What is PRLab at BU?
If you’re in COM, or if you’re even a BU student at all, you’ve probably heard of PRLab. It’s the one-of-a-kind public relations class that mixes real-world work experience and clients with a structured class framework in which students can earn credits. In this student-run agency, both undergraduate and graduate students can be involved and take the class multiple times if they choose to do so.
This semester there are about 100 members participating in PRLab, including 20 executive board members. The students are managing 18 clients this semester, including Ben and Jerry’s, The Goodwill, and Partners for Youth with Disabilities.
Alongside the students, Professor Amy Shanler and Professor Justin Joseph guide the program by leading weekly lectures, bringing in guest speakers and alumni panels, checking in on client progress, and supervising plans. This semester, the professors, executive board members, and students in PRLab have been working hard with their clients to support the brands’ messaging, as well as build their own skills for future careers.
Each semester, new clients come to work with the students of PRLab, and the president of operations is responsible for managing their applications and determining who would be a good fit. Rachel Rubinstein, president of operations for the 2020-2021 academic year, handled the onboarding process this year.
One new client is Aaron’s Presents, and the PR students are helping out with their initiatives in Massachusetts. Professor Shanler noted that this organization “helps younger kids figure out how they can give back.” She was also proud to share that the team working with Aaron’s Presents is helping out with the client’s digital fundraising strategy by establishing their first Facebook fundraiser.
Another exciting addition to the PRLab client list is Kulkea. This ski gear brand has a primary focus on ski equipment and ski bags specifically. The PRLab team working with Kulkea is helping as the brand expands into other types of outdoor sport equipment.
Spark FM is another client new to PRLab this semester, and Jaliana Griesbach, director of research and writing, is particularly excited about it. Griesbach, a junior in COM, said that this Boston-based radio station “highlights minority voices and people of color in the Boston area who are artists or entrepreneurs.”
The fourth new client brought in this spring is Architectural Health, a company that helps businesses make their work spaces healthier. Rubinstein noted that especially during the circumstances of the pandemic, the need for a positive at-home work environment is essential for mental health. Amid the pandemic, this client’s interaction with its PRLab team has highlighted important principles all the teams must keep in mind.
“The clients and the teams are always in communication. Whether it’s emailing or texting about different questions or things being sent out, there is a constant cycle of communication going on throughout the week,” Griesbach commented on the student-to-client dynamic.
In a world where all their work is done from a computer, it is more important than ever for the PRLab students to make meaningful connections with clients. Rubinstein noted that with a virtual work environment, there has been a heightened focus on client relationships this semester. As president of operations, she has made sure to make this a prominent discussion topic in the executive board meetings.
“It’s really difficult when you’re virtual and over Zoom to have that connection when you haven’t met in person, so we probably go over client relations more than any other topic,” Rubinstein added.
One of the major highlights of PRLab this semester was the Ben and Jerry’s scavenger hunt which took place on March 21st. Llariely Coplin, director of social media, noted the excitement around the event.
“Everyone got to run around and then Ben and Jerry’s gave out gift cards, which was a really cool PR moment for Ben and Jerry’s,” Coplin said.
The event was guided in collaboration with Ben and Jerry’s and BU’s social media platforms, making it a safe way to hold an in-person event. Rubinstein noted that she “even saw that some PRLab members participated, which was really fun to watch.”
Another exciting tradition of PRLab are the alumni panels. The most recent panel took place on March 29th, and Professor Shanler said that the guest speakers, all BU and PRLab alums, were quite impressive.
“We bring in this agency panel, which are almost always PRLab alum, to give students an understanding of what a career could look like working in an agency,” Shanler said. She also added the importance of the discussions on how the alumni’s experiences from PRLab translated into their current work.
The recent panel included Lauren Oubre, account manager for W2O Group, with a focus on health care. Oubre was the president of PRLab when she attended BU. Another guest speaker was Catie Valzania, account executive with 360+ PR, and she was an account director during her time with PRLab.
Professor Shanler noted that Salimata Diakits was particularly exciting to hear from in this panel because of her freelance work as a PR consultant: “She found this really cool niche for herself working for venture capital companies and organizations and their portfolios to provide PR counsel,” Shanler noted. Diakits was an account director in PRLab when she was a BU student.
Additionally, Kelci Lowery, an Assistant Account Executive with Edelman, was a notable guest speaker, given the recency of her graduation. Lowery was the president of operations of PRLab in the spring of 2020, the same year she graduated from BU.
“It was really neat for her to come back because she hadn’t even been out for a full year yet!” Shanler shared proudly. She added that Lowery was especially helpful with her advice on searching for a career during a pandemic.
Following this panel, the PRLab students were asked to share their takeaways from the alumni’s advice.
“They talked a lot about gaining confidence in their own capabilities, getting over the fear of networking, and getting the sense of the variety of different types of industries,” Shanler said.
In addition to the alumni panels and guest speakers, PRLab also incorporates what Rubinstein referred to as a “Day in the Life of a Client” at the beginning of each semester. The guest is someone who typically works in-house for a client and shares their expertise and advice. This semester, Angela Richmond Gaddist from UnitedHealth Group spoke to the PRLab students on February 22nd.
“We really want our students to understand the perspective of the client and what it’s like to manage an agency,” Shanler added regarding the speakers who share their insights from a client’s perspective.
Notable Projects and Recognition
PRLab was recognized nationally for its work with BU’s F*ck it Won’t Cut it campaign. In fact, it was awarded under the category of “Best in Community Relations” on PR Week US’s 2021 Awards. The exciting work with various clients and campaigns continues through this semester.
In PRLab, students have the opportunity to work with a plethora of industries and fields. Griesbach noted that they cover “everything from tech start-ups to nonprofits to consumer goods.”
“We even have one lady who is a travel blogger and influencer, and she hired PRLab to help manage her social media,” Griesbach added, referring to J. Q. Louise, a travel and lifestyle blogger. Shanler added that the team working with the travel influencer is doing survey research with the COM Sona system to generate results within the BU community. With the current restrictions on travel, this research is one of the ways they are supporting her as a client.
“It’s wonderful to see our PRLab students tap into the resources available within BU,” Shanler added.
Some other exciting projects that have been in the works this semester was the fundraiser collaboration with the BU Dance Team to raise money for The Ependymoma Research Foundation. Shanler was proud of the PRLab team that works for this foundation and its cooperation with other organizations on campus.
“They were able to raise a lot of money for this non-profit organization that focuses on this very particular brain tumor. What a creative way to reach out and connect with new audiences and help get results for the client!” Shanler shared proudly.
Another highlight from this semester includes the Air Force ROTC team, currently working on a new video to help its notable client recruit students.
On March 26th, one of PRLab’s current clients, the National Center on Citizen Safety (NCC Safe), held a training webinar. The webinar was open for all PRLab students to attend, and it was extremely timely given the recent mass shootings.
Even in the midst of the global pandemic, PRLab students are working hard this semester and every semester to create meaningful experiences for clients. As Griesbach looks forward to another semester with PRLab in the fall, she noted her immense appreciation for the program.“The main thing that stands out to me about PRLab is that it is such real-world experience. It doesn’t even feel like taking a class — it feels like doing an internship, with even more experience than a normal internship would provide,” she said.
Greta Holtzman, Staff Writer
Greta Holtzman grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and is now a sophomore studying public relations. As someone who has always enjoyed writing, she is thrilled to be involved in the COMmunicator. In her free time, Greta loves doing ballet, developing her knowledge in makeup and skincare, and trying new restaurants in Boston!