How do you get a hashtag to “trend”? How does a website show up on the first page of Google? How do you rally people of all ages behind a cause? These are the questions students in Adjunct Professor John Meredith’s Principles of Public Relations class asked last fall in their semester-long group project that consisted of identifying a nonprofit organization, making professional connections, studying the current PR, and creating a proposal for improvement. Professor Meredith has been assigning this project for seven years. “HBU’s mission focuses on ‘A Higher Education,’ so helping nonprofits provides the students with practical experience while helping the lives of the clients that the nonprofits serve.”
One student group chose to connect with Souper Bowl of Caring, a national organization headquartered in Houston that used the hype of the Super Bowl to mobilize those looking to fight hunger and poverty in their local communities. The nonprofit encouraged groups to take up a collection around the Super Bowl and then give 100 percent of their collection to a local hunger-relief charity.
After meeting the Souper Bowl of Caring team, the student group studied every aspect of the non-profit’s marketing and PR. Then they developed a social media plan, but the task proved more difficult than they had anticipated. Using social media for their own personal lives came naturally, but the transition to strategizing for a company was foreign. The student group also began to understand branding, name recognition and the cost of acquiring a famous spokesperson.
“There are people who are really passionate about this cause,” said team leader Shayla Kuykendall, a junior at HBU. “But trying to reach or even find those individuals is a challenge.” The student group even volunteered at a Souper Bowl of Caring media training day at which HBU Professor Joshua Sikora, along with several Cinema & New Media Arts students, helped high schoolers from the nonprofit’s Student Advisory Board practice on-camera mock interviews. In December the student group provided a proposal with several PR models for the Souper Bowl of Caring team to implement.
South Texas Field Director Meredith Massey told The Pillars, “What I appreciated about HBU is that it wasn’t a paper that came to us at the end of the semester, but there was interaction throughout and those student members actually invested in our organization. Their time and creativity were highly valuable.”
Souper Bowl of Caring saw more than $8 million in cash and food items raised for their cause.
At their final presentations, the student groups learned how their peers approached the project. One team studied WorkFaith Connection, an organization devoted to training disadvantaged job seekers, and presented several ideas at the nonprofit’s board meeting. Another team worked with ReStore, a division of Habitat for Humanity, and dove into the worlds of website management, Internet reputation, and the legal back-end of nonprofit work.
The PR students served Houston nonprofits while developing essential and marketable job skills. The project produced a final work product that students can show potential employers, and the collaborative nature of the project highlighted the importance of teamwork. Houston served as the perfect setting for such a challenging assignment.