How PR Students Kept the Campaign Rolling through a Pandemic

Alexis Hopper

May 12, 2020

A campaign capstone course is supposed to test the mettle of the soon-to-graduate students. Yet no one expected the trials the spring 2020 semester would bring.

With initiative and grit, students in the San Diego State University’s School of Journalism & Media Studies Professional Practices of Public Relations course took charge and pushed forward. As every PR capstone class does, the team served a client in creating, implementing and then evaluating a strategic plan.

Unlike their predecessors, the spring 2020 team did so during the largest global pandemic in more than 100 years.

“As the professor, I try push the seniors in the capstone outside of their comfort zone,” admitted Dr. Kaye Sweetser, APR+M, Fellow PRSA. “But this semester brought more challenges then I could ever have imagined. And at the end of the campaign, no matter what was thrown their way, this PR team adapted quickly and handled it like pros.”

The semester began in its typical way. A team of 17 JMS seniors was to represent the Glen M. Broom Center for Professional Development in Public Relations. As a part of their campaign in promoting the center named after the man considered the “professor of the profession,” they would put on the 3rd annual Allen H. Center Distinguished Lecture in Public Relations.

“We started our campaign with research to gain insights,” said Paige Biundo. “We found that there is room for growth in educating media professionals about the Broom Center. Digging deep into our insights we noticed that people who had been to Broom Center events previously had a very high view of us. That made it clear to us that having an event that could attract media professionals in the region would increase their view of the Broom Center.”

Securing a speaker with national interest, the team continued planning the Center Lecture based on insights from their survey, qualitative interviews and a competitor analysis. Everything was moving along like clockwork.

And then COVID-19 happened.

Less than a week before the event, the scheduled speaker CNN analyst and former Pentagon press secretary John Kirby was grounded due to travel restrictions by his employer. The team quickly adjusted, coordinating a video message from Kirby followed by a town hall format for the lecture instead.

At that point, California and SDSU began bracing for COVID. Social distancing policies were on the horizon. The Center Lecture turned out to be the last major public gathering on campus before stay at home orders took effect. The day after the lecture the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic.

Though the threat of the virus was looming, the team was still able to host a safe event with several health protocols in place. With 72 PR professionals, journalists and students from the Southern California attending the event, the PR team was able to practice crisis communication skills alongside their strategic planning.

Guided by their insights in preparing for the campaign, the PR team planned interactive events as a part of the lecture and created the networking opportunities PR practitioners desired. The PR team partnered with professional organizations in the region like chapters of Public Relations Society of America and the Society of Professional Journalists to promote the event. Media coverage ranged from ABC 10 and Times of San Diego to several community calendars.

“The results of the campaign surpassed all of our expectations,” said assistant research lead Natalie Smith. “We had our goal and understandably set realistic objectives, but we exponentially exceeded our objectives of increasing knowledge, engagement, reputation and willingness to be involved with the Broom Center.”

The team raised awareness of the center by 103% and that of its resources by 85%. They increased knowledge of the center’s namesake, Dr. Glen M. Broom, by 60%. Word-of-mouth about the Broom Center rose by 30%.

“The main goal of the campaign was to grow the center’s recognition and reputation among regional media professionals in public relations and journalism,” said Chelsea Heath, campaign messaging lead. “We did it. In fact, 5% of the people who attended the event were from outside of the San Diego area and shows the Broom Center moving toward being a regional resource.”

The Broom Center team attributes their preparation for their first campaign experience to SDSU’s public relations courses.

“Being involved with this campaign from inception to completion simulated a real-world PR environment,” said graphics lead Lexi Howder.

According to Howder, the campaign pushed the PR team “to work together and identify our team members’ strengths and weaknesses, a fundamental quality in the workplace.”

“There is no doubt that the class of 2020 is ready for the profession,” said Sweetser. “They showed that they can stay the course in moving strategically toward their campaign goals – even under immense pressure of a crisis. They didn’t just represent the Broom Center during this campaign, they embodied the center’s spirt and values by rolling their sleeves up and showing grit.”

The Broom Center spring 2020 PR team shared their final client presentation via Zoom on May 7 to end the semester. You can watch their campaign case study video.

The spring 2020 Broom Center PR team from JMS 585 Professional Practices in Public Relations included Alexis Hopper, Taylor Webster, Chelsea Heath, Paula Niederland, Cassidy Bartolo, Lexi Howder, Sabrina Basurto, Becca Lopez, Carla Platero, McKenna Wecker, Erendira Ibarra, Georgia Burge, Anyi Tong, Jillian Kopp, Melanie Reiter, Natalie Smith and Paige Biundo. They are all graduating, and ready to be hired.

