PR Through the Ages: Celebrating 40 Years of PRLab at Boston University

From left to right: Professor Steven Quigley, Anthony Harrison, Monique Kelley Gigliotti, and Nevin Spearman

On Tuesday, April 10, the BU College of Communication celebrated the 40th anniversary of PRLab with a panel of prestigious COM alumni. The panel brought together public relations professionals from different age groups and industries who use different tactics and tools in their day-to-day jobs.

PRLab is the country’s longest-running public relations agency directed by students. These students get hands-on experience with real clients to prepare for the world and the workforce.  Students create and run campaigns for paying companies and nonprofits with guidance from student leaders and faculty. Since PRLab’s founding in 1978, thousands of students have participated in the agency and have gone on to work in a wide variety of fields (and to create outstanding work).

“PRLab continues to leave an amazing legacy for Boston, the world, and future PRLab students,” said Professor Steve Quigley, the panel moderator.

Moderators Professor Steve Quigley and Joan Schneider of Schneider Associates were joined by Anthony Harrison, the Director of Corporate Media Relations at Facebook; Jane Carpenter, head of global public relations for Wayfair; Monique Kelley Gigliotti, head of product healthcare communications at Weber Shandwick; and Nevin Spearman, a recent COM grad working for TripAdvisor as a public relations coordinator.

The panel of public relations professionals discussed the differences between working in an agency and in-house, what interviewers look for in job applicants, the most important tools for public relations, and overcoming challenges in careers.

COM’s goal is to prepare students for intellectual success. Throughout their time at COM, students acquire the tools to make them work-ready. Harrison says the most important tools that students can bring into their careers are: a.) being a strong and consistent writer and b.) having a healthy amount of curiosity.

Being a strong writer is the core of public relations because it allows students the ability to communicate ideas with teams and clients with clarity. Carpenter adds that critical thinking skills are also needed so that students can apply those skills in the workplace by re-evaluating ideas and providing solutions to be a strong problem solver.

The ability to analyze data is also very important in this age of public relations, says Spearman. Clients always want to know “What are the numbers behind that?”

In regard to overcoming challenges in careers, Harrison says that having the resiliency to not panic will get students through difficult times in the future. He also said the ability to be self-analytical and self-aware in your career will allow students to thrive.

Applying for jobs and searching for a company culture that fits is daunting for most students. The panel of professionals was able to provide students with wisdom and personal experience.

When looking for applicants, for example, Schneider says applicants who show motivation, confidence, and are team players stand out the most. Interviewers look for a mixture of culture and skills that will make someone a good addition to the company.

Harrison described the company culture at Facebook by its ability to embrace all kinds of diversity. Companies aren’t just looking for cultural diversity, but also diversity in thought and point of view.

Gigliotti agreed with Harrison that diversity is important in her company, as well, but added that Weber Shandwick’s company culture is energetic and diplomatic. “All levels add value to the company,” she said.

Many students graduating with communications degrees believe that the best way to begin their careers is in agencies, which is a misconception. Carpenter, who has moved from agency to in-house during her career, says that even though agency work is known to be incredibly fast-paced, there are no major differences between the two, and they both offer plenty of opportunities for learning. Whether in an agency or in-house, Carpenter encourages students to find a place where they can continue to learn while getting a variety of work. 

When the panel drew to a close, students and alumni met for a reception next door in the Center for Integrated Life Sciences & Engineering, where refreshments and networking arose.

Not only did the panel celebrate 40 years of PRLab, but it provided students with important answers for their futures.



Fiona Martin, Staff Writer

Fiona Martin is a senior at Boston University’s College of Communication studying public relations. Currently involved in PRLab, she hopes to pursue a career in media/entertainment after graduation. In her spare time, she enjoys long runs, good comedy, and dogs with jobs.

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