Communication is a powerful tool. Its impacts are tangible — from influencing opinion to motivating actions — and frequently shapes the outcomes of politics, business, economics, culture, finance, education and society. For these reasons and more, it’s essential that increasing diversity within the communications industry remain a central aim of both private and public organizations.
Last weekend, the Rochester Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) hosted its second-ever “PR Apprentice” program in partnership with the IBERO American Action League. Their collective efforts brought together diverse students from several of the Rochester area’s colleges and universities, including Rochester Institute of Technology, SUNY Brockport, SUNY Fredonia, Nazareth College and St. John Fisher College. Students’ ethnic backgrounds spanned African American, Asian American and Hispanic American.
Together, three student teams crafted proposals intended to help IBERO raise donations of books as well as public awareness around the issue of dual-language literacy in the Rochester area. The winning team’s pitch will be enacted by IBERO in 2016. Each team conducted research, established goals and objectives, developed strategies and tactical programs that employed both traditional and digital media. The results exceeded expectations.
Social Waves Communications, comprised of four students – three of whom are bilingual – focused on deepening parental engagement. Their recommendation included family nights, recurring recognition programs, and interactive events designed to help parents and children foster a culture of reading would translate into the home. The group even secured a pre-approved donation of 500 books from thrift store chain Savers.
Fred, Fields & Ferren, a marketing communications consultancy of three students, proposed a comprehensive community-wide campaign focused on the plight of illiteracy that affects large numbers of families – especially among minorities. The group anchored their pitch within nostalgia asking “What is your favorite childhood book?” This question also served as a way to tap into Rochester’s diverse network of social media influencers such as reporters, elected officials and lifestyle personalities. The group also proposed partnerships with businesses that would agree to house a drop box for donations of used and new books.
4Good, Inc. included three students and innately rooted their efforts in community engagement. Their campaign, ”Resolution Read/Resolutión Leer,” included a robust analysis of IBERO’s objectives, which enabled the team to reframe the challenge with an aggressive goal of more than 500 books. Centralized around National Reading Day in January 2016, the group’s proposal made use of the Rochester Amerks, the area’s minor league hockey team. Inspired by a previous event hosted by the sports team, 4Good, Inc. proposed a one-night book drive at Blue Cross Arena with appearances by characters from favorite children’s books such as Dora the Explorer and Curious George. Like Fred, Fields & Ferren, 4Good, Inc. also suggested the use of book drop boxes, however, they alternatively proposed area high schools as the program’s partner and sought to use the boxes as makeshift billboards to educate the public about IBERO’s mission and cause.
Each student-led “agency” brought a unique approach to the challenge. Social Waves embraced the existing strength of IBERO’s relationships with parents – more than 95 percent of parents already participate in the IBERO programs. Fred, Fields & Ferren put forth an ambitious yet inspired plan to promote a broader agenda for literacy amplified through social media by community leaders and influencers. Lastly, 4Good, Inc. delivered an authentic and realistic plan grounded in strong objectives, a focused timeline, and grassroots partnerships.
With the PR and communications industry acknowledging the need for greater diversity among its talent pool, the PR Apprentice program represents another small step toward progress.
While only one student-led agency could be declared the winner of PR Apprentice, all teams exhibited strengths and attributes required of contemporary communications professionals—intent to source research and data, an understanding that both digital and traditional media must work together in concert, and the desire to use public relations and media to advance positive change on behalf of an organization and the people it serves. Through the volunteer efforts of students, coaches, mentors, committee members and judges, IBERO American Action League, Rochester area colleges and the Rochester chapter of PRSA achieved a collective win for diversity in public relations and communications.