#RockTheFirm: Boston University’s PRLab
PRLab is currently working with 16 clients this semester at the regional and national levels. Some of the big name clients include Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and the United States Coast Guard. Locally, the PRLab works with multiple clients. The 7 Sisters Project is an organization that initiates positive and healthy conversations with girls ages 13-22 about avoiding stereotypes. Another client is Boston Blades, a women’s professional hockey team in Boston. Other clients include Goodwill Boston, Urban Art Bar and the One for Health Foundation.
Clients pay a fee of $200 at the beginning of the semester to the PRLab for their work. The fee includes an account team of three to six account executives and account supervisors, campaign planning, brand awareness strategies, media relations and budget planning for proposed strategies and tactics.
According to the PRLab website, “the fee also allows us to purchase the most up-to-date technology and software for the students to create successful PR strategies. The fee does not include printing of promotional materials, posters or brochures.”
The PRLab would like to work with professional sports teams in the Boston area, like the Celtics or the Patriots, even though their goal may not be attainable. For now, the group will continue to work hard and make an impact in the Boston area. Ideally, in 5-10 years, PRLab would like to grow in size and expand its client base to take on larger clients.
Amy Shanler, the PRLab faculty director, enjoys witnessing moments of success by the firm during crucial moments while dealing with multiple clients.
“One of my proudest moments was seeing how one account team overcame a major client obstacle. The client and team had different opinions about what consumers would pay for its services. I pushed the account team to conduct research that would resolve the issue. I could see the light spark in their eyes as understood the power of this third-party credibility,” Shanler said. “Then, after they presented the research results and insights gained to their client, the client also saw the light and made a major pricing change. I was so proud of the PRLab team, and I know this memory will always stay with them and me.”
Under the guidance of a faculty adviser, the PRLab has a strict structure to keep duties organized. Two presidents lead the group of students, along with a director of operations and director of client services underneath. Six account supervisors and six account executives round out the remaining positions.
Each week the PRLab meets in class on Mondays from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. The executive board additionally meets on Wednesdays from 3 to 4 p.m and holds individual office hours where team members can come talk to them. The two presidents spend an additional 10-12 hours per week. The directors devote 5-7 hours and supervisors spend 4-6. The executives have a choice to register for two or four credit hours. For two credits, students complete seven hours of work, and four credit hours requires 14 hours of work per week.
The PRLab website notes that in order to keep with the traditional PR agency feel, students must record their “billable” time each week to their account supervisors via time sheets. By the end of the semester, students will have completed three presentations: a midterm review that summarizes their client work to date, a professional portfolio that covers work done inside and outside of PRLab, and a final presentation that reviews their client work accomplished during the semester.
Some of the awards the firm has recently received include being ranked as a Top 10 School for Journalism, PR and Marketing by Fashionista, mention by BU Today for coverage during the 2012 Presidential election, and the BUPD’s Outstanding Support and Service Award.
About 50 students are involved in the PRLab this semester. BU students in the College of Communication are required to take a four-credit internship or register for four credits of PRLab. With no formal application, the class is open to all students interested in the real world experience. To become a part of the executive board, an interested student must submit a formal application and interview with the PRLab professor, Amy Shanler.
Kaela Asharin, the director of client services, described her experience with PRLab as an invaluable learning asset to her future career.
“PRLab isn’t like an internship a student has during college. They don’t make copies or do coffee runs — the students in this agency are doing work that they may not do, or only assist with, at an internship,” Asharin said. “They plan their own events, get their client’s stories published by the media and form relationships with professionals in the Boston community.”
Asharin said the students in PRLab are doing the same type of work and the same level of work that many PR professionals do on a daily basis. The hands-on experience dealing with clients and projects allows the PRLab students to have a leg up in the PR industry upon graduation.
Outside the lab
This semester, the PRLab is experimenting with a new project called PRo Bono. For a 24-hour block of time, the students will perform PR work pro bono (free of charge) for local nonprofit organizations in the Boston area. The PRLab will also partner with the advertising club, AdLab, on campus. Some of the work the students will offer includes working on the social media for the nonprofit, making media lists, pitching to the media and any advertising needs. The event will take place on December 11.
Outside of PRLab meetings, the students often attend their clients’ events and work to support their clients in and outside of designated meetings. The PRLab students come from all areas on campus including Greek life, sports teams and other clubs.