Public-relations students take campaign for healthy living into Tuscaloosa City Schools

By:    Date: 11-17-2014

Through APR 433 Public Relations Campaigns, students design and implement health and wellness campaigns for kids in kindergarten through 12th grade.

ARTICLE AND PHOTOS BY SHANNON AUVIL

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It wasn’t a normal day on the playground for Arcadia Elementary School students. April 11, 2014, was Tag’s Field Day, and students competed in sack races, tug-of-war games and sprints. The University of Alabama’s mascot, Big Al, even made an appearance.

The event was part of a health and wellness campaign UA students designed and implemented for the Tuscaloosa City Schools district through APR 433 Public Relations Campaigns, the culminating course for public-relations students at the Capstone. Seniors research, plan, execute and evaluate a campaign in the community. Students are divided into two groups, or agencies, which are composed of three teams: creative, account management and research. The creative team designs materials, account management is responsible for media and the research team prepares the campaign with background information on the client and its audiences.

While Tuscaloosa City Schools adopted a wellness plan in 2006, it was not successfully rolled out to children and parents. That’s where students in Kenon Brown’s Spring 2014 class came in, creating a campaign that added specific strategies and tactics to the plan and introduced it to schools.

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UA student Brian Hoff gives high fives to kids at a field day that was part of a health and wellness campaign UA students developed. OTHER PHOTOS: The field day at Arcadia Elementary School in Tuscaloosa included sack races and tug-of-war games.

This campaign meant so much to us because we were working with students concerning their health,” said Shakarra McGuire, the research director of one of the two class agencies. “We wanted to make sure we produced substantial work because kids were depending on this wellness campaign to be effective.”

Operating through dual agencies, half the class developed a campaign for K-fifth grade and the other half addressed sixth-12th grade. At Arcadia Elementary School and Rock Quarry Middle School, the agencies implemented pilot programs that included social media, posters, banners, brochures, fliers and other take-home materials for kids, events such as the field day and a pep rally, garnering media coverage and putting together plan books – detailed documents that recap the campaigns’ research and methods so the school system can execute them again. In August 2014, the health and wellness campaigns will be launched in all 25 schools in the Tuscaloosa city district, reaching more than 10,000 children and many more parents.

Two days after the pilot programs began, first lady Michelle Obama retweeted the campaign, resulting in more than 920,000 social-media impressions.

The PR students have attacked this program with such enthusiasm,” said Lesley Bruinton, public relations director for Tuscaloosa City Schools. “The ideas have been really creative.”

UntitledGillian Richard, account executive for the agency working on the secondary-education campaign, said her group implemented a short-term plan at Rock Quarry Middle School and devised a long-term plan Tuscaloosa City Schools can implement during the 2014-15 school year.

Our goal throughout this campaign is to give the plan some legs to stand on within the student and parent populations of TCS,” Richard said. “We want them to see that eating healthy and participating in physical activity are not only cool things to do, but also really important.”

UA students convinced Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox to declare March 19, 2014, “Eat Wise, Exercise!” Day in the city. They also designed a placemat illustrating healthy food options and sent it home with Rock Quarry Middle School students and created a brochure with details about the wellness plan for the kids’ parents. A student-faculty basketball game UA students organized at the school promoted the plan’s “Eat Wise, Exercise!” theme. Approximately 300 kids attended the game and left with stickers and healthy-lifestyle materials.

Working with students is especially important because kids are impressionable, so we actually have a shot at changing how they think and act,” Richard said. “Obesity is affecting so many of our young people nowadays that plans like TCS’ wellness policy really matter.”

The primary-education group’s short-term campaign involved recruiting sponsors, designing posters, info-graphics, banners and a newsletter, shooting a time-capsule video, and hosting a pep rally and field day at Arcadia Elementary School. More than 600 children participated in the field day, and approximately 100 guests volunteered.

Untitled1McGuire’s agency is implementing a short-term campaign, which involved getting sponsors for expenses, designing graphics (posters, infographics, banners and a newsletter), hosting a pep rally at Arcadia Elementary School, shooting a time capsule video and hosting a field day.

The time-capsule video shows the campaign’s impact on children and will be used to inspire kids and parents after the pilot program ends.

Students also utilized social media to spread awareness of the wellness plan. The campaign was even retweeted by first lady Michelle Obama, resulting in more than 920,000 social media impressions for the campaign only two days after the launch.

McGuire said the campaign process was rigorous, but the experience will ease her transition from the classroom to the field.

I’ve learned what working with a client is like,” she said. “All of the external factors that go into working with a client cannot be taught; they can only be experienced.”

Brown, assistant professor of advertising and public relations, said he structures the class with agency leaders and team directors because it makes students accountable for their campaigns. “The power is in the students’ hands, so it’s going to mean more to them and make them proud to be a part of it,” he said.

Michelle Fowler, media director of the secondary-education agency, said the implementation phase of the campaign was the most exciting part. “Seeing everything we have worked so hard for come to life is an amazing thing,” she said.

Fowler was responsible for all forms of mass and social media, writing the short- and long-term campaign plans and executing promotional events. She said the class taught her the most effective ways to communicate in a large group and the importance of staying on top of deadlines and being open to new ideas.

Although it is a ton of work, it really is worth it,” Fowler said. “By working with TCS, I feel like I am truly making a difference. I am glad to be giving back to the community that has given so much to me over these past four years.”

To learn more, contact Kenon Brown at brown@apr.ua.edu.