Real Clients, Real Rewards

Five students recently earned statewide recognition for helping local clients develop strategic communication plans.

Deanna Loew ’17 consults with Farm & Haus founder Patrick Lyne at the food service startup’s East End Market location. (Photo by Scott Cook) Deanna Loew ’17 consults with Farm & Haus founder Patrick Lyne at the food service startup’s East End Market location. (Photo by Scott Cook)

A few years ago, when communication professor Ted Gournelos was speaking at TED Global in Scotland, he had a pedagogical epiphany.

“I felt like teaching theory or social action alone wasn’t enough,” he says. “I wanted students to make a direct impact in a way that could actually provide them with empowering career experience.”

The result was COM 418: Advanced Public Relations. Taught in spring 2016, the class paired students with real-world clients to develop strategic communication plans that integrated marketing, PR, and advertising. Gournelos calls it one of the most challenging courses he’s ever designed—his pupils won’t argue—yet all the hard work produced multifaceted rewards.

Students networked and gained practical, hands-on skills that bolstered their resumes. Small, socially conscious local companies—all vetted by Gournelos—benefitted from in-depth reports that might have been beyond their financial means. And Rollins, for the first time, won two awards of distinction in the student projects division at the Florida Public Relations Association’s 2016 Golden Image Awards.

“To earn honors of this magnitude is really amazing,” Gournelos says. “It places us on the map in terms of a PR program that produces incredible work.”

The winning campaigns were submitted by Natalie Pickelsimer ’16 and Deanna Loew ’17, who worked with farm-to-table delivery service Farm & Haus, and Emil Sörebo ’16, Ryan Scanlan ’16, and Katie Rizzo ’17, who helped Fleet Farming, a nonprofit that transforms urban lawns into farm plots.

Farm & Haus: A Different Perspective
Based at Audubon Park’s East End Market, Farm & Haus is a startup owned by husband-and-wife team Patrick and Brittany Lyne. Using high-quality, seasonal ingredients, the company delivers freshly cooked weeknight dinners to customers in the vicinity of downtown Orlando.

Loew and Pickelsimer created a 70-page brand book that included everything from messaging tactics to mission-focused strategy. Now, the Lynes are implementing many of the team’s recommendations.

“Natalie and Deanna represented the College so incredibly well,” says Brittany Lyne. “They were extremely motivated, and that alone made us excited to work with them. The most beneficial aspect was getting a different perspective on the business. Natalie and Deanna were great about seeing who our target demographic was and making applicable recommendations.”

For Loew, who aspires to work in political communications, partnering with an actual business added an air of importance to the project.

“Advanced PR was probably the hardest class I’ve ever taken,” she says, “but it taught me a lot of people skills and presentation skills. As an undergrad, you’re constantly preparing for the workforce, and this class definitely gave me a lot more confidence in my professional abilities.”

Fleet Farming: Passionate Pedaling
Launched in 2014, Fleet Farming is an innovative, Orlando-based nonprofit that incentivizes homeowners to turn their often blighted lawns into vegetable gardens. Volunteers then harvest the crops, and a fleet of bicycle riders pedals them to area farmers markets and other venues.

After conducting industry research and doing in-person surveys, Sörebo, Scanlan, and Rizzo determined that targeting senior citizens and families with children—instead of primarily millennials—would be a more effective way for Fleet Farming to grow its volunteer base.

“A lot of the reason people volunteer is because they want to feel a sense of community and make friends,” Rizzo says. “My team and I developed tactics for how Fleet Farming could approach events, social media, traditional media, and other platforms.”

Rizzo, who captains the debate team and serves as public relations chair for the Student Government Association, also plans to pursue a career in political communications.

“In a class like this, you really feed off the passion of the company you’re working with,” she says. “I’m glad that we were pushed to go beyond just doing a traditional case study.”

Trust and Relationship
According to Gournelos, the best companies realize that—regardless of product quality—sales alone aren’t enough to fuel a sustainable, engaging enterprise. Trust and relationships, especially in the digital era, are key to any organization’s success.

Framed against that backdrop, the content was structured to duplicate the most effective practices of integrated marketing communications. And because these were all organizations trying to do good things for the community, there was positive pressure to make a difference.

“The group work and difficulty of the material made this a challenging course,” Gournelos says. “But students left with the knowledge of how to research, build, execute, and measure a communications strategy for an organization, and the steps to go through to make it happen. This will serve them well no matter where they end up, since the process is similar whether you’re doing human rights advocacy or logistics for FedEx.”