Warhawk Spotlight: Public relations students give Fitzgerald Museum a boost

By AUM Advanced Public Relations  | June 20, 2016

Citizenship and Community: Student practitioners with The Department of Communication and Theatre’s advanced public relations course recently planned and executed a promotional campaign for the Fitzgerald Museum’s annual gala and silent auction.

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Patrons in period clothing hit the floor
to celebrate 'The Dancing Belle.'
(Photo by Saporsha Riley)

As many undergraduate students and recent college graduates will tell you, it is difficult to get experience in school that translates into desired career experience. For some, this can only come in the form of an internship. That was not the case this past semester for Auburn Montgomery public relations students.

The Department of Communication and Theatre’s advanced public relations course took a service-learning approach, giving students a deeper look at the field through conducting their own real-world campaign. The course doubled as a traditional class and amateur public relations firm. Their first client: The Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery.

Student practitioners planned and executed a promotional campaign for the museum’s annual gala and silent auction. The event is not only of cultural significance to the community but is also the museum’s greatest fundraising opportunity of the year.

“This was a high-stakes project,” said Dr. Dylan McLemore, a lecturer of Communication who taught the course. “The sustainability of a Montgomery landmark depended on the work of these student practitioners. That responsibility produces a much more tangible learning environment than a simulated classroom scenario.”

The class/firm developed a strategic plan and implemented it throughout the semester, leading up to the gala on April 30.

They also created a brand around the gala’s theme, “The Dancing Belle”; designed posters and invitations; and developed content for traditional and social media.

Their work appeared in the Montgomery Advertiser and in a live segment on WSFA’s Alabama Live, among many other media impressions.

The student-led campaign was an undisputed success for the Fitzgerald Museum. Gala attendance increased by roughly 40 percent, spurred by record advance ticket sales, raising $20,000 for the non-profit museum.

“They were extraordinarily diligent,” said Fitzgerald Museum Executive Director Will Thompson. “They took this seriously. When the rubber met the road, they showed up.”

Thompson credited the service-learning nature of the course for the outcome.

“I saw an engagement of students,” he said. “They were not only seeing course work, but seeing the result.”

Samantha Dunaway, a senior Public Relations major, volunteered at the gala. Many of the guests she interacted with were in awe at the turnout compared to previous years.

“I had many people who didn’t know I worked with the PR campaign just talk to me about how there were so many more people there than there had been before,” Dunaway said.

Dunaway herself was impressed by the visual spectacle of the event that she spent the entire semester writing about.

“I was expecting it to be nice and all, but it really blew me away,” she said. “It looked magical and set the whole night up perfectly.”

Students were divided into three teams: planning, design and writing.

Weekly campaign assignments were completed by everyone in the course and then sent to the corresponding teams for finalization. Final products were sent directly to the client.

“The idea was to give students experience in all aspects of a campaign, while also allowing them to focus on and take responsibility for an area of interest,” McLemore explained.

Rachael Fairchild, a senior Public Relations major, was on the planning team and played an integral role in getting word of the gala on the local news. She looked at the class as a chance to be a step ahead of job seekers after graduating in May.

“I think this experience will benefit fundraising for non-profit events in the future as well as promoting for campaigns of companies in marketing,” Fairchild said.

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Students designed posters and put them up
throughout Montgomery, including
at Dreamland Bar-B-Que. (Photo by Marlee Damrel)

Will Gardner, a senior Theatre major and member of the design team, gained a taste of what real public relations work would feel like. He felt the ever-present reality of deadlines.

“Learning to meet and network is important,” he said. “Scheduling and planning was something I learned to make more time to do.”

“It was a struggle to keep up with the necessary work while juggling other obligations,” said Zack Ashburn, a senior Public Relations major and member of the writing team. “However, the class managed to find the reason in the rhyme. In the midst of the work we encountered in preparation for the Fitzgerald Gala, we managed to see the bigger picture and take some valuable lessons to heart. It was definitely a learning experience.”

(Note: This article was produced by the writing team from Dr. McLemore’s public relations course.)

The writing team included:

  • Zack Ashburn (Senior, Public Relations)
  • Samantha Dunaway (Senior, Public Relations)
  • Clay Gully (Junior, Public Relations)
  • Nick Manoliu (Senior, Journalism)
  • Saporsha Riley (Junior, Journalism)
  • Katelyn Turner (Junior, Public Relations)

The planning team included:

  • Samantha Banks (Senior, Public Relations)
  • Paula Diaz (Junior, Journalism)
  • Rachael Fairchild (Senior, Public Relations)
  • Turner Griffin (Senior, Public Relations)
  • Nikki Headley (Junior, Public Relations)
  • Seneithia Parker (Junior, Public Relations)
  • Gavriel Williams (Senior, Organizational Leadership)

The design team included:

  • Chloe Bailey (Sophomore, Public Relations)
  • Marlee Damrel (Senior, Public Relations)
  • Will Gardner (Senior, Theatre)
  • Lavashti Moxey (Junior, Journalism)
  • Lalah Rountree (Junior, Journalism)

(Editor’s note: The Warhawk Spotlight features news about people, projects and programs at AUM that illustrate our Core Values. Need a refresher on our Core Values?)