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The public relations seniors at LSU‘s Manship School of Mass Communication have a lot to deal with this semester. Not only are they graduating in May, but in order to walk at graduation they will need to pass the capstone – PR Campaigns.

PR Campaigns is a service-learning course where teams of PR students are assigned to work for a Baton Rouge nonprofit. This semester’s nonprofits are: BRAADC, Istrouma Sports Organization, Gaitway, Louisiana Delta Service Corps, Playmakers and Smoking Words.

We have approximately 5 weeks left in the semester and the students are starting to feel the pain. Not the pain of the project either, the pain of working for real-world clients.

In previous PR courses projects were often hypotheticals. The students had no one to report to or please other than course instructors. Of course there were particular formats, hypothetical budgets and timetables students had to create plans for, but nonetheless they didn’t have to deal with clients. They could conduct research, create objectives and strategies, and plan the most elaborate hypothetical campaigns they wanted with no one to tell them “no” or “I don’t think so.”

Now they are dealing with real clients who have HIGHLY vested interests in the nonprofits they work for. They come to the table with very precise missions, cultures, objectives, themes, events and ideas that they want the PR students to carry out.

Let me now point out that the client is NOT always right. Sometimes the client is dead wrong.

It is our job as public relations professionals to sort through the many things the client may be incorrect about. For example, the wrong audience, message, theme, colors, format, channel, image, captions, event, timetable, etc. In some instances we also have to inform them about what PR is (and is not) and what service-learning is. The latter being the most confusing for some nonprofits as they expect volunteers or technicians to carry out their every whim instead of the highly trained and capable consultants our senior students are.

It is then our job to politely and professionally inform the client about how things should be. In a perfect world, they listen, however sometimes our students have to deal with clients who do not listen.

In some of these cases this is where I step in to help “guide” the project, meet with clients, etc. In some cases I have to contact LSU Center for Community Engagement Learning and Leadership (CCELL) officials to “gently talk to the client” about the the role of service-learning students for their organization.

In most instances these efforts turn the client around and put their project (and the students) on the right track toward completion of an amazing project. However, in a few cases I have to resort to the students completing hypotheticals – otherwise known as “what we would have done for the client had they not been a bit….(you fill in  the blank).”

I hate to resort to hypotheticals, but sometimes their learning takes precident over dealing with client-issues. They need a portfolio to use to get a real-world job and this service-learning project should not hinder that (or their graduation).

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