Author: Rand Nelson

Capstone Agency Participates in CreateAThon

The Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) selected Capstone Agency to participate in CreateAThon, a marketing marathon for local nonprofits, last weekend.

CreateAThon is a 24-hour pro bono marathon during which participants work through the night on campaigns that promote local nonprofit organizations, assisting their needs in communication solutions. Capstone Agency is one of two student-run agencies chosen to participate in PRSSA’s inaugural CreateAThon.

Because Capstone Agency is a self-funding organization, they primarily do work for paying clients. These clients help to fund the costs of the agency and provide student development opportunities that would otherwise be impossible.

“The chance to step back and do some meaningful work for so many clients at one time and produce deliverables in 24 hours is a good feeling and a service to these deserving nonprofits,” said Teri Henley, Capstone Agency Adviser. “It’s something I believe that we as communication professionals have a responsibility to do.”

During their CreateAThon, Capstone Agency completed work for seven local nonprofits, including: Tuscaloosa Metro Animal Shelter, First Presbyterian Church of Tuscaloosa, Alabama SPCAGood Samaritan Clinic, Arts ‘n Autism, Alabama Writer’s Conclave and Camp Fire Alabama. In all, students worked a collective 960 hours, an estimated $27,600 worth of client work.

“Our students are often running from the agency, to class, to work and managing their lives on their mobile devices,” said Henley. “For 24 hours the stepped away from all their obligations and truly focused face-to-face on the tasks at hand. I believe in that 24 hours they did some of the best work I have seen from our students.”

PRSSA’s CreateAThon started on Friday, March 3 and carried on until the following morning, when students presented their work. Website overhauls, communication toolkits, informational campaigns and an annual report were all constructed by students for clients in less than 24 hours.

“In every nonprofit presentation I saw, someone cried—in one case, it was me. The nonprofits were so thrilled and grateful for the help,” said Katie Gatti, firm director of Capstone Agency. “It was perhaps most exciting that each nonprofit partner felt we had accurately captured their vision and exceeded their expectations. That’s a big accomplishment for anyone, let alone a student group.”

To learn more about Capstone Agency, click here. To learn more about CreateAThon, click here.

PRSSA National President Holds Personal Branding Workshop for C&IS Students

PRSSA National President, Emma Finkbeiner met with 30 students from UA’s PRSSA Chapter and Capstone Agency for a workshop on personal branding while she was on campus last week for The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations’ annual board meeting.

The workshop included elements of branding to consider when crafting messages for social media, personal and portfolio websites, and LinkedIn. Finkbeiner used interactive methods to engage the students and encouraged them to be mindful of their personal and professional brands.

Finkbeiner, a graduate student at DePaul University, emphasized the importance of storytelling and being genuine—things that consumers seek in popular brands like Coca Cola, Ikea and Nike. According to Finkbeiner, what makes those brands so credible and exciting is similar to how students produce and share their unique voices and personal brands.

“Taking the time to discover and build a personal brand is vital to differentiating yourself in the marketplace,” Finkbeiner said. “If you work to find out what makes you valuable and different now, you will be that much more prepared by the time you graduate and begin the job search.”

A personal brand is how one represents his or her personal qualities, traits and experiences in a way that markets them. In this case, students use their personal brands to share interests, professional experiences and how they may fit into a certain organization’s culture for internships or employment opportunities. Finkbeiner emphasized the “Five R’s” of a personal brand, based on research from the Institute for Public Relations: Real, Relatable, Relevant, Resonate, Relationship.

“After hearing so much about the C&IS at the University of Alabama from friends and through PRSSA, I was thrilled to make my way down to Tuscaloosa for a visit,” Finkbeiner said. “From my tour of the college and in talking with some of the students, it was obvious that The University is providing really great experiential learning opportunities to its students.”

The Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), made up of over 11,500 students, is the premier student organization for public relations students across the country. UA’s PRSSA chapter, established in 1970, currently has over 180 chapter members, making it one of the largest chapters in the nation.

StoryCorps Partners with Alabama Public Radio

StoryCorps, a renowned nonprofit organization celebrating the stories of everyday Americans, will record interviews in Mobile as part of its cross-country MobileBooth tour. Having collected over 65,000 interviews from Americans in all 50 states, StoryCorps has gathered one of the largest single collection of human voices ever recorded.

StoryCorps’ MobileBooth—an Airstream trailer outfitted with a recording studio—is parked at Cooper River Side Park until March 10. Reservations can now be made by calling StoryCorps’ 24-hour, toll-free reservation line at 1-800-850-4406 or visiting storycorps.org. Reservations are available as of January 26.

