Campaigns class tackles DEI initiatives in the public relations industry

While many public relations campaigns classes focus on creating programs for corporate or non-profit clients, Dr. Karen Russell’s course this semester tackled a much larger topic: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the public relations industry.

“Like many people, I was pretty appalled at the responses I was seeing as the result of the social unrest last summer,” Russell explained. “I felt like public relations was part of the problem with inadequate responses from companies and celebrities.”

She knew as public relations professionals, they couldn’t sit back and do nothing, so she challenged her students to focus on changing structures to raise awareness and address solutions.

The students worked with dozens of PR professionals and organizations including the Diversity Action Alliance, PR Council, Institute for Public Relations, Arthur W. Page Center at Penn State, National Black Public Relations Society and the Museum of Public Relations.

During initial research, the students found that there is a general lack of knowledge about public relations among young diverse students, and those who were aware of the field found barriers to entry.

The PR Campaigns class worked to address these goals in their DEI project.

To address the issues, the students set out to tackle three goals:

  1. Establish DEI as a core value
  2. Foster a culture of allyship
  3. Increase industry accessibility

They produced videos, infographics, toolkits, a podcast and sponsored a webinar, Religion in Public Relations, with the Museum of Public Relations featuring a panel discussion on religion in PR.

“One of the most fulfilling parts of this course and campaign was the chance we were given to implement tactics that were not only of immediate importance, but which also may contribute to long-term impact and success in the industry,” said Eilis Sullivan, a fourth-year public relations and women’s studies student.  “Almost all of the resources we developed this semester are accessible online, so it’s rewarding to know there’s unlimited potential in the work we’ve done.”

Classmate Laura Burr, a fourth-year public relations student who is also studying fashion merchandising and Spanish, added that the impact is deeper than just recognizing the importance of hiring people from all backgrounds.

“Many only know about public relations because they have a family member in the industry, meaning industry members are a cycle of people from similar backgrounds,” Burr said. “Additionally, the PR industry hasn’t done a great job of offering paid internships, and unpaid internships are likely only a viable option for students from well-off families that can financially support them during their internship. There are changes that have to be made in and outside of the industry in order to create effective change.”

The students also hosted a panel discussion, ‘Moving the Needle: Making DEI a core value within PR’ panel, with the Diversity Action Alliance. During the session, panelist Krystle Cobran urged PR practitioners to change the narrative and reshape the way we deliver our messages, suggesting “stories stick, lectures don’t.”

Sullivan continued: “This campaign has helped me tremendously to better understand my responsibility as a PR practitioner, which is to tell stories that not only suit my clients, but which reflect and represent the larger world around me – including the uncomfortable or unspoken.”

The Diversity Conversation Toolkit, hosted on the PR Council’s website, provides ways to begin difficult conversations about diversity at work, while the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Toolkit provides background vocabulary, tactics for implementation and suggestions of media to learn more.

The students are grateful to the many industry professionals who helped them with the project, including Grady alumna Erica Holland Smith (ABJ ’10) who was working with the team when she died unexpectedly.

In addition to the accomplishments of the Campaigns class, the Department of Advertising and Public Relations co-sponsors the annual AdPR Academy, a week-long program for diverse students from HBCUs and other higher-education institutions to introduce them to the fields of advertising and public relations.

PR Campaigns class revamps ‘Lil’ Ice Cream Dude’ website

When he was just eight years old, Beau Shell knew he wanted to start a business. Now 14, he couldn’t have imagined what was in store for his ice cream business six years later.  

Beau, a freshman at Cedar Shoals High School, was the recipient of the Young Entrepreneur Achievement Award and was honored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. in October.  

To apply for this award, Beau, also known as Lil’ Ice Cream Dude, and his mother, Vickie, who helps him with his business, had to fill out a long and thorough application.  

“I really didn’t think much about it …. it was just so hard, [but] he ended up winning,” Vickie Shell said.  

As part of the application process, Beau revamped his website with the help of public relations students in a Grady College public relations campaign class last spring.  

Kaci Pollack, one of the students who worked on Beau’s website, learned valuable experience from working with a client prior to graduating. 

“Working with Lil Ice Cream Dude during my final semester of college was without a doubt the experience that most prepared me to enter the public relations industry with confidence,” Pollack said. “This project was real work for a real client. With that came real challenges but more importantly real reward as well. 

Guests of Grady’s 2017 Homecoming tailgate were treated to ice cream from Lil’ Ice Cream Dude and his mother, Vickie Shell (ABJ ’89).

Beau’s business started when he asked for an ice cream truck for his eighth birthday — a request he wouldn’t let go until his parents obliged.  

Since then, Beau has attracted a large customer base, increased his revenue, written a book and become a member of the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce. He also has plans to open an ice cream shop on the Eastside of Athens.  

“We are very proud of him, and we’ve seen him grow physically from a little boy to being taller than me. But business wise, he has seven years under his belt, and his profit has increased two- or threefold,” Vickie Shell said.  

Maddie Jones, another student who worked on the website, enjoyed learning about and working with Beau.  

“He is mature beyond his years, but what truly makes him inspiring is his heart,” Jones said. “He’s an inspiration not only to young entrepreneurs but to everyone who meets him. He embodies what it takes to follow your dream and work hard for it.”