A house gets built. Holiday trees get trimmed. Meanwhile Georgia College undergrads build their futures, trimming resumes with real-life experience of a student-run public relations agency.
About 18 mass communication seniors are doing capstone projects – by working as a PR firm. Their task is to promote three nonprofits: Habitat for Humanity in Milledgeville-Baldwin County, Museum of Arts and Sciences in Macon and Life Enrichment Center in Milledgeville.
Another 30 students do publicity for three local businesses through SpectrumPR, part of Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). The family-owned, Milledgeville establishments – SweeTreats on West Hancock Street, Stacked Sandwiches on Columbia Street and The Market Collective on Wayne Street - appreciate the extra help.
“It’s a win-win situation,” said Samantha Smith of Snellville, who co-directs the club with fellow senior and mass communications major Michelle Dubin of Duluth.
“The businesses get free publicity by working with us, and we have everything to gain from the experience. It’s probably the most real-world experience you can get before getting a job,” Smith said.
Students bring a fresh perspective and boundless energy to businesses, said mass communications associate professor Dr. Kristin English. In return, they get a chance to work with real clients with real problems to solve.
Watching students create and implement a publicity plan in 13 weeks is one of English’s most satisfying moments as a teacher. She believes GC students can compete against graduates from any top program in the country.
With Capstone and SpectrumPR, students apply for positions, handing in resumes and cover letters. Some become account executives who communicate with clients, logistics managers in charge of time sheets, strategic coordinators who oversee progress, graphic designers creating art, editorial workers good at writing, social media specialists, event planners or photographers. They work 15 to 20 hours a week.
As a final project, students give a 15-minute presentation for clients, presenting a book of their work.
“If one of us slips, then we all can’t succeed. So it’s definitely real-life experience I feel we’re getting in the classroom,” said senior Veronica Ulicny of Roswell, assistant account executive for the museum group.
Ulicny thinks Georgia College provides opportunities she wouldn’t get elsewhere.
“So much of our individual confidence in ourselves is because our professors have instilled that in us,” Ulicny said. “They know our names. They know our skills and what we’re good at. They don’t know us as a number.”
Layne Newman of Glennville, a capstone account executive, said she’s graduating in December with a portfolio brimming with relevant experience.
That sentiment is echoed by senior Hannah Houston of Alpharetta, who serves as assistant account executive for the Habitat group. Experiences at Georgia College only deepened Houston’s conviction she chose the right field.
Students planned a ground-breaking ceremony for Habitat, wrote press releases, took photos and posted information on social media. This multifaceted aspect is what attracts Houston to public relations.
“I don’t want to sit and do the same thing every day,” she said. “PR gives me the opportunity to go out and have each day be a different experience and a chance to learn new things.”
SpectrumPR students created a website, designed t-shirts and produced fliers for SweeTreats. At Stacked Sandwiches, they made a wall poster and held contests on social media. They’re also planning an upcoming event, called “Sweater Weather and Handmade Art for the Soul,” for customers to meet local artists at The Market Collective.
At the Deep Roots Festival recently, capstone students raised $500 with an art raffle. That doubled last year’s proceeds for disabled adults at the Life Enrichment Center. Students are planning the center’s yearly spring function as well.
Next week, undergrads will take photos and videos at the 30th Festival of Trees at Macon’s arts and sciences museum. The holiday tradition includes about 25 trees and three functions, beginning with a luncheon Wednesday, Nov. 9. Students sent press releases, created membership packets and produced graphic designs for posters. They also used social media to increase attendance and generate excitement.
“Our main goal is to establish a connection with our audience. We’re not just pushing out irrelevant content. It’s stuff we think our audience wants to see,” Newman said.
Working with Georgia College students is “refreshing,” said Sherry Singleton, director of communications at the museum. Singleton said she learns as much as students, who come in each semester “brimming with great ideas.” Since 2014, the museum’s social following has more than doubled.
“Magically, at the end of the semester, we notice our marketing presence has become stronger,” said Singleton. “Not only has our viewership gone up, but people are commenting on social platforms in a very positive way.”
Habitat’s big student boost will be Nov. 17 on Georgia Gives Day, as students attempt to raise $25,000 as part of a statewide effort to raise funds for nonprofits. Promoted on social media, donations are made through the Georgia Gives Day website.
Murali Thirumal, executive director for Baldwin County’s Habitat chapter, said students consistently raise tens of thousands of dollars each year.
“The knowledge and skills applied by Dr. English’s class to solve real-world issues for us,” Thirumal said, “is top notch.”