Public Relations Classroom Gains Experience with Real Clients

From practicing to professional, COMM 320: Strategic Planning in Public Relations asks students to hone career skills by working with organizations and businesses as they strategize and write on behalf of actual clients.

Being proactive is the driving force behind the communication course Strategic Planning in Public Relations (COMM 320), says professor Jack Appleman, adjunct professor in the communication department.

At the beginning of the semester, student groups select an organization or business for which to construct a semester-long strategic plan based on extensive research. Students are guided through a real introduction to the PR field while determining their own objectives and strategies through meetings with clients.

“Very few of us are inherently capable of coming up with a strategy that works,” says Christian Balmaseda ’13, who worked with MADRE, a nonprofit women’s advocacy group. “We hone these skills by practicing and failing, going back to the drawing board and having to adapt. A classroom environment gives students that opportunity to learn from failure without having a negative impact on their career.”

With much of the classwork conducted outside of the classroom, students use their three meeting hours a week to share their plans, ideas and conflicts with other students. Each group learns from the situations and strategic applications of their peers.

Having the chance to create and present a public relations plan to a real client is an important experience for students.

“There comes a point in college when what the teacher tells you to do becomes less important,” Appleman says. “I want to get them to embrace the field of PR and be proactive, to want to take the next step — not because the teacher told you to, but because it will enable you to be a better professional.”

In Appleman’s follow-up course, Advanced Public Relations (COMM 420), students are encouraged to continue with their clients by implementing their strategic plans and exerting consistently proactive approaches to their cases.

“By representing our own clients over the course of the semester, I anticipate Advanced PR will give me the independence to explore my creativity while learning how to effectively reach audiences,” says Kayla Mancuso ’13, who worked with the nonprofit Save Your City.

At the end of the semester, each group meets with their client to formally present their research and strategic plan.

“Having the chance to create and present a public relations plan to a real client is an important experience for students who are entering the professional field,” Lauren LoBello ’13 says.