Texas Tower Public Relations

Students get first-hand PR experience helping university, nonprofit clients

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Brand objectives. Creative and interactive services. Marketing campaigns. Research development.

While these phrases may bewilder and scare many students close to graduation, the team at the College of Communication's Texas Tower Public Relations need not fear. Students involved in the organization are likely to have already implemented such services and built a portfolio to work in the field of business communications long before leaving the Forty Acres.

"I believe the value is better than an internship because students are in charge of it and they get a greater understanding of how a firm works, is structured, and the importance of relationships between employees and between clients," said Dave Junker, lecturer in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations and faculty advisor for Texas Tower PR. "Also, students have a better understanding of corporate-public responsibility and that nonprofits do real important social and public work."

Clients of Tower PR have traditionally included groups within The University of Texas at Austin and university associated nonprofits as well as nonprofit organizations outside of UT.

Those who inked deals for fall 2012 included the Texas Exes, UT Communication Career Services, the Theatre Action Project, a creative arts program for the development of young people, Teatro Vivo, a bilingual Latino-based theater group, and Candlelight Ranch, a camp catering to special needs and at-risk youth.

The firm operates similar to an agency with two account executives for each client and four to five account associates. The organization also conducts legal contracts with clients that detail services and set forth performance-based goals.

These include press releases, media mentions, social media outreach, video production, event planning, fundraising, and building alliances between like-minded groups.

"Social media is a great way for us to help clients become better known as we typically have a more solid handle on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other kinds of social media than the older generations," said Emily Watkins, director of Texas Tower PR and senior majoring in Public Relations. "We have meetings every Tuesday and host workshops to build marketable skills but most of the needs of our clients are met off-site."

To provide a case study of the mutually beneficial relationships created through Texas Tower PR, Watkins referenced how the organization teamed with Texas Exes last spring to help build a new communications strategy.

After conducting two focus groups and organizing data through approximately 3,400 survey responses, Texas Tower PR discovered that while feelings toward the association are positive, student awareness of the Texas Exes mission is low.

Most students expressed confusion about Texas Exes, the alumni association, and Texas Exes, the student chapter. Also, most responded that they were unsure if they would join Texas Exes after graduation because they were unaware of the benefits. In response, Texas Tower PR presented Texas Exes with recommendations for improving student awareness and involvement in the association and committed to work with Texas Exes to implement some of those strategies.

Upcoming initiatives to provide campus awareness between the student and alumni chapters include engaging students with a print poster campaign and a strategy of building relationships through social media.

"Tower PR did a great job of conducting focus groups for us and analyzing data," said Katie Lauch, campus relations coordinator for Texas Exes. "(They) helped us better define our marketing to students and determine what steps we will take moving forward."

Watkins said that the number of applicants continues to grow and that professional organizations such as public relations firm WCG actively recruit from the group.

"One of our graduates, Allison Price, was recently hired after meeting the recruiter through Tower," said Watkins. "I'm hearing that our experience with clients is a big reason why."

Recruitment for the spring semester begins Monday, Jan. 14. For more information or to get involved in Texas Tower PR, contact texastowerpr@gmail.com.

Marc Speir
Senior Content Producer