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Senior starts student-run public relations agency

A new student-run public relations agency, 515PR, has blossomed at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and is already hard at work with two clients. The agency — the brainchild of senior public relations major Kristen Hemmings — is made up of six SJMC students with a wide range of skills.

Hemmings first developed the idea when she attended the Public Relations Society of America International Conference in October 2010. When she couldn’t stop thinking about it, she approached Carlyn Crowe, adjunct professor of journalism, about starting a student-run agency. 515PR was born. It became an official student group in fall 2011.

The group is set up as a full-service agency, offering graphic design, social media and media relations assistance. All those skills are being put to use for their first client, United Way of Central Iowa. The agency recently made a pitch to promote the nonprofit’s campaign against illiteracy. Students conducted research, brainstormed tactics, created a strategy and proposal and will implement the campaign.

Tallgrass Grocery Co-op in West Des Moines is the agency’s newest client. The students will soon launch a brand awareness campaign for the store.

Students are gaining real-world experience on campus while simultaneously learning about the public relations industry. This well-rounded experience — which includes creating budgets and timelines and addressing legal matters — is valuable as students move toward graduation and job hunting.

“A student-run PR agency gives a new dimension to the types of professional experiences that students can acquire while in school,” says Crowe, 515PR’s faculty advisor. “While we already have students working in internships, as well as working with clients in capstone classes and through Public Relations Student Society of America, the agency allows them to be in charge and requires a new level of responsibility and accountability.”

Collaboration is a key component in the success of the agency both within the agency and SJMC, as well as with outside organizations. Students initiated a partnership with Strategic America, a full-service integrated marketing firm in West Des Moines, which is already paying dividends. Strategic America worked with the students to find clients and has been helping them with the process of creating plans for their clients. In fact, the group’s two main contacts at Strategic America are Drake alumni Katie Popp, JO’05, and Jim Davis, BN’11.

Members range from sophomores to seniors, creating a great chance for the younger students to learn from their more experienced peers. Hemmings says this mentor/mentee relationship is an important part of how the agency operates.

“I put a lot of thought into how it would run and who would be involved,” says Hemmings. “I don’t want this to end when I leave.”