During professor Jeremiah Sullivan's public relations class at 1:55 p.m. Wednesdays, students are shown the ways of the world in the PR field from an experienced professional. In Room 353 of the Center for Academic Success (CAS) Wednesday, April 18, from 2:15 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., this class was just a little bit different, as four members of the Coyne Public Relations firm who are graduates of Kean University and former students of Sullivan, informed, answered questions and lectured to a class of 20-plus communications and public relations students about the everyday life of a PR employee and the realities of their positions.
The class on this Wednesday afternoon started just like any other class. Sullivan continued a prior lecture about branding and proper marketing with a small speech about an upcoming project explained on a syllabus, as students took notes about the project that would let them explore the process of maintaining a public relations and marketing campaign for a company or service of their choice.
To help get the creative juices flowing, these students, who worked in groups of two, were greatly assisted by the four visitors to Sullivan's class. Through taking two separate groups upstairs into Room 449 of the CAS, the groups of students walked into the classrooms where all four presenting public relations officials greeted each individual from the groups.
As their projects consisted of making campaigns for companies like Habitat for Humanity, Adopt a Park and other local services, the four public relations and employees were there to offer advice, give tips on improvement and inform Sullivan's students about the different creative paths they can take to make their important projects that much better. Sitting at the table were Hanna Jones, a part of Coyne Public Relations' consumer development center who works with certain popular restaurant chains on how to market their brand and a graduate of Kean University with a degree in communications-public relations.
Next to Jones was Jaclyn LaSpata, a 2014 graduate of Kean University with a degree in communications-public relations and a minor in English writing and a social media manager for Coyne PR who works closely with pharmaceutical clients like Salix Pharmaceuticals and Express Scripts. Stacy Cooney, also a graduate of Kean University with a degree in communications-public relations in 2015, sat adjacent to LaSpata. Cooney works in the public relations side of the Consumer, Health and Wellness department of the company. She is in charge of the facilitation of surveys, working closely with skincare brands and other medicinal treatments.
Lastly, Jillian Pereira, an Account Executive at Coyne PR with the travel and consumer team and a graduate of Kean in 2015 in the same major as her peers worked with travel, hospitality and tourism clients like Disney, Motel 6, Mohegan Sun and Cayman Islands. Each of the four employees spent about 30 minutes with two students each who were working on a project together. To help, the four employees gave the students their information about their professions, experiences and tips on success in their respective fields on top of giving the students advice on the many paths they can take when constructing their final projects, as well as the students' own personal brands.
A main theme found throughout the information-seeking sections were that of the students prioritizing their own social media platforms as the primary sources of branding.
"I think that the best way for the students to [build their social media platforms] is to be consistent and be genuine," Jones said. "They cannot just talk about themselves, but the people they have helped, their stories if they are comfortable letting them tell their stories, because that is how they are going to really tap into consumers and make them really want to help."
LaSpata agreed and further promulgated her peer's perspective to the two other PR officials in the room.
"I heard a lot of people saying they wanted to expand their social media presence and start an Instagram, and I asked them, 'why'? If you are not marketing yourself well on one platform, why are you going to start on a new platform?" LaSpata said. "That is something that I deal with regularly with my own clients, where people will just get an idea in their heads of being on one really popular social media brand but not a rationale of why and what they are going to achieve by that and whether it is going to reach their target audience or not."
As for the advice that the students got about the world of public relations, their newfound knowledge was fruitful to say the least, but it was nothing that they have not heard before, thanks to Sullivan and other professors in the communications-public relations department.
"Anything that you are learning in your classes as far as presentations, strategies, tactics, pictures that you are using in your classroom, you are going to use in real life," Jones said. "Everything that I did three years ago is still being used in presentations that I am doing today for new business opportunities.
LaSpata, again, seconded the motion that the classroom application affected the students' abilities in the real world to be successful in the public relations field.
"The four of us graduated from here from around three to four years. To be able to help people like us and show that they can take what they are learning here and translate it into the real world is the satisfaction we are getting out of this," LaSpata said.
Soon after the two groups of students visited the Coyne PR employees in CAS, Room 449, they all gathered for a conclusion of the day, involving a discussion panel with all four employees talking to the class as a whole and asking additional questions that were not answered in the sessions.
The PR officials commended the students' prior knowledge, professionalism and impartiality in getting the feedback necessary to make their projects better. They informed the students on the importance of simplicity and cutting down ideas that are keenly researched and solidified, so that their media campaigns are easier to grasp for consumers in the process of buying their products.
Two students, in particular, internalized the PR employees messages during their personal talk as well as in their informational session. Hannah Friedman, a senior majoring in communications-public relations herself and Genesis Algaba, another communications-public relations major both felt as if this class helped them gain a new perspective on how to improve the campaigns they were creating for their project, which centered around making a campaign for the Saint Joseph's Social Service Center based on support and donations.
"Definitely getting someone who was a professional to look at the work that we were doing and just tweaking it could change the entire campaign," Friedman said.
Algaba chimed in, saying that the four employees helped to put them in the right direction.
"They helped us with the objective aspect of it and told us how to make it better, as well as gave us a lot of reinforcement and positive feedback," said Algaba.
As the panel ended, Sullivan thanked his visitors for attending the school to give the students feedback on their projects and inform them what it is like to apply what they have learned in the classroom to the public relations field in the real world. Thinking of the afternoon as a success, the communicators professor, who had done this project of inviting former students of his to come back and speak before but had never done it in this new class for the semester, Sullivan was very appreciative of his former students' willingness to help undergraduate students do the best they can on their projects.
"They all have very busy and demanding schedules, and not just giving time but how much of it shows the appreciation they have for their school and also what they are doing to give back," Sullivan said. "Coyne PR is one of those companies that continually finds ways to help other students have real-world opportunities and that is what we really appreciate. I think [my class] has gotten them to where they needed to be to have this conversation, which gives us an affirmation that our curriculum is on the right track."
For more information on the Coyne PR firm, do be sure to visit their official website.