Why They Kept Working Even When the Lights Went Out

Sydney Northcutt

May 15, 2020

It’s five minutes before your debut show. You’ve been preparing for years, developing your skills and practicing, practicing, practicing. For months, you’ve been thinking about the moment the curtains open and the spotlight shines on you. You’re in your dressing room, reciting your opening lines for the last time when the power in the building goes out.

But it’s your debut. The show must go on.

Sixteen public relations seniors from San Diego State University’s School of Journalism & Media Studies felt a similar way this semester when a global pandemic hit in the middle of their semester capstone project.

But if there’s one thing the team learned from their client, LA-based nonprofit Kids in the Spotlight, it’s that you might not be able to control the cards you’ve been dealt, but you can control what you do with it.

The women enrolled in the Professional Practices in Public Relations capstone course were tasked with creating a full public relations campaign for this organization.

“For most, this campaign experience is the first time the new practitioners have been able to see a campaign through from start to finish,” said Dr. Kaye Sweetser, APR+M, Fellow PRSA. “I want to provide a challenging yet safe space for our majors to test out their new skills before they get into their first full time positions.”

With dedicated mentoring from Sweetser, a dream client was the cherry on top for these future professionals.

KITS provides foster youth interested in the entertainment industry professional exposure and a way to process their trauma through artistic release. KITS enlists Hollywood’s best to teach these kids how to write, cast, direct and act in their own short-films through 15-week programs.

The semester began with research to illuminate the goal and objectives for the campaign. Primary and secondary research in the form of interviews, content analyses, competitor analyses and corporate matching research guided the team to a focus on social media rebranding, niche media coverage and corporate social responsibility partnerships.

“We were thrilled when KITS chose CSR partnerships as the main tactic for our campaign,” said Altoona, Pennsylvania native and team lead Aaliyah Alexander. “The opportunity to develop these kinds of partnerships will provide KITS with long-term sustainable funding. This tactic gives us the special opportunity to have an impact on many, many foster youth lives.”

Days after KITS chose CSR as the focus of the campaign, a global pandemic hit. Layoffs happened immediately. Unemployment skyrocketed. Businesses turned to their emergency funds to keep themselves afloat.

As a response, these women changed their method of pitching to reflect KITS’ value in the current state of the world. They turned to new geographical areas and niche media to find coverage and interested CSR officers.

Despite the challenges, the team exceeded their social media and media coverage calls to action objectives. Social media engagement increased by 115% from January to May 2020, and the calls to action present in media coverage increased by 40%.

“As of May 11, we earned local coverage through LA Downtown News and contributed to the Broom Center blog. Tige Charity, the Kids in the Spotlight founder, joined Anthony Trucks in his podcast,” said San Diego, California native and logistics lead Mariah Hugo.

“We also secured media coverage for the summer and potentially 2021. We contributed an article to Foster Focus magazine, a national publication focused on the foster care system. Charity recorded a podcast episode with Evan Pondel in April. She will talk to two other podcasts in the summer.”

Securing CSR partnership meetings was more difficult. When pitching, team members were often met with the response of interest in forming a relationship with KITS, but only after the pandemic subsides.

The team completed 81 CSR pitches and secured a meeting with a major corporation. The PR team is leaving KITS with pitching templates, a pitch deck and scripts they can customize and reuse.

The campaign’s impact on the organization will last longer than a semester.

“I was most impressed with how the team’s guidance when it came to branding, visually and verbally, helped improve our identity. And not just our public identity, but the identity we associate ourselves with as employees,” said KITS program director Martin Russell Johnson.

“Despite every roadblock standing in our way, we found a way to overcome and accomplish our goals,” said Silver City, New Mexico native and book lead Kiara Devine. “I had the opportunity to work with 15 brilliant women who inspired me every day. Through their persistence and grit my team taught me exactly what to do in the face of adversity.”

It’s a lesson the class of 2020 will take with them as they graduate and begin their careers as public relations professionals. Their show will go on.

“When planning a campaign you think of all the potential obstacles that could come into play, but you never think that you’ll have a global pandemic to deal with,” said Karly Nolan, human resources lead and Chandler, Arizona native. “We struggled. No doubt about it. But we came out on top.”

The Kids in the Spotlight spring 2020 PR team shared their final client presentation via Zoom on May 14 to end the semester. You can watch their campaign case study video.


The spring 2020 Kids in the Spotlight PR team from JMS 585 Professional Practices in Public Relations included Aaliyah Alexander, Karly Nolan, Emily Casha, Sydney Northcutt, Mariah Hugo, Julia Pappas, Kiara Devine, Natalie Borton, Paloma Zaizar, Maya AlZaben, Gabi Budihas, Olivia DiOrio, Lynzee Kaner, Sofia Bert, Jadyn Arnold and Sahara Velasqeuz. They are all graduating, and ready to be hired.


