Outstanding Student 2017

In an age where consumers have unprecedented influence over building brands, Tish Carmona's focus on adaptability to customer demands - served as one of many reasons awards judges named her PRWeek's 2017 Outstanding Student.


Tish Carmona
University of Maryland

In an age where consumers have unprecedented influence over building brands, Tish Carmona’s focus on adaptability to customer demands — and creating a spokes-character, Erik, who highlighted that — served as one of many reasons awards judges named her PRWeek’s 2017 Outstanding Student.

Carmona built her campaign around the American dream, a concept with universal appeal. Her expansive research indicated that Ikea’s best message was to convince U.S. consumers it could play a key role in helping them live their dreams, however they defined them.

Two of Ikea’s main selling points are the flexibility of its furniture and the ease of putting it together. As such, judges really appreciated Erik. He looks like parts of Ikea furniture consumers can assemble, so he directly relates to the brand and it connects him to the idea of building the American dream.

And the tagline Carmona chose — What you make of me — was a perfect complement that reinforced how the Ikea brand is built around fitting into consumers’ lives.

A major element judges sought from students was research explaining their spokesfigure choice. Carmona impressed here, too. She presented numerous pieces of research, ranging from focusing on the allure non-human characters can have with younger consumers to how animated, moldable characters can be brand symbols.

Strategies and tactics included a video that unfolded like a storybook in which Erik spoke about how Ikea’s furniture has transformed each decade from the 1940s on — and doing so in manner that highlighted how American ideals have simultaneously evolved.

Other ideas such as a Where’s Erik? website game and on-site activations also resonated with arbiters.

Rounded out by a polished, persuasive journalist pitch, judges came away convinced Carmona has all the tools to build a stellar PR career.

Honorable Mention

Katie Gatti
University of Alabama

"Memorable" and "distinct." That’s how judges described Katie Gatti’s character Krib — a cleverly named blue sloth. However, the research that supported her entry was even more impressive. Through interviews and a focus group, Gatti created a brand symbol in Ikea’s image: quirky, likable, and unique. And with subtle nuances such as Krib’s propensity for ice cream, Gatti brought him to life and showcased her creativity. Tactics such as "Party at our Krib" events and an Instagram series featuring mommy bloggers were powerful, as were tie-ins with the World Wildlife Fund.

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