StoryCorps has partnered with Alabama Public Radio (APR), a service of The University of Alabama to collect interviews with residents of the Gulf Coast. APR is broadcast on WHIL 91.3, Mobile’s NPR station. APR will air a selection of local interviews recorded in the StoryCorps MobileBooth and create special programs around the project.

With participant permission, all StoryCorps interviews will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

Alabama Public Radio hosted an opening day press event at Cooper Riverside Park on February 9 to introduce StoryCorps to the community and to allow press to interview StoryCorps staff and the first two sets of participants.

Alabama Public Radio is a network of public radio stations based in Tuscaloosa, Alabama housed by The University of Alabama’s Digital Media Center, a part of The College of Communication and Information Sciences.

SLIS’ Book Bonanza Awards $7,000 in Free Books

The University of Alabama’s School of Library and Information Studies will award over $7,000 in new children’s and young adult books to five school libraries in the Black Belt region of the state and one school library in an economically deprived area of Alabama outside of the Black Belt Region through its SLIS Book Bonanza for the Black Belt (and Beyond) program.

School librarians in the Black Belt counties of Alabama and other economically disadvantaged areas of the state are encouraged to apply for free books that will be awarded by Dr. Jamie C. Naidoo, associate professor in UA’s SLIS.

School librarians may download and complete the application sheet and email it to Naidoo with “Book Bonanza” in the subject line or fax it to 205/348-3746. Applications must be received no later than midnight Monday, Feb. 20. Applications are available on the program website here.

Six winning school libraries will be selected by Feb. 24. Each winning school library will receive more $1,000 worth of free children’s or young adult books. Once notified, winning school librarians will have until March 31 to claim their free books from SLIS. Books must be picked up in Tuscaloosa.

Started in 2009, the SLIS Book Bonanza for the Black Belt is an annual program that provides free books to school libraries in the Black Belt region each academic year. For additional information about the program, visit the program website here.

The University of Alabama’s School of Library and Information Studies is a part of the College of Communication and Information Sciences.


Update:

February 22, 2017

SLIS’ Book Bonanza for the Black Belt (and Beyond) program awarded a total of $22,641 in new, free books to elementary, middle, and high school libraries across Alabama.

Book Bonanza Black Belt Winners:

Gordo High School, serving grades 7-12 (Pickens County), Librarian Heather Perrigin
Greensboro Middle School, serving grades 6-8 (Hale County), Librarian Elaine Pugh
Payne Elementary School, serving graded K-5 (Dallas County), Librarian Julie Johnson
Sidney Lanier High School, serving grades 9-12 (Montgomery County), Librarian Yolanda Huntley
Southside Primary School, serving grades K-2 (Dallas County), Librarian Monica Gayle
Valley Grande Elementary School, serving grades PreK-6 (Dallas County), Librarian Brenda Powell

Book Bonanza Beyond Winners:

Central Elementary School, serving grades K-5 (Tuscaloosa County), Librarian Stephanie Frost
Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, serving grades PreK-5 (Tuscaloosa County), Librarian Sandra Perteet-Plenty

SLIS Names Dr. James K. Elmborg New Director

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The University of Alabama’s School of Library and Information Studies has named Dr. James K. Elmborg its new director.

Elmborg comes to UA from his professorship at the University of Iowa, where he formerly served as director of the School of Library and Information Science from 2006 to 2011.

At more than $3 million dollars in external funding, Elmborg has an established record of securing grants and managing large-scale, collaborative initiatives. He has made a name for himself in the fields of critical information literacy and digital humanities.

Elmborg received his doctorate from the University of Kansas in 1995. He is the author of two books: Centers for Learning: Libraries and Writing Centers in Collaboration, and A Pageant of Its Time: Edward Dorn’s Slinger and the Sixties.

C&IS’ Katie Gatti a Finalist for PRWeek PR Student of the Year

Katie Gatti was selected as a finalist for Public Relations Student of the Year in the 2017 PRWeek Award. The senior, majoring in public relations, serves as director of the Capstone Agency, a nationally affiliated, student-run, integrated communications firm housed in the department of advertising and public relations. She is the first UA student to be recognized for this honor.

“I’m shocked, honored and thrilled to have been named a finalist,” Gatti said. “I feel really fortunate to have the resources in C&IS to help me prepare for the next steps.”

If selected as a top-two finalist, she will be flown to New York in March for the PRWeek Awards, where the overall winner will be announced.

“Regardless of what happens, I’m just excited to have made it this far,” Gatti said. “I almost didn’t pursue it because it was a pretty laborious application process, but I just felt this strange compulsion to do it.”

The application process included a prompt that asked to create a launch campaign for a hypothetical spokesperson character for IKEA North America. The campaign had to be backed by comprehensive research, indicating precisely why this character was a good fit for the company. The next step for Gatti will be pitching the her campaign to a PRWeek news editor.

