided me with opportunities to practice my skills, but it also has shown me the value of taking initiative.”
In addition to the great experience they afford, student-run firms can teach the value of being a team player and provide students with leadership skills that would make them an asset to any future employer.