Why They Kept Working Even When the Lights Went Out
Why They Kept Working Even When the Lights Went Out

It’s five minutes before your debut show. You’ve been preparing for years, developing your skills and practicing, practicing, practicing. For months, you’ve been thinking about the moment the curtains open and the spotlight shines on you. You’re in your dressing room, reciting your opening lines for the last time when the power in the building goes out.

But it’s your debut. The show must go on.

Sixteen public relations seniors from San Diego State University’s School of Journalism & Media Studies felt a similar way this semester when a global pandemic hit in the middle of their semester capstone project.

But if there’s one thing the team learned from their client, LA-based nonprofit Kids in the Spotlight, it’s that you might not be able to control the cards you’ve been dealt, but you can control what you do with it.

The women enrolled in the Professional Practices in Public Relations capstone course were tasked with creating a full public relations campaign for this organization.

“For most, this campaign experience is the first time the new practitioners have been able to see a campaign through from start to finish,” said Dr. Kaye Sweetser, APR+M, Fellow PRSA. “I want to provide a challenging yet safe space for our majors to test out their new skills before they get into their first full time positions.”

With dedicated mentoring from Sweetser, a dream client was the cherry on top for these future professionals.

KITS provides foster youth interested in the entertainment industry professional exposure and a way to process their trauma through artistic release. KITS enlists Hollywood’s best to teach these kids how to write, cast, direct and act in their own short-films through 15-week programs.

The semester began with research to illuminate the goal and objectives for the campaign. Primary and secondary research in the form of interviews, content analyses, competitor analyses and corporate matching research guided the team to a focus on social media rebranding, niche media coverage and corporate social responsibility partnerships.

“We were thrilled when KITS chose CSR partnerships as the main tactic for our campaign,” said Altoona, Pennsylvania native and team lead Aaliyah Alexander. “The opportunity to develop these kinds of partnerships will provide KITS with long-term sustainable funding. This tactic gives us the special opportunity to have an impact on many, many foster youth lives.”

Days after KITS chose CSR as the focus of the campaign, a global pandemic hit. Layoffs happened immediately. Unemployment skyrocketed. Businesses turned to their emergency funds to keep themselves afloat.

As a response, these women changed their method of pitching to reflect KITS’ value in the current state of the world. They turned to new geographical areas and niche media to find coverage and interested CSR officers.

Despite the challenges, the team exceeded their social media and media coverage calls to action objectives. Social media engagement increased by 115% from January to May 2020, and the calls to action present in media coverage increased by 40%.

“As of May 11, we earned local coverage through LA Downtown News and contributed to the Broom Center blog. Tige Charity, the Kids in the Spotlight founder, joined Anthony Trucks in his podcast,” said San Diego, California native and logistics lead Mariah Hugo.

“We also secured media coverage for the summer and potentially 2021. We contributed an article to Foster Focus magazine, a national publication focused on the foster care system. Charity recorded a podcast episode with Evan Pondel in April. She will talk to two other podcasts in the summer.”

Securing CSR partnership meetings was more difficult. When pitching, team members were often met with the response of interest in forming a relationship with KITS, but only after the pandemic subsides.

The team completed 81 CSR pitches and secured a meeting with a major corporation. The PR team is leaving KITS with pitching templates, a pitch deck and scripts they can customize and reuse.

The campaign’s impact on the organization will last longer than a semester.

“I was most impressed with how the team’s guidance when it came to branding, visually and verbally, helped improve our identity. And not just our public identity, but the identity we associate ourselves with as employees,” said KITS program director Martin Russell Johnson.

“Despite every roadblock standing in our way, we found a way to overcome and accomplish our goals,” said Silver City, New Mexico native and book lead Kiara Devine. “I had the opportunity to work with 15 brilliant women who inspired me every day. Through their persistence and grit my team taught me exactly what to do in the face of adversity.”

It’s a lesson the class of 2020 will take with them as they graduate and begin their careers as public relations professionals. Their show will go on.

“When planning a campaign you think of all the potential obstacles that could come into play, but you never think that you’ll have a global pandemic to deal with,” said Karly Nolan, human resources lead and Chandler, Arizona native. “We struggled. No doubt about it. But we came out on top.”

The Kids in the Spotlight spring 2020 PR team shared their final client presentation via Zoom on May 14 to end the semester. You can watch their campaign case study video.


The spring 2020 Kids in the Spotlight PR team from JMS 585 Professional Practices in Public Relations included Aaliyah Alexander, Karly Nolan, Emily Casha, Sydney Northcutt, Mariah Hugo, Julia Pappas, Kiara Devine, Natalie Borton, Paloma Zaizar, Maya AlZaben, Gabi Budihas, Olivia DiOrio, Lynzee Kaner, Sofia Bert, Jadyn Arnold and Sahara Velasqeuz. They are all graduating, and ready to be hired.