PR Student of the Year 2011

Sponsored by Hill & Knowlton

Winner: Alyssa Vande Leest, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison

When you come across a student who presents a polished, multi-tiered plan, you can't help but think you're looking at a future industry star. Such was the unanimous sentiment among the judges who felt Alyssa Vande Leest of the University of Wisconsin-Madison distinguished herself from an impressive quintet of finalists to claim this honor.

Faced with the challenge of promoting SanDisk, a leading manufacturer of flash memory cards, to the college crowd, Vande Leest devised the "SanDisk #1 Memory School Campaign." Her idea was to play off the company's memory-card prowess while devising a contest that tapped into a predominant belief among many students that they attend "the best school in the country."

From focus groups to surveys to scouring various sources, Vande Leest left no stone unturned in her research. From her obvious grasp of what would inspire college students to act to her ability to back up sales projections, every element of the program was supported by impressive numbers and instinct. She understood that an emotional connection would be far more effective with this demographic than tech talk.

Vande Leest also presented a solid, well-thought-out media strategy to target the best social media and traditional outlets to ensure maximum exposure. Again, thorough research informed her course of action.

Vande Leest's ability to consider potential pitfalls was also on display. When she spoke about the student videos upon which her contest was based, she incorporated a plan to screen those presentations to ensure content was appropriate.

Capped off by an effective journalist pitch, Vande Leest left no doubt in the judges' minds that she was worthy of being recognized as PR Student of the Year 2011.

"She nailed it with an original and creative concept," one judge said. "And it was all backed up by a full armory of support based on solid, comprehensive research."

Honorable Mention
Taylor Reed, Southern Methodist University

"Life's extreme. Shouldn't your photos be, too?" This was Taylor Reed's concept to promote SanDisk to the college crowd. Her plan to appeal to the audience's love of extreme sports - supported by solid research - impressed judges with its freshness. Reed effectively established a much-needed brand identity for SanDisk among the target demographic, incorporating myriad elements, including a partnership with Red Bull and a street-team plan. "She demonstrated great poise and a step-by-step progression of ideas that would lead to a successful campaign," noted one judge.

The Award
Awarded to an undergraduate student who shows outstanding ability in a range of core PR skills, and is designed to attract, encourage, and reward future talent. The winning student will receive a $5,000 cash prize and an internship at Hill & Knowlton. Open to all students enrolled in a US college or university between December 14, 2009, and December 14, 2010. Category entrants were asked to devise a PR campaign for SanDisk, the global leader in flash memory cards.

Finalists 2011

Rommel Dizon California State Univ., Fullerton

Amber Fadok Pennsylvania State University

Charlotte Hyman Ithaca College

Taylor Reed Southern Methodist University

Alyssa Vande Leest Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison

Hill & Knowlton is a leading, global, multi-specialist communications consultancy. We combine experience from all sectors and services to face the toughest communications challenges head on and to bring world-class counsel to local opportunities. We work with ease and impact at the intersection of business, policy, and communications.

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