Published on November 19, 2019, at 5:20 p.m.
by Zoie Meystayer.
For public relations students, experience is everything — job opportunities begin and end with the length and quality of your résumé. Educators and professionals in the industry stress the importance of summer jobs or internships in order to gain valuable experience and portfolio additions. With these positions under their belt, future PR professionals can hit the ground running when they begin their first jobs, having learned many of the tasks prior to their first day of work.
Developing your skills and building your portfolio aren’t just limited to the summer months. There are many ways to put the things you learn in class into practice on campus. University organizations often need someone to run their social media and plan events, both great ways to contribute to the campus community as well as put your ideas and expertise to the test. Local businesses may be eager to accept the help of a rising PR pro to develop and publicize their brand.
In fact, schools are increasingly offering the opportunity to join student-run communications agencies. These agencies give students the chance to work with real clients under the guidance of their institution and its faculty. Student-run agencies are a great way for students to improve their skills and build their portfolios. In addition, they emulate the structure and work environment of real agency life, allowing future PR professionals to get a glimpse of how life could be post-grad.
According to Douglas J. Swanson, professor of communications at California State University-Fullerton, there are more than 150 student-run agencies in the United States. This means that universities are recognizing the need to better prepare students for the increasing demands of the workforce.
One of these organizations is Talking Dog, the full-service student-run advertising and public relations agency at the University of Georgia. Talking Dog works in collaboration with several nonprofit and for-profit clients in the Atlanta/Athens area, including Coca-Cola, Hotel Indigo and Second Helpings Atlanta.
“Talking Dog is like its own little family,” Hiba Rizvi, a senior at UGA and current co-director of Talking Dog, said. “It consists of the most brilliant and creative minds who put together meaningful work for clients that truly benefit from their efforts.” She elaborated that the organization prioritizes collaboration — that it’s an environment where everyone is willing to pitch in, even if they aren’t on the same client team.
Rizvi joined Talking Dog during the fall of her junior year. “I heard about it at a PRSSA event and thought it would be a great opportunity to get involved and gain experience with actual client work,” she explained. Now, she serves as co-director of the agency, specifically focusing on the public relations side of the multi-tasking organization. She advises client teams, serving as their first point of contact, and manages the agency’s 12-person board of directors.
Marquan Norris, Talking Dog’s director of communications, serves the agency by managing its social media and maintaining relationships with local and regional media outlets. He also advises a team of public relations specialists as they work for their client teams.
“This year, we decided to expand our numbers, so we have more clients than ever before,” Norris said. He explained that the agency approaches client work with strategy at the forefront. They begin by sitting with the client to discuss their goals and timeline, following up with a SWOT analysis to get the campaign moving in the right direction. After the initial analysis, the client team presents it to the entire agency in a massive brainstorm session designed to generate as many creative ideas and strategies as possible. This practice exemplifies Talking Dog’s collaborative culture, wherein everyone has an opportunity to contribute to every project.
When asked about Talking Dog’s greatest achievement, both Norris and Rizvi cited the agency’s collaboration with Second Helpings Atlanta, a nonprofit that strives to alleviate food insecurity in Atlanta, Georgia.
“I especially love working with Second Helpings Atlanta because, not only have they been incredibly kind, but I value working with service-based organizations so that we can give back in a way that we know how — through creativity and strategy,” Norris said. Last year, Talking Dog partnered with the organization and its annual #GivingTuesday campaign. Together, they raised over $18,000 to fight hunger, an increase of over $12,000 from the previous year.
As for the future, Rizvi has a few ideas. “We hope for the agency to eventually grow, be genuinely known as a place where members can feel at home and free to express themselves, and be recognized for their hard work by either getting experiential or internship credit,” she said.
Both students are living proof of the value that a student-run agency can add to students’ college experience as well as their résumés.
“A student-run firm in a university allows fresh minds to cultivate out-of-the-ordinary ideas with live feedback as they progress,” Rizvi noted. “Along with that, being in a university setting, we’re all in this together, at all hours, any time of the day. We see each other inside and outside of the agency, and being fellow members of Talking Dog with some of the brightest individuals allows for growth in so many more areas than just agency work.”
“Students should pursue membership in student-run agencies because it’s a great use of your time in school,” Norris added. “It’s essentially an internship, so you’re not only a member of an organization with plenty of networks, but you’re getting amazing résumé experience and working in real-world settings. You’re talking to clients, creating strategies and making results. You’ll leave college knowing that you know what you’re doing. It’s great preparation if you’re considering pursuing a role in an agency post-grad.”
In an industry where experience is everything, it can be intimidating trying to discern which opportunities are the best for you. There are so many ways for students to get their feet wet in this field, from running a food truck’s Instagram to joining a student-run agency like Talking Dog. With these organizations, undergrads can work with real clients on real campaigns, all supported by the university’s faculty and a whole slew of creative and hardworking students who are eager to make their mark. In this industry, that’s a good way to make your four years count — and you might even make some friends along the way.