The criteria for judging entries include creativity, writing ability and an understanding of PR principles and strategy. The judges for this award include a PRWeek senior editor, an educator and an in-house PR department leader.

“I could not be prouder of Katie and am happy she is being recognized for her outstanding work,” said Dr. Joseph Phelps, department head of advertising and public relations. “She is clearly among the top PR students in the U.S., and it is because of great UA students such as Katie and outstanding faculty that this program has been, for seven of the last nine years, among the five finalists for PRWeek’s Education Program of the Year.”

2016 C&IS Dean’s Medal Ceremony

deans-medal-12-16Dean Nelson awarded The Dean’s Medal on Friday to C&IS Board of Visitors Member, Mr. William Brock Lewis. This was Dean Nelson’s first Dean’s Medal to award.

The award is given to individuals who exemplify the qualities of sustaining friendship, unsurpassed loyalty and dedication to the College of Communication and Information Sciences. Since its inception in 2002, only ten recipients have been awarded the Dean’s Medal.

“Mr. William Brock Lewis far exceeds our measures for this special award,” Dean Nelson said. “It has been a privilege to work with Bill since I was named Dean in July 2014.”

Lewis’ passion for excellence has played a monumental role in creating a sustainable brand for C&IS and in shaping its strategic plan. He has served on the C&IS Board of Visitors since 2011, serving as Chairman from 2015-2016. An alumnus of UA, Lewis served as editor to “Forum,” a national public relations magazine and was a leader in student organizations during his time as a student. He graduated with his bachelor of arts degree in 1969 and master of arts degree in 1971. In 1987, Lewis joined with Norma Hanson and Terry Slaughter to build the nationally acclaimed advertising and branding firm, SlaughterHanson.

The Rising Tide: Capstone Agency

capstone-agency-2The past two years have meant a lot for the Capstone Agency. The nationally affiliated, student-run firm brought home first place in the Bateman Case Study Competition, as well as the Teahan Chapter Award for best student-run firm. In a matter of a few years, the reputation of the Capstone Agency has gone from great to elite and this is not accidental.

The process of becoming the nation’s top firm has a support structure of intentionality, hard work and time. And still—with improvement being a fixed priority—the firm isn’t slowing down. The key way that Capstone Agency develops students is through the process of mentorship. Younger, less-experienced students are given opportunities to ask questions, to learn on the go and to spend time treading the footsteps of their similarly ambitious peers.

Katie Gatti, firm director, entered the firm as a second-semester freshman. Early on, she held agency office hours that put her in close proximity to senior firm members. Because of this, she’s a great example of just how far the mentorship experience can take you. Questions she asked about how to structure documents and when to apply for job postings would lead to bigger conversations that would shape not just her experience in Capstone Agency, but also the direction of the entire firm.

“Experiences that I had organically, I have tried to make a guarantee for our students,” Gatti said. “This year we’ve implemented doubled-up office hours to make sure that that experience is something that people are going to get for sure.”

These students are committed to finding opportunities to learn from one another. They also legitimately want to help each other. At a potluck dinner, there are two kinds of people: those who will brag about the “family secret” in their prized baked beans and those who will give you the entire recipe. Capstone Agency students are the latter.

“It is very much a culture of ‘a rising tide lifts all ships,’” Sonny Franks, Capstone Agency director of account services said, “because I know that ten years from now when I’m looking to make a career change… these connections that I’m making now are going to serve me so well.”

The agency has also begun offering workshops for their students to help them prepare for the workplace, put together resumes and market their experience in the agency to interested employers. These workshops are the direct result of conversations and eureka moments that older students had when they were the younger agency members.

“There has been a lot of organic mentorship, but we really are trying to create kind of that value added for our members because we ask a lot of them,” Franks said. “We really do want to make it as valuable of an experience as possible.”

The experience alone is far more than workshops and mentorship. Capstone Agency members are getting a real look at what it takes to work in a communications firm. Imagine being fresh out of college and headed into an interview for a big firm. How much better would it be to have real-life experience applicable to the job you’re applying for? This is the kind of opportunity that Capstone Agency is currently providing for its students.

“Professionally, I feel that I’m a leg up,” Gatti said. “[Interviewers] always want to know what you’re doing, what your role is, what experience you’ve gotten—and just being able to talk about that in a semi-coherent way has been extremely helpful.”

Being a nationally recognized communications firm may indicate to the casual observer that Capstone Agency is only for upper class students majoring in advertising and public relations, but the agency isn’t limited to these kinds of students. In fact, the current leadership encourages freshmen and sophomore students to apply, and the skillset isn’t limited to a particular field of study.

