At the start of the 2013-2014 school year, the public relations concentration at Biola University in La Mirida, CA was the most popular within the Journalism & Integrated Media major. With 62 students out of the 192 in the entire department, PR was thriving with an active PRSSA Chapter (recognized as a “Star Chapter” in 2013 by PRSSA National) and an affiliated student run firm.
But the concentration was unable to meet the growing needs of future industry professionals. In order to fully equip graduates and reflect the changes in the PR industry over the past 20 years, a new program would need to be designed. In order to implement such a program, however, administration and faculty would need to be persuaded of its value and need.
Research and interviews found that while there was support to develop a curriculum to help Biola University have a leading public relations program, obstacles included an administration that didn’t fully understand the purpose or distinction of public relations (as opposed to the marketing degree or remaining a concentration), as well as faculty within the department who expressed support but also showed misunderstandings about the way in which a major should incorporate a larger and more robust understanding of PR.
The goal of the campaign required a multi-year strategy to establish Biola University’s PR program as an excellent choice for education and a leader in developing competitive public relations professionals. Within a university setting, multiple audiences were identified as playing a key part in the success of this campaign including administration, faculty within the department, current students, prospective students and the local public relations community, including professionals who hire interns and recent grads, mentor students and provide general feedback on the quality of the program.
In order to strategically engage each of these audiences in measurable ways, the following objectives were established.
- Receive full approval by the administrative boards to launch a public relations major by the end of the 2013-2014 school year.
- Launch an undergraduate PR major in the 2014-2015 school year with 65 students enrolled within the PR program.
- By the 2015-2016 school year, have a 5% growth from the previous year’s number of students enrolled as part of the public relations program at Biola University.
To reach these goals, four primary strategies were developed:
- Establish the need, value and viability of a PR major with key faculty and administrative groups. To accomplish this, specific tactics were designed to disseminate key messages to key target audiences, such as reports for top administration, presentations for committees, and one-page handouts for easy review.
- Develop a strong community within the public relations program that would develop leaders and relationships among students, attracting prospective students and retaining current students. Tactics that helped to reach this strategy included launching specific groups and events for students to develop relationships and gain additional information regarding the world of public relations.
- Illustrate Biola’s PR leadership through events and competitions. To achieve this, the PRSSA Chapter focused on national awards and hosting a Regional Conference. In addition, tactics also focused on highlighting primary research from the department in specific public relations circles.
- Publicize activities from strategy 3 in university, student and local publications to gain positive attention and build the reputation of the program. Tactics including preparing news submissions for key outlets that would reach primary audiences (administration, faculty, currency students, prospective students and alumni).
The program took place between Spring 2012 and Spring 2015, and was wildly successful. While the approval process for the major took a while, resulting in delayed publicity for the first year of the new major, administration approval was gained by October 2013 to launch the program in the 2014-2015 school year.
In August 2014, the PR program experienced the largest in-coming class of student desiring to study public relations, totaling 77 students in the PR program. While this was already 18% more than our projections, the success continued throughout the year. By Spring 2015, there were 84 students on record in the program, surpassing both objectives and placing the campaign ahead of the projected growth schedule by two years, and the program has continued to grow.
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