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PR Portfolio Class Deals with Real-World Challenges

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Michael Glickman, Rachael Felt, Xana Pena Rivas, Bob Rubenkonig, Phoebe Bell, Emily Langlois
(L to R) Students Michael Glickman, Rachael Felt, Xana Pena Rivas, Executive Director of The Wharf Community Association Bob Rubenkonig, students Phoebe Bell and Emily Langlois

As the semester comes to an end, American University School of Communication (AU SOC) classes are winding down and are finishing up their final projects. Public Communication Division Director Pallavi Kumar’s Public Relations (PR) Portfolio class is no different, but students had their skills put to the test through some interesting twists and turns during the semester to get here.

When Professor Kumar was a student at AU SOC, the school didn’t have a PR Portfolio class. However, the industry is constantly changing, and the class was created to give students a chance to work with real clients and learn how to apply their skills in the real world.

The class has been taught since 2007 and since then, Kumar's students have worked with many companies and organizations around the DMV area, including CAVA, SONY, Honest Tea, Hilton, the Newseum, the Marriott, and more. Kumar strives to work with high profile clients because students are able to learn a lot from those professionals.

The PR Portfolio class gives students a hands-on experience and teaches them how to work well in a team. The class is very challenging, but students walk away with strong skills and a strategic plan that is as thorough as any professional plan they will work on in the industry.

This year, Professor Kumar decided to revamp one of the sections of the class and create an application-based class called PR Agency. Their client was The Wharf and expectations were high, so the additional screening helped ensure the cohort was prepared for an intense experience.

However, no one – including Kumar – was prepared for the rollercoaster the class would take throughout the semester.

She had started thinking about potential clients in October of 2018 and landed on The Wharf as a potential client because it’s a new and dynamic location. The fun and active location would give students a lot of freedom to create ideas, but also has unique restrictions, which would add an extra layer of difficulty.

In order to craft the class, Kumar needed to meet with the client and get a 360 view of business needs and challenges. She met with The Wharf to get their agreement to work directly with her class, but about three days before the semester started, the client contact whom she had been communicating with all year was laid off.

“Everything was in place for the project and this was quite an upset,” said Kumar, “But I always tell my class that things are constantly changing in the PR industry and you just have to roll with the punches.”

The class moved forward on their projects with a new point of contact but there was another bump in the road. The day the class was supposed to meet with the client at The Wharf, there was a snow storm and classes were cancelled. However, many of the students still showed up to the meeting to learn more about the client and get briefed on their goals and objectives for the project.

“When the snow day came around, I didn’t feel like a student making a decision to come to class, I was an agency representative scheduled to establish a relationship with my client,” said Rachael Felt, one of the students in the class. “The sphere of the workload extended beyond AU and raised the bar for quality and professionalism.”

As the final presentation date approached, the class was preparing for their meeting with the client. Two days before the presentation, the class’s new contact at The Wharf emailed to say he could not make it due to a personal emergency.

The class decided to present their projects to other team members at The Wharf as well as the PR firm The Brand Guild and the marketing firm HZ.

“My students were asked extremely difficult questions because the individuals in the room were not fully briefed on the aspects of the project,” said Kumar, “but they never faltered and answered each question with poise and confidence. I know that they will all go very far in this industry because they were able to stay calm and collected when the project was constantly changing and that is what professionals deal with every day”.

One of the driving factors in revamping the PR Portfolio class was Kumar’s desire to launch an SOC PR agency. She has been working alongside fellow SOC alumnus Michael Kempner, the founder and CEO of MWWPR, to create a pilot program at AU SOC. Part of the pilot program was creating a crash course on how to approach a ‘request for proposal’ (RFP) with the United Entertainment Group and SOC also created a Diversity Fellowship at the MWWPR offices last summer.