Plan of action

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Senior Public Relations majors chart plans for real-world clients.

With help from some motivated Rowan public relations majors, one South Jersey orchestra hopes to be making sweet music for a long time to come.

A non-profit school for developmentally challenged youth will raise its profile and, hopefully, serve more students.

And a group of working-world clients, from a healthcare provider to a Christian academy to a health and racquet club, will pursue communication goals to become more accessible, better known, and, in some cases, more profitable.

In all, about 80 seniors in the capstone Public Relations Planning course this spring are providing eight real-world clients with plans to help do what they do – only better.

"It's experiential learning, developing on-the-job skills while you're still in the classroom," said Dr. Suzanne FitzGerald, one of four Rowan faculty members teaching the course including Anthony Fulginiti, Tracie Babb and Asi Schoenstein.

After initial meetings with clients (they don't pay but are, in every other sense, real clients), students conduct primary research about customers, market position, advertising, and a host of other factors necessary to produce a plan.

They develop a "situation analysis" to determine where the client is and where they want to go ("real state" vs. "ideal state") and set about charting a course.

"The goal is the ideal state," Dr. FitzGerald said. "We're not going to get there in one semester but we're going to provide our clients with a workable plan to achieve their goals."

Karen Urbaniak and Thomas Cristino, part of the team working with the Voorhees-based Philharmonic of Southern New Jersey, said their client's goal is about brand-building.

"Their main problem is awareness," said Urbaniak, 25, of Blackwood. "They were established in 1991 but there are several competitive orchestras in the tri-county region. They want to increase awareness and, of course, fill more seats."

Cristino, 22, of Franklinville, said primary research for the orchestra included a visit to a concert Feb. 13 , a survey of patrons after the show, and a survey of residents at a nearby Wegmans store.

"Public relations is all about research," Cristino said. "Research is what drives the creativity, the strategies and the tactics necessary to achieve your clients' goals."

He said suggested tactics for the orchestra, which wants to expand its patron base to a younger demographic, could include the addition of pop-inspired music to the repertoir, smaller ensemble concerts at high schools and shopping cart advertising.

While she has yet to see the final plan, Tricia McCunney-Thomas, president of the Philharmonic of Southern New Jersey, said she's already impressed.

"They're coming up with great ideas," McCunney-Thomas said. "The students typify the age group we want to reach so to have a group of young people coming up with fresh ideas is appropriate and exciting."

Rowan’s Public Relations program, one of the oldest and largest in the country, is one of only 22 to be certified by the Public Relations Society of America. It requires students to complete a public relations or advertising internship and provides opportunities for experience through its celebrated chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America.

Brianne Rabouin, who earned her BA in communication at Rowan in 2010 and her MA in public relations in 2011, went from being a student in the program to one of its clients.

A public relations associate for the Midland School in North Branch, she was instrumental in bringing Midland to Rowan as one of this year's group of clients.

She said Midland, a central New Jersey school of about 190 special needs students, instructed their Rowan team to treat the assignment as if money is no object.

"We're a non-profit, so of course money is a concern, but the main thing for us is the ideas," Rabouin said. "I'm new in this position, and really busy, so for me to lay out a play by myself is kind of a challenge, but with this I can implement it and make changes year to year as we see fit."

 

 * Philharmonic photos by Jennifer Lusch and Diane Fornbacher

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