A Recap on our Experience with a Service Learning Course

It has been a whirl-wind of a semester working with a real-life client, Youth Oasis Children’s Shelter, and fellow public relations seniors. I have never felt as much of a taste for the real world, post-graduation as I have during the past four months. From trying to find a time to meet between seven busy students, to communicating with professionals during overwhelming work hours, finding our “flow” was a struggle.

I think our biggest struggle starting out was getting past the world of hypotheticals. Our whole college careers have been spent working on projects for hypothetical clients, hypothetical campaigns and hypothetical products. That is where we were comfortable and willing to stay. As the semester rolled on we quickly realized that was not going to cut it. We had a client signed up and willing to take what we offered them. There were real people involved and very real budgets on the line. It was time to execute.

The moment this “clicked” for me was when I realized that if no one came to our kick-off event all of our time, efforts and client’s money would be wasted. I could not shake how embarrassing that would be from my head. Luckily it clicked for the rest of my group as well and we put our work into high-gear to get the right people to the event.

After long nights, countless emails, and a couple of drives to New Orleans to pick up donations, our event ended up being a huge success. We raised approximately $1,600 for Youth Oasis and made about 50 people aware of the services it offers. Below is a video recapping our event, Housing the Arts at Tin Roof Brewery:

Of course seeing the clients reaction after realizing how much money was raised and how many people came out to support them makes it all worth it. I wouldn’t take back the moment Youth Oasis’ director awkwardly hugged Marie-Therese in excitement as she looked terribly uncomfortable. Even the long drawn-out group meeting that seemed endless and unproductive will be some what missed. I do wish we had done things differently from the beginning, though.

I don’t know if we could be anymore prepared for this service learning class then we were in August, but I would urge professors in lower-level classes of Manship to stress how important this course is. It’s not only important to the students in it, but also to the Baton Rouge community. If taken seriously, this course could serve very deserving clients well, setting them up for success long after the students have graduated.


PR Tactics Worth Using and Evaluating

Working as students who are immersed in courses that highlight mass communication and public relations, I have noticed that PR tactics and channels are evolving as generations are continuing to develop. Social media is the more obvious example to this discussion, because we are in a society now where self-generated content has become normality and traditional news mediums have taken a backseat to newer platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. As the Account Liaison for Broad Magnolias, I have learned that a SWOT analysis is sometimes not enough. Other types of evaluations including a PR audit are also efficient when it comes to evaluating.

More specifically with Broad Magnolias, a PR tactic that I did not consider but feel is worth mentioning is to utilize your channels effectively. We had our research director produce press releases for our upcoming event, Housing the Arts, a silent auction we will host next week to raise awareness and funding. However, instead of creating direct press releases, it was advised to us last class to produce editorials that tie in with Youth Oasis and our organization. By composing editorials we would be remaining relevant and exposing ourselves and information to a broader audience.

Immediately after our first meeting with our client, Broad Magnolias began drafting an awareness survey to evaluate the local knowledge of Youth Oasis. Based on the results it can be concluded that not enough people know that the organization is only one of two in the entire state.

Youth Oasis does not consult media when hosting an event and we are hoping for a larger spanned audience because of such. Broad Magnolias will evaluate this based on our post-awareness survey, which will be distributed after our kickoff event, Housing the Arts. Going forward from our previous survey, our team will add more questions related to the specific event to gage if awareness was increased and also keep questions from the initial survey to determine how we should help Youth Oasis when it comes to communicating important facts about their organization to their publics.

As mentioned previously, we received great advice on editorials as well as tips regarding our GOST from our peers. A strong PR tactic is to communicate with the professionals around you; ask for advice, editing assistance and for contacts or general ideas. While this may not be an actual evaluation process, it allows for the same activity to take place.

While working with Youth Oasis, Broad Magnolias will prepare a social media strategy plan for the nonprofit organization. In the process of creating a strategy plan, an analysis of Youth Oasis’ current state is required. Youth Oasis currently has a Facebook and Twitter to complement their initial website. The latter deliverables mentioned are mediums for the Broad Magnolias to evaluate the three objectives Youth Oasis strives to achieve: awareness, acceptance and action.


Changes in PR Tactics: Modern vs. Traditional

Since the early days of public relations, the strategies and tactics utilized by PR professionals have changed many times. This is usually due to changes in technology, culture and public opinion. One early form of PR took place when nations around the world fought to abolish slavery hundreds of years ago. Another early form of public relations includes propaganda used by the U.S. and Germany during the world wars. The one similarity shared among all PR strategies is the need to spread a certain message and change public opinion, and the tactics that help to carry out these strategies change frequently.

A person who understands public relations should also understand the ongoing changes that occur in the media and PR world every day. For example, traditional PR tactics merely sent a message to key publics, and left it up to their publics to interpret the message and form their own decisions. Modern PR tactics are usually more conversational than traditional ones. Social media is a perfect example of this because it allows organizations to interact with their customers on a deeper level. Organizations can receive feedback from their key publics while also sending out their messages quickly and efficiently.

All PR professionals should understand how changes in PR strategies affect them and find a good balance between traditional and modern tactics. The press release and several other traditional PR tools are still relevant in the present day, so it is important for PR professionals to understand these. It is also important for professionals to understand modern PR tools like blogs and social media. The introduction of tools like blogs and social media allow PR practitioners to develop a more accurate and personalized message to send to their audience. Creating a more personalized message makes it easier for PR professionals to relate to their publics and create a positive image for their organizations

Broad Magnolias have utilized both modern and traditional forms of media in our campaign to raise awareness for Youth Oasis. Our team has utilized both print and digital media to help raise awareness for the organization and help them to continue growth and development even after we graduate from LSU. I believe that a truly great PR professional knows when it is best to utilize both modern and traditional media. When this concept is understood by an organization, it is easier for their PR practitioners to reach more than one audience.


The Best Lessons Are Not in the Classroom

Service learning can be defined as teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. This definition was taken from Learn and Serve America National Service Learning Clearinghouse. I interpret this definition to participating in service and reflecting in a matter that teaches character and evokes thought and discussion. Not everything that we as students are taught can be evaluated through a test, nor can be found in a textbook. It is through service learning that individuals are exposed to real-life situations and are usually granted the opportunity to assist in the resolution of such.

Broad Magnolias has been assigned to working with the non-profit organization Youth Oasis, a local Baton Rouge children’s center for runaway, homeless and emergency youth across the state. Youth Oasis currently is one of two centers housing children in the state.We chose to work with Youth Oasis because this organization serves a great cause and deserves more attention in such a thriving society. In Louisiana there are approximately 5,200 people living without homes (Homeless Research Institue, 2013).

LSU maintains the objective of a commitment to our community and that statement holds more weight than just to LSU students and faculty. Broad Magnolias seeks “to contribute positively to the life of the campus and surrounding community,” just as one of LSU’s pillars better describes. I firmly believe that it is because of service learning that we are able to achieve the objective presented by our university.

LSU offers service learning as an external opportunity to participate in free of charge with Campus Life through activities such as Leadership Exchange; where students spend the semester studying and discussing HIV/AIDS or another decided topic. Mid-semester the Leadership Exchange group then meets with Loyola University or any other interested universities in the area to discuss the topic or theme at hand as well as participate in smaller service learning opportunities. The group finally presents their work collectively at the end of the semester to their peers. I participated in Leadership Exchange with LSU last semester and learned more than I could imagine on HIV/AIDS as well as supporting the cause locally in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, however not every student has time to add an extra-curricular to their schedule. Being granted the opportunity to work with a non-profit through a service-learning course within one’s major is a formidable experience.