Public Relations Tactics

Lab partners: PR students immersed in agency life

October 11, 2012

Cassidy Olson earned a reputation for professionalism even before beginning her PR career last December. Her work for The Public Relations Lab at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication led to employment with a client,  Tempe Coalition,  just days after she graduated.

PR labs at schools including ASU, Boston University, Howard University and Ithaca College allow students like Olson to discover their core competencies and build portfolios while supporting clients’ communication challenges.

ASU PR Lab Director Dr. Fran Matera describes her lab as a capstone course where undergraduate and graduate students are fully immersed in a professional agency experience.  ASU PR Lab students work between two and four days per week.

Each semester, Matera carefully selects clients, representing a mix of corporate businesses, nonprofits and startups that submit their communications challenges, goals and timeframes. Work for clients spans momentum-sustaining projects through comprehensive, deadline-driven campaigns.

“Every class students have ever taken — psychology, sociology, art, statistics — you name it — gets used here,” she explains. “Students apply for a limited number of positions by submitting cover letters, résumés and portfolios. Experiencing the competitive side of agency life is a big part of this program.”

Matera also emphasizes digital skills requiring that students use cloud-based Prezi collaboration and presentation software for creative pitches, incorporating video and animation.

And U.S. News & World Report named ASU’s applied learning curriculum as one of 10 college classes impacting the outside world.


Olson’s PR lab team produced the “21 or Too Young” campaign using public service announcements, events, billboards and theater advertisements for Tempe Coalition, a City of  Tempe organization focused on reducing underage drug and alcohol use.

Facebook and Twitter accounts shared links to YouTube PSAs while helping promote events and collect youth pledges to refrain from substances.  Team activities included SWOT analysis, research, meetings with the Coalition’s Coordinator Bobbie Cassano and marketing committee, PR and social media plan development, weekly client progress reports, a proposal for final course credit and creative development supporting campaign execution.

The Coalition’s campaign featured Tempe community members and students pledging to refrain from drug and alcohol use — an audience-specific element that Cassano says helped the campaign generate nearly 1,000 youth pledges. The campaign received coverage from the Arizona Republic/USA Today and CollegeTimes, among other publications, won a PRSA Phoenix Copper Anvil Award for Public Affairs and received a Platinum PR Award.

“The PR Lab was the most valuable course of my college career,” says Olson. “We worked with real clients in the field to help tackle their challenges."

Ryan Zuk, APR
Ryan Zuk, APR, is a media and analyst relations professional, Phoenix PRSA Chapter member and Sage North America representative. Zuk can be reached @ryanzuk on Twitter. He also blogs at
Email: ryanzuk at gmail dot com


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