New student-run public relations firm serves big clients

Public Relations students gain real world experience through MSU’s newly formed PRISM, which allows them to work with actual clients before graduating.

Branded with the slogan, "Ideas were never meant for a box," Mississippi State University’s Public Relations and Integrated Student Media Agency, or PRISM, is making a permanent and impactful imprint on regional business and MSU students majoring in communication.

PRISM is a student-led public relations firm run through the Department of Communication and advised by assistant professor Terri Hernandez. After less than one semester on campus, this agency is proving to be far from a club or easy upper-division elective. It is a job with real world clients.

PRISM’s clients this semester include Mercedes Benz of Tuscaloosa and the Center for Community Engaged Learning at MSU.

The agency works to meet each client’s individual needs, whether it entails the development of a social media presence, creating promotional material or product and graphic design.

The agency spent their first two to three weeks creating their initial proposals for the clients and putting together their broad goals, objectives and tactics. The next eight weeks were dedicated to putting the plan into motion. During the final weeks of the semester, the team is compiling a final presentation to their clients. 

Emily Pschigoda, MSU senior and accounts director for the agency, said the key to success in PRISM is commitment.  

"Be prepared to commit time to it because the more time you put in to it, the more you are going to get out of it,” Pschigoda said. "If you show up and dedicate time to these projects, you will come out of this class with a full portfolio to use at the end of the semester for internship and job applications."

During the implementation phase, the agency actively communicates with the clients and provides weekly activity reports to show how their plans are progressing. This report also shows how many billable hours were spent on the client and what the work would have cost if the services were not free.

John Forde, professor and Department Head of Communication at MSU, said he believes this organization will provide students with the competitive edge necessary to attract the attention of future employers.

"Over many years, I have had friends who run public relations firms tell me ‘We won’t hire a student right out of college unless they have agency or firm experience,’” Forde said. "A lot of them just won’t, even if you are a fantastic student. This will get you in the door because if you have this experience, they will see that you understand what the real world is like.”

While the work is pro-bono, the process for client selection is competitive. Since the arrival of PRISM, many regional businesses have started the application process to get a slot on the agency’s client list. Clients who have been accepted for the coming semesters include the Maroon Volunteer Center, MSU’s Social Science Research Center and the GRAMMY Museum Mississippi.

This semester, the 11 students accepted into the course were not only responsible for managing several clients, but they were also tasked with creating the agency’s brand, name and aesthetic. Choosing the name PRISM and a triangle with a rainbow of smaller triangles inside as the logo, the members collectively said they wanted to stand out from other organizations on campus and showcase their originality.  

They further developed the business’s brightly colored and fun aesthetic on social media with consistently-posted motivational Mondays, transformation Tuesdays, what we are doing Wednesdays, tip Thursdays and fun Fridays.

Liz Roark, MSU junior and an account coordinator for the agency, said the firm is an amazing opportunity to get practical, real-world experience in the public relations industry without the pressure of entering the workforce full-time.

"This is what we are going to be doing in the real world, and right now, this is kind of like baby steps with Terri there in case we are confused or need extra help on something," Roark said. "Instead of having a job and getting in trouble for it, we have Terri to guide us on what to do."

Two semesters of this class will count as the public relation orgs course, the PR program’s capstone class. Last fall, Hernandez said they had 15 applicants and accepted 11. They are looking to hire more students as they review the most recent applications for next semester.

Current members of the agency will also have to reapply each semester and go through an interview process along with new applicants.

Charlotte Corr, MSU junior and account coordinator at the agency, said the differences among the PRISM team are their strongest asset and something that will continue to help the business flourish, as well as celebrate the diversity of MSU’s campus.

"We all bring so much to the table that’s different," Corr said. "That has been one of my favorite parts. Just seeing what we all do. Because when we work together it is amazing, and we can get a lot more accomplished than you might think that we could.”

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