“If you’re a bright student, if you’re a fast learner and a good writer, it really doesn’t matter when [you apply],” Gatti said. “You could be a first semester freshman as long as you have the basic skills that are really just good for public relations.”

Mentorship and real-world experience aren’t the only things driving the firm forward. The friendships that Capstone Agency members have forged through all of their time together have given their working relationships an added benefit. These close-working relationships are more than passing friendships; they’re future contacts and partners in the communications industry.

“I think because we share these common passions, we have deeper relationships,” Gatti said.

Applications are officially open for next semester’s Capstone Agency members and will close on January 6. Dedicated, hard-working students who have strong aspirations for success and want to learn on the go are welcome to apply.

capstone-agency

Click here to access the Capstone Agency application. 

Secret Meals for Hungry Children raises over $100,000

secret-meals-gala-website-4Five years ago, Susy Daria’s upper-level APR class took on Secret Meals for Hungry Children as a client for a semester-long project. The program was started by Alabama Credit Union, and has provided weekend meals for thousands of children in the Tuscaloosa and Alabama community. The class was divided into teams and worked to brand, plan and execute a campaign that would fundraise for the charity. Working with Secret Meals for Hungry Children became a tradition, and eight semesters and countless creative executions later, Daria’s classes have contributed over $100,000 to address the issue of hunger in Alabama’s elementary school-aged children.

In order to celebrate the fundraising achievement, Susy Daria and a team of students including Sarah Jenks, Victoria Davis, Saxby Sperau, Danielle Castille and Caroline Doss worked to host the Secret Meals Grand Gala November 10 at NorthRiver Yacht Club.

“It’s incredible to see these students do good work for a good cause. Their passion and enthusiasm to give back within their chosen profession makes my job as an instructor infinitely easier,” Daria said.

Community sponsorships and partnerships allowed all proceeds from the evening to benefit the Secret Meals program, and a silent auction featured food, jewelry and artwork from local vendors.

“Our partners are so gracious, and they have made it easier for us to continue building relationships,” Caroline Doss said.

The student team hosted community supporters, current and past students, and their own family members, and helped educate guests about the nutritional gap that was created on weekends for nearly 20% of children who live below the poverty line in Alabama.

As the evening’s program kicked off, Sarah Jenks applauded the efforts of former students, “We would not have been able to give back as much as we have without the positive reputation of Secret Meals in the community.”

A slideshow and video compilation showcased the past five years, featuring snippets of what former students had learned and the events they had planned. Fundraisers such as “Hunger is no joke,” “Masterpieces for Meals,” “Secret Sips” and “Hunger Feeds,” raised awareness and money for the Secret Meals program.

Representatives from Secret Meals for Hungry Children thanked the APR classes for their dedication to the program, and Alabama Credit Union presented Susy Daria with an Apple Award, an honor reserved for an individual who has given selflessly to the Secret Meals for Hungry Children program.

“I am lucky to have been given this opportunity to work with a fantastic client and community of supporters,” Daria said during her acceptance speech with tears of happiness in her eyes. The Secret Meals Grand Gala marks the final fundraising event for the semester for Daria’s classes, and she could not think of a more appropriate way to celebrate the program’s past successes, and set a tone for the future.

Spotlight on PRCA

The UA student chapter of the Public Relations Council of Alabama hosted an event to honor American veterans. The C&IS student organization collaborated with an established cause, A Million Thanks, to sign holiday cards expressing gratitude to men and women who have served in the U. S. Military.

This is one of two annual service projects that PRCA does to give back to the community. It began with a desire to find an organization or cause that is meaningful and has a wide appeal to a variety of students. With Veteran’s Day in the month of November, this was the perfect opportunity.

“It’s something that everybody can connect to in some kind of way,” said Justin Washington, vice president of projects for PRCA UA. “Whether it’s a family member, or a friend—everyone knows somebody who has served in our military.”

While only one dollar was being asked to be able to sign a card, many students offered more. In addition to raising money for their cause, they were able to collect over fifty cards.

“Our veterans have done so much for us,” said Mary Catherine Molay, President of PRCA UA, “it’s the least we can do to give something back.”

Collaboration and unity are celebrated in the College of Information and Communication Sciences as core values. PRCA demonstrated these values through their work with A Million Thanks and their peers to proactively treat others with dignity and respect.

A Million Thanks began as a short-term, community service project to send a million cards and letters of appreciation. This has now grown into a full organization that grants the wishes of injured veterans, funds the education of fallen veteran’s children and continues to collect letters and cards of appreciation.

PRCA UA is an organization that give students an inside look into public relations as a career and a field of study. They are associated with a larger organization, PRCA of West Alabama.