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USF PR Class Takes 2nd in National Competition

Aug 2, 2012

Thanks to a superhero, USF’s Advanced Public Relations class returned home from Washington, D.C., with a second-place finish - and first-place prize money - after taking part in America's Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) Collegiate Energy Challenge.

<?xml:namespace prefix = o />Most years, the members of the capstone level course break into groups and develop marketing plans for different companies. It’s a chance for the seniors to bring together all the skills they've learned during their years at USF.

However, during this spring semester, all 46 students had one goal—work together to develop and execute a marketing campaign for ANGA.

Senior Colin Cook admits it’s not a subject he and his classmates knew a lot about.

“Many of us have never used natural gas before," he said. "I used it once in an apartment and I was afraid to turn on the even because I thought it was going to blow up.”

After a few ideas were thrown around, the class came up with the concept of Captain NatGas—a super hero that touts the benefits of natural gas as an energy source.

Crystal Price, who graduated this past May, says it was the best way to reach their target audience of fellow college students.

“We all grew up with super heroes and things like that, with Captain Planet and the Marvel series, so we were trying to come up with something that our generation would identify with in order to identify with our message," she said.

Like a real-life agency, the students broke into different sections, each group handling a portion of the plan.

“The class meetings to get everybody on the same page with one group was doing, it was definitely a challenge,” said Cook, who served as agency director.

“And we would come up with a PowerPoint, all run into different rooms, show it at the same time to small groups of people, and they would say yes or no,” said Price, the head of the strategy department.

The students decided to put their message out two ways—through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and through campus appearances by Captain NatGas, who was played by student John Eckhoff.

But the goal for the class wasn’t just showing off their creative skills—USF was competing in ANGA's Collegiate Energy Challenge against eight other schools from across the country, with ANGA executives choosing the best campaign. USF's presentation and 100 page report was good enough to be one of the three finalists chosen to present their plans in Washington, D.C., this past May.

“I think University of South Florida was the underdog in this competition," Cook said. "I think any other school that saw were in it was like, ‘Who is USF?’ And to go and be in the top three, we were excited already.”

Cook and Price were joined on the trip by department heads Stacia Finger, Laura Johnson and Damon Lord, as well as course teacher, Mass Communications associate professor Kelli Burns.

“It’s an incredible amount of work to have to do within the time of a semester," Burns said. "They not only had to plan their campaign, do some research as far as how their target market felt on this topic, but also implement this campaign, and it’s very difficult to pull off events in such a short period of time.”

Unlike the two schools that also made the finals, Auburn University and the University of Texas at Arlington, USF's team really cut loose during their presentation.

“We had fun, we were jumping all over the stage, we were making them laugh," Price said. "I think that’s where we benefited because everybody else was being poised and just so in giving their presentation, where we made it an experience, which is what Captain Nat Gas was—he was more of a two-way relationship, it wasn’t just like, ‘Here is my message, listen to it,’ it was a ‘Talk to me about my message.’”

In the end, USF’s creativity shone through, as their campaign finished in second place, behind Auburn's class of graduate students.

However, the judges chose to give each of the three teams the five thousand dollar grand prize. And while such an honor is good, Burns says the real-world experience of vying for a client’s attention was the best part of the competition.

“They really see how it is when they work in the field, when they have an opportunity to participate in a project like this. I mean, there were challenges, there were stresses and it’s a great educational experience for the students.”