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Student-Run Agencies: Changing the Industry

Published on March 25, 2021, at 12:34 p.m.  
by Mikaela Weis.

As a college student, the stress of trying to find summer internships or jobs can be overwhelming. Experience is everything for entry-level positions, and the competition for internships can be brutal. While college students are constantly searching for more experience to add to their résumés, many public relations students have turned to student-run agencies. Student-run agencies are a form of experiential learning, which offer hands-on experience to practice what you have learned in the classroom.

Experiential learning has become increasingly important in a variety of different fields. According to a study from Eagle’s Flight, while regular classroom experience workers have a retention rate of 5%, with added experiential learning, the retention rate skyrockets to close to 90%. From engineering students working with co-ops to communications students running their own agencies, this type of hands-on learning can help them navigate life after graduation.

Student-run agencies give public relations students the ability to hit the ground running when they enter the workforce, as well as bolster their résumés and add to their portfolios while still in school. These agencies are mutually beneficial for the students who work for them and the communities surrounding them. Many local businesses and nonprofits may not be able to afford big agencies to handle their communication efforts and turn to these student-run agencies instead to help build their brands.

With a position in these agencies, students learn skills from communicating with clients, to planning and implementing campaigns to working with or even managing a team. According to the same study from Eagle’s Flight, 70% of job knowledge is acquired through experience, and these agencies help develop that knowledge before students finish their education.

Paw Print Agency

Since 2018, The University of Georgia has housed Paw Print Agency. This agency is made up of 24 members and includes six executive board members. They serve a number of nonprofits around the Athens area, 11 in total since the agency started three years ago.

Photo courtesy of Paw Print Agency

For Meghan Telling, Paw Print Agency’s president, it’s about being able to give back to her community, as well as gaining experience. “My favorite part of being involved in this agency is being able to give back to the nonprofits that make the Athens community so great. Athens wouldn’t be what it is without these amazing organizations, and I’m glad we can help spread their messages.” Being able to work with other talented students to create impactful work for these organizations is a highlight for Telling.

In addition to her passion for helping her community, working for Paw Print has also helped her navigate her prospective career path. As she progressed in the agency from digital specialist to vice president of operations to the president of the agency, she has been able to determine what she may want to do post-graduation.

The Oaks Agency
Auburn University is home to The Oaks Agency, which started in January of 2020. It is made up of 43 members, who fall under the categories of account management, social media, finance and administration, executive board and design. Currently, the agency has six clients, ranging from auto repair to high-end boutiques.

Alyssa Turner, firm director of The Oaks Agency, said the experience she has gained from this agency is invaluable. “By joining a student-run agency, students gain real-world experience by deploying strategic communication tools that help establish, maintain and promote the brands of local businesses,” she said.

Prior to entering the workforce, students can benefit from joining the agency. Students being able to learn from each other is a big part of agency life, according to Terri Knight, faculty adviser for The Oaks Agency. “These students learn from each other, so we have freshmen and sophomores who aren’t even in PR classes yet already learning the processes, so they will be light-years ahead of those that aren’t a part of the agency.”

Witnessing the students bounce ideas off of each other and transform the creativity and effectiveness of campaigns is one of the favorite things about the agency for both Turner and Knight. Being able to see the difference multiple minds make instead of just one on a campaign has made Turner more appreciative of the collaborative workspace offered by The Oaks Agency.

Photo courtesy of The Oaks Agency

Knight was the one who created The Oaks Agency in the fall of 2019, after attending PRSA and PRSSA conferences and seeing the firsthand benefits they provide to students.

“These students handle everything from initial meetings with potential clients to signing contracts, working day-to-day with them, and developing campaigns and content that will really be used,” said Knight.

Summer internships are a great way to enhance one’s résumé, but for those looking for a more permanent position, student-run agencies may be a great option. Being able to work with like-minded creative students on real campaigns can be irreplaceable when looking to join the workforce. It can provide valuable work to the students and their communities, as well as a great way to make long-lasting connections.

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