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LSU Service-Learning Students Work to Get the Word Out

LSU mass communication seniors know that, whether they are promoting dancing or doughnuts, public relations is more than a series of campaigns – it is a pathway to community engagement.

Seniors in Associate Professor Jinx Broussard’s spring service-learning Public Relations Campaigns course became in-house consultants for four area non-profit agencies, serving audiences ranging from children who need role models to at-risk youth.

Because this was a service-learning course, these students in The Manship School of Mass Communication produced professional campaigns to meet the needs of community partners.

“It’s not easy to implement a full-fledged campaign for a real company,” Broussard said. “It’s easy to put the concepts down on paper, but it’s another thing to produce a genuine product. Reading it in the book is not the same as implementing it.”

Her students partnered with Big Buddy Program, an agency providing positive role models to children; Prescott Middle School; Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAGS), which teaches life skills to teen dropouts; and Youth Oasis, a program to assist at-risk youth.

“The students really became civically engaged, and they focused on social responsibility. Many did not know the problems encountered by various non-profits and the people they serve,” Broussard explained. “It was an eye opener – working for these different clients. The students got a deeper understanding of community problems and issues, and the role a public relations practitioner can play in addressing those needs. Students can do an internship at a public relations agency and never come in contact with community needs.”

Creating Successful PR Companies

Early in the semester the Center for Community Engagement, Learning, and Leadership, which facilitates service-learning at LSU, referred Broussard to non-profits in need of public relations expertise. The class then formed four groups, each developing a company name, a logo, and a statement of purpose.

“I also met with the students as a CEO would with a company,” Broussard said.

As the semester progressed, the companies brainstormed to develop public relations goals, strategies, objectives, and tactics. Students conducted research as a basis for planning, defined their client’s needs, and then tailored the message to reach stakeholders.

“I wanted to create as close to a real situation as I could, so I got them to work with other staff members,” Broussard explained. “They learned conflict management, how to brainstorm, how to agree and disagree, how to collaborate, and ultimately to implement a cohesive campaign.”

Throughout the semester, students debriefed through written and oral reflection, which reinforced their academic and civic learning.

Student Ricardo Jeffries of New Orleans said his group’s work was good career preparation.

“It helped prepare me for the real-life, around-the-clock, nature of the communications business,” Jeffries said. “We were accountable for our work.  We had to get it all done under tight deadlines, and we had to do it all while juggling our other classes and jobs.  It felt like the real deal.”

Dancing Toward Success

One group worked with Big Buddy to produce its first annual “Dancing with the Stars,” modeled after the television show and featuring former LSU basketball star Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden. LSU students helped turn the idea into a financial and public relations success.

Students attended rehearsals, wrote feature articles, produced a program booklet, and worked behind the scenes to assist celebrities and their dance instructor partners. The result – Big Buddy will bank more than $50,000 from the event, far exceeding its third-year goal for the project.

Gaylynne Mack, Big Buddy’s executive director, credits LSU students for helping to create awareness.

“We’ve set the bar for fundraisers. People weren’t sure how we were going to pull it off and neither were we,” Mack said. “It was a win-win for both the students and Big Buddy. The students got real-life experience. They got to see a project from beginning to end.

“It makes the learning, I think, more tangible. It was a win for us because we got all the work done for free, and it was the backbone of the success of the event. We could not have pulled it off without the help of the students.”

Jeffries said his group’s final presentation before the Big Buddy Director and fellow students was one of the most fulfilling aspects of the class.

“It was one of my proudest days as a student,” Jeffries said. “Everything I had learned in all the classes I had taken up to this point came together that day. The money and publicity we earned through our campaign will have a direct, positive impact on the youth of Baton Rouge.  Few class projects can be more fulfilling than that.”

Raising Public Awareness

Another company raised awareness for Prescott Middle School’s accomplishments. Wanda Crump, community relations facilitator for Prescott, said students created a newsletter, which updated area businesses and parents. They facilitated a fifth-grade orientation, stocking take-home bags for 200 prospective students, and soliciting door prizes for parents. Students also worked with “Doughnuts for Dads,” during which men from the community dedicated their time as father figures.

 “The students were able to take these events to another level,” Crump said. “They served as our own private, in-house public relations department. They helped us with time, energy, and money. They spent their own money, I found out later, in some cases to help us to get what we needed for these events.”

One company got valuable television coverage for the efforts of Jobs for America’s Graduates to help teens learn life skills.

“They brought to the table a professional aspect,” said LeMoyne Williams, chief workforce development officer for JAG.

Students conducted a Saturday awareness campaign at Cortana Mall and an open house for the public. The group also created a brochure, a T-shirt design, and media and information packets.

Youth Oasis had little public recognition for its program for at-risk youth before partnering with students.

“The social services agencies know us really well, but the community as a whole doesn’t,” said Alvin Smith, executive director. “They put some very important energy into helping us to become better known.”

Students conducted a complete campaign, including writing and distributing press releases, increasing volunteer recruitment, and constructing a public relations handbook.

Public Relations as Civic Engagement

Student Kara LaFleur of Kinder, Louisiana, said she saw how closely knit the Baton Rouge community can be.

“It was amazing to see the people of Baton Rouge come together for such a great cause. Knowing that my work with Big Buddy benefited a child in my community was very fulfilling,” said LaFleur.

“By working with my group members, I learned valuable real world lessons no classroom or text book could ever provide,” said Christina Bourg of Lafayette, “. . . everything from coordinating multiple schedules with multiple people, setting time lines and following them, preparing agendas for meeting, and just making sure you get whatever the client needs done.”

Student Sara McGinnis of New Orleans agreed. “I gained the experience of learning the day-to-day challenges of the public relations world … I know I have a lot more to learn, but now I have a good, step-by-step, hands-on process I can look back on to learn,” McGinnis said. “I really learned how to ‘think outside the box.’”

According to Broussard, many of her students want to remain involved in some aspect of community service now that the course is finished.

“My goal is to get students to become civically engaged and socially responsible,” Broussard said. “It’s not just learning how to do a public relations campaign. It’s learning how to do some good. Public relations, in this instance, is the tool through which they can do that good.”

Roxanne Dill | LSU Office of Public Affairs
Fall 2007


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