Samford University Howard College of Arts and Sciences students are graduating with real work experience thanks to the Department of Communication and Media's new Student PR/Ad Agency course. Students work with clients developing public relations campaigns as they would in post-graduate roles.
“Most students are familiar with social media and what influencers do,” communication and media professor Betsy Emmons said. “However, those are very small pieces of a job in the world of public relations or advertising. Clients have different communication needs and students get to stretch their strategic thinking and content skills in new ways through this class.”
This is the second semester the course has been offered at Samford. Emmons piloted the class last fall. Two of the five clients from last semester are working with the same students one-on-one for spring campaigns.
"We retained clients," Emmons said. "That speaks to the class's success. I am glad we got to do this, and I'm excited to see how the client projects turn out this spring."
Karlie Rosenberry is continuing her work with client Pat Grogan with the Commemorative Air Force, Birmingham Escadrille. It is a group of men and women who honor and preserve Central Alabama’s aviation history.
After meeting with Grogan for the first time, Rosenberry determined they needed help creating content for social media and promoting events to their current and prospective members.
"The campaign's goal was to revamp everything so that the maximum number of participants would want to get involved," Rosenberry said. "Most of our ideas for the campaign involved creating graphics that would catch the targeted audience's attention so the group could stand on their own once the campaign ended."
Rosenberry conducted a social media audit after the campaign. She found advancements on both the group's Facebook and Instagram accounts. However, the most significant outcome was the success of increasing attendance at their events as the semester progressed.
"Everything I did for this campaign was taught to me by Dr. Emmons, Dr. [Nia] Johnson or Dr. [Ignatius] Fosu from the communication and media department," Rosenberry said. "I was able to use different aspects of their classes to create material that would help the group effectively."
Students who didn't have a foundation in public relations like Rosenberry leaned on Emmons and their classmates for guidance.
"I was going into this blind," journalism and mass communications and French double major Kennedy Russell said. "I had not yet had some of the main classes for public relations. However, my partner and Dr. Emmons taught me so much throughout the class that it only enhanced what I had learned in the intro class I was taking simultaneously."
Russell enjoyed the experience so much that she is working with her client again this semester. Last fall, she helped the Southern Airways Birmingham chapter of Women in Aviation promote their annual Girls in Aviation Day event. Russell and her partner secured news segments on two Birmingham television stations, doubling the event's attendance from the previous year.
She shared, "This experience solidified that I do want to work in PR and showed me how much fun it is in this field. I discovered so much about PR that I didn't know I would. I stepped so far out of my comfort zone, reaching out to news stations and working with the chapter to create amazing things. My client allowed me to take some of my crazy ideas and make them into a reality. I cannot wait to work with them again this semester!"
Rosenberry agrees and is more confident about pursuing PR as a career, saying, "This class has been my favorite ever taken at Samford because of the experience and everything it taught me."
Although this pilot program is not part of Samford’s curriculum yet, Emmons hopes it will be in the future.
"Experiential learning is always important," Emmons said. "Classroom concepts come to life in new ways when applied to different clients, and just as importantly, skills like conducting client meetings, working through deadlines or edits with clients, and creating content for audiences are invaluable."