Elizabeth Lundeen, University of Missouri
Elizabeth Lundeen very nearly didn't make it to the finals of the Student of the Year competition - because the plane she was due to catch was stuck in an ice storm at an airport in Missouri. Realizing that she wouldn't make her connection at St. Louis, Lundeen figured that it would be quicker if she drove to St. Louis, so she battled the elements and caught the connection.
This quick thinking and determination didn't win the award for Lundeen - although it did impress the judges - but it typified the spirit of her entry. In fact, the idea of a hazardous journey was central to the campaign she dreamed up.
Working on behalf of Freeplay, a real company which makes wind-up torchlights and radios, all the students were assigned to devise a new post-Y2K PR strategy. They were also asked to come up with a launch vehicle for the company's new products - a wind-up cellphone and laptop computer.
With an eye to the success of TV programs like Survivor and The Real World, Lundeen dreamed up a competition called Extreme Trek, in which teams would face an obstacle-packed journey over land, sea and ice, trekking across the Australian Outback, sailing the New Zealand seas, and climbing the treacherous mountains of New Zealand. As well as making use of Freeplay's torchlight and radio, the contestants would be required to perform certain tasks - using Freeplay's new wind-up cellphone and wind-up laptop.
The competition would be broadcast on satellite TV - Lundeen chose The Travel Channel as a partner - and would finish with a gala banquet and press conference which would simultaneously be used as the official launch for Freeplay's new products.
While the idea of a reality-based program is not new, what impressed the judges was the focus, thoroughness and overall integration of the campaign. Lundeen was aware of a wide target audience, but in her campaign she chose to really focus on adventure travelers, adventure travel companies and extreme sports fans. In the process, she created a story which could appeal to a global audience, but also had the color and glamour to interest other audiences, including business travelers on the go. The campaign also showed a keen understanding of real world PR budgets: to offset the considerable costs of such a competition, Lundeen suggested business partnerships with a selection of other companies.
Lundeen sailed through to the finals on the back of this strategy. Now it was on to New York, where she was pitted against four other students in new real life PR tasks.
Each student had to present their pitch to a 'client team' made up of four judges. Adding new supporting details to her PR plan, Lundeen presented her campaign to the client judges with extreme poise, maturity and even humor. After successfully pitching her story to a journalist, Lundeen then returned to present a crisis communications strategy. Again, she showed remarkable poise and intelligence. She is a worthy winner of the dollars 5,000 prize and a three-month internship at BSMG Worldwide.
Amanda Maxwell, Trinity University, Texas
After presenting an intelligent SWOT analysis, Maxwell built a complex PR strategy around several ideas, including seasonal emergency advisories, product placements, co-branding tie-ins with Sony and Patagonia, an internal Web site, and an unusual philanthropic launch campaign based around support for a natural disaster, setting up Freeplay 'Recharge Zones' for loss adjustors, business people and reporters who were faced without safe electrical supply. Maxwell's media pitch was also excellent - she even thought to ask if the journalist was on deadline - and her crisis communications plan was calm and rational, again showing a critical awareness of the internal audience, and counseling correctly against the issuance of a press release.
Jessica Walker, Princeton University Walker's campaign was based on her clever dissection of the Freeplay 'personality.' There was a philanthropic promotion, a safety promotion, a convenience promotion and a trendy promotion, as well as a launch event based on sponsorship of an Anti-Poverty Weekend Convention in New York's Central Park. Walker showed great attention to detail in her strategy. Demonstrating a mature understanding of media and the business audience, her client presentation was performed with poise. Walker also tackled the crisis with notable intelligence, successfully differentiating Freeplay's product line from a new rival launch, and paying close attention to the retail audience.
Winner 2000: Sarah Mast, University of Southern California
Open to all students matriculating between November 1999 and October 2000, this award comprised four tasks. In the first round, students had to come up with a PR strategy for Freeplay, a real-life company which makes wind-up radios and torchlights. There were several PR elements to execute, including a press release and a media advisory. The five finalists were then flown to New York and were put through their paces in the following challenges: presenting their plans to a team of judges who would represent 'the client'; pitching a story - based on their campaign - to a real journalist; and a crisis simulation exercise, for which finalists were given one hour to prepare before they were required to return to the 'client' and present their crisis counsel.
- Jason Kemp - Georgia Southern University
- Elizabeth Lundeen - University of Missouri
- Amanda Maxwell - Trinity University, Texas
- Bridgette Tanner - University of Akron, Ohio
- Jessica Walker - Princeton University
BSMG Worldwide has an overarching resolution for the new millennium: continue to provide a stimulating, rewarding, professional environment that challenges our people to grow and succeed. Sponsorship of PRWeek's Student of the Year Award underscores our commitment to attracting the best and brightest entry-level professionals.