PRoBono 2020 Event Recap: Apart but Connected

In the thick of finals season and amid a global pandemic, students of all majors, years, and time zones came together on December 4, 2020 to participate in the first-ever virtual PRoBono. PRoBono is Boston University PRLab’s annual overnight, hackathon-style event where students produce valuable public relations work for deserving non-profit clients. Students worked together through team zoom meetings, putting their collaboration and communications skills to the task, to create an impressive 72 deliverables across three clients in only 12 hours, according to a post on PRLab’s Instagram page. 

“I was honestly surprised by the amount of engagement from volunteers,” said PRLab Co-President, Rachel Rubinstein. “We expected a drop in overall registration numbers, but we had over 70 people register. Even more surprising, we had an 85% volunteer retention rate, which is almost three times as much as in previous years. This gave me hope that in this time of uncertainty, people were willing and excited to give their time up to do some good.”

Under normal circumstances, students would have gathered in-person in the College of Communication with their pajamas, laptops, and coffee at the ready for a night of 12+ hours straight of public relations work. This year, event organisers Remy Frohman, Rachel Rubinstein, Rebecca Owen, and Hedy Zhou, along with guidance from faculty advisors Amy Shanler and Justin Joseph, tailored the event to take into account the virtual setting and the needs and experience of all participants. Instead of working through the night, PRoBono participants worked for two six-hour time sets: Friday from 6 pm to 12 am EST and Saturday from 6 am to 12 pm EST, allowing for a six-hour rest period. 

“Organizing PRoBono this year was obviously very different from years past since we had to completely reinvent the format,” said PRLab Co-President Remy Frohman. “Our biggest challenge was figuring out the timeline because we wanted to combat Zoom fatigue and make sure all of the volunteers would be engaged and have a great time. While the primary goal of PRoBono was to provide meaningful deliverables and services to nonprofits, we also wanted it to be a fun event for everyone involved!” 

For the first time, PRoBono was able to complete work for clients based across the country. A day prior to the event, students received an email assigning them to one of the three clients: Chelsea Hope’s Boxer Rescue, a nonprofit animal welfare organization rescuing and rehoming dogs across the country; the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, specifically the Division of Public and Behavioural Health; and Bridges for Enterprise, an international nonprofit organization that is home to a global community of purpose driven students, professionals, and social entrepreneurs. 

The event kicked off in a main zoom meeting, where the PRLab executive board introduced the three clients before splitting teams into breakout rooms. Teams then got the opportunity to meet the client to discuss the scope of work and ask any questions before diving right into work. 1-2 hour work sessions were broken up by Kahoot games, Google Search scavenger hunts, and other activities to build community, genuine connections, and a fun atmosphere for participants. 

“A lot of the participants said they liked that the event was broken into parts because the breaks helped with avoiding Zoom fatigue,” said PRLab’s Director of Special Events, Hedy Zhou. “People also said they enjoyed playing the Kahoot games which was particularly rewarding for me to hear because I was responsible for coming up with the trivia questions.”

Lisa Meixuan Huang, a junior studying Public Relations who worked on the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services team discussed her experience as a first-time PRoBono participant. 

“It was such a great opportunity to participate in PRoBono and work with my client and a wonderful team,” said Huang. “I was very impressed by our strong team cooperation, high working efficiency, and large amounts of deliverables created in 12 hours. Together we created a well-rounded research document, a press release, two letters, and various graphic content.”

Reflecting on the event, PRLab Vice President Rebecca Owen discussed her appreciation for all the participants’ hard work and dedication. 

“I am most proud of every single volunteer who gave up their Friday night to sit at home on Zoom for our incredibly worthy clients.” said Owen. “It takes a special group of people to give up more than 12 hours of their time during finals season to give back to deserving non-profits. The clients were absolutely ecstatic with all of the deliverables our volunteers created overnight. It is a privilege to call these volunteers my fellow students.” 

Giselle Goodwin Mehta, Staff Writer

Giselle Goodwin Mehta is a junior at Boston University pursuing a degree in Public Relations. Having lived in five different countries throughout her life, Giselle aspires to build a career in the public relations and marketing industry working for companies with a global presence. Aside from writing for The COMmunicator and working with clients at Boston University’s PRLab, you can find her sipping on green teas.

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