How PR Students Kept the Campaign Rolling through a Pandemic
How PR Students Kept the Campaign Rolling through a Pandemic

A campaign capstone course is supposed to test the mettle of the soon-to-graduate students. Yet no one expected the trials the spring 2020 semester would bring.

With initiative and grit, students in the San Diego State University’s School of Journalism & Media Studies Professional Practices of Public Relations course took charge and pushed forward. As every PR capstone class does, the team served a client in creating, implementing and then evaluating a strategic plan.

Unlike their predecessors, the spring 2020 team did so during the largest global pandemic in more than 100 years.

“As the professor, I try push the seniors in the capstone outside of their comfort zone,” admitted Dr. Kaye Sweetser, APR+M, Fellow PRSA. “But this semester brought more challenges then I could ever have imagined. And at the end of the campaign, no matter what was thrown their way, this PR team adapted quickly and handled it like pros.”

The semester began in its typical way. A team of 17 JMS seniors was to represent the Glen M. Broom Center for Professional Development in Public Relations. As a part of their campaign in promoting the center named after the man considered the “professor of the profession,” they would put on the 3rd annual Allen H. Center Distinguished Lecture in Public Relations.

“We started our campaign with research to gain insights,” said Paige Biundo. “We found that there is room for growth in educating media professionals about the Broom Center. Digging deep into our insights we noticed that people who had been to Broom Center events previously had a very high view of us. That made it clear to us that having an event that could attract media professionals in the region would increase their view of the Broom Center.”

Securing a speaker with national interest, the team continued planning the Center Lecture based on insights from their survey, qualitative interviews and a competitor analysis. Everything was moving along like clockwork.

And then COVID-19 happened.

Less than a week before the event, the scheduled speaker CNN analyst and former Pentagon press secretary John Kirby was grounded due to travel restrictions by his employer. The team quickly adjusted, coordinating a video message from Kirby followed by a town hall format for the lecture instead.

At that point, California and SDSU began bracing for COVID. Social distancing policies were on the horizon. The Center Lecture turned out to be the last major public gathering on campus before stay at home orders took effect. The day after the lecture the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic.

Though the threat of the virus was looming, the team was still able to host a safe event with several health protocols in place. With 72 PR professionals, journalists and students from the Southern California attending the event, the PR team was able to practice crisis communication skills alongside their strategic planning.

Guided by their insights in preparing for the campaign, the PR team planned interactive events as a part of the lecture and created the networking opportunities PR practitioners desired. The PR team partnered with professional organizations in the region like chapters of Public Relations Society of America and the Society of Professional Journalists to promote the event. Media coverage ranged from ABC 10 and Times of San Diego to several community calendars.

“The results of the campaign surpassed all of our expectations,” said assistant research lead Natalie Smith. “We had our goal and understandably set realistic objectives, but we exponentially exceeded our objectives of increasing knowledge, engagement, reputation and willingness to be involved with the Broom Center.”

The team raised awareness of the center by 103% and that of its resources by 85%. They increased knowledge of the center’s namesake, Dr. Glen M. Broom, by 60%. Word-of-mouth about the Broom Center rose by 30%.

“The main goal of the campaign was to grow the center’s recognition and reputation among regional media professionals in public relations and journalism,” said Chelsea Heath, campaign messaging lead. “We did it. In fact, 5% of the people who attended the event were from outside of the San Diego area and shows the Broom Center moving toward being a regional resource.”

The Broom Center team attributes their preparation for their first campaign experience to SDSU’s public relations courses.

“Being involved with this campaign from inception to completion simulated a real-world PR environment,” said graphics lead Lexi Howder.

According to Howder, the campaign pushed the PR team “to work together and identify our team members’ strengths and weaknesses, a fundamental quality in the workplace.”

“There is no doubt that the class of 2020 is ready for the profession,” said Sweetser. “They showed that they can stay the course in moving strategically toward their campaign goals – even under immense pressure of a crisis. They didn’t just represent the Broom Center during this campaign, they embodied the center’s spirt and values by rolling their sleeves up and showing grit.”

The Broom Center spring 2020 PR team shared their final client presentation via Zoom on May 7 to end the semester. You can watch their campaign case study video.

The spring 2020 Broom Center PR team from JMS 585 Professional Practices in Public Relations included Alexis Hopper, Taylor Webster, Chelsea Heath, Paula Niederland, Cassidy Bartolo, Lexi Howder, Sabrina Basurto, Becca Lopez, Carla Platero, McKenna Wecker, Erendira Ibarra, Georgia Burge, Anyi Tong, Jillian Kopp, Melanie Reiter, Natalie Smith and Paige Biundo. They are all graduating, and ready to be hired.