PR & Journalism Education

Student-Run PR Firms: The Dos and Don’ts

When I heard about the opportunity to join Penn State’s first and only student-run public relations firm at our first PRSSA meeting last fall, I jumped at the chance. The opportunity has paid off. Doing public relations for businesses in downtown State College has been a great experience that has not only built up my resume but also has given me more confidence in my current internship because of my experience working with real clients.

However, my first year working with a student-run PR firm as an account associate definitely wasn’t always easy. We had clients who didn’t have enough for us to do, didn’t respond to our calls, or simply decided they didn’t need us after all.

Next fall, I’ll take over as Director of Business Affairs for Happy Valley Communications and am looking forward to the increased responsibility.

For those of you thinking about getting involved with a student-run PR firm, here are some dos and don’ts based on my experience thus far:

  • DO keep the firm separate from a PRSSA chapter your school may have. Too much cross over between the two could get confusing for those involved in both, and could make those involved in one but not the other feel awkward.
  • DO be choosy about who you take on as clients. If a student organization or a local business seems like it won’t have enough for your firm to do or can’t commit to the idea, don’t waste your and your members’ time.
  • DON’T be afraid to ask local business if they would be interested in your services. You’d be surprised how many well-established businesses would appreciate some free PR.
  • DO seek out a great advisor. Even someone who isn’t a PR professor, or a communications professor, for that matter, can be a good fit for your firm. Happy Valley Communications has an advisor from the Small Business Development Center at Penn State, and she’s been a terrific help as we navigate our first year of the firm.
  • DO treat the firm as a real PR firm, not as a club or organization. When dealing with real clients, you have to act as professionally as possible, whether they’re student organizations or businesses.
  • DON’T be afraid to be harsh when members of your firm mess up. The students who sign up and are hired for the firm are representing it to others, possibly local businesses, and you don’t want the fact that the firm is student-run to cloud that it is still a PR firm doing business.

Bottom line: Starting up or joining your school’s student-run PR firm can be a great experience. Even though you may hit some bumps along the way, it can help you in your future search for jobs or internships, give you more practice at public relations outside of your classes, and help you confirm whether or not public relations is the field you want to go into while still in school.

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