What started as a communications curriculum need, has blossomed in to a full-fledged, small public relations agency providing students practical experience and course credit.
Phin Communications, a student-led agency, was launched during the 2016 spring semester giving students hands-on experience in the industry.
“It was something our department wanted for a while,’’ said Assistant Professor of Communications (College of Arts and Sciences) Courtney Barclay, who oversees the agency. “When you look at the top public relations programs in the country, they have some sort of practical experience.”
In the 2015 fall semester, Barclay directed a small group of students to interview faculty advisors and student leaders of campus agencies across the country to come up with a model for Jacksonville University.
The result is a student staff led by director and senior Communications major Alexandra Abreu Figueroa. The agency’s first client was 3rd Street CrossFit, which had been studied in Barclay’s introductory public relations class. The Beaches area gym transitioned to using the agency to implement some of the ideas the class cultivated. Since then, students have worked on and off campus to grow the client roster.
“We try to keep our client roster to no more than three or four clients at a time,’’ Barclay said. “This ensures that the students can fully engage in research, planning, and implementation.”
The current client roster includes All I Know, a local non-profit organization providing life skills to children and adults, as well as two Collaborate JU projects. The diversity of projects means students get experience in a variety of areas. One team is developing a media strategy for a video series produced by All I Know. Students working with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office are focusing on audience research, while students working on the Visit Jacksonville team will be producing and promoting a multimedia virtual tourism app.
Currently, the Phin Comm does not charge for its services. While still building the foundation of the agency, Barclay said she hopes someday they can charge for consulting.
“Being able to charge for-profit clients would allow us to do more,” Barclay said, identifying one benefit as providing students with even more hands-on experience with the business side of public relations. Barclay noted that is a long-term goal.
“Our short term goal is growing the student membership of the organization,” she said. “And the overall educational goal is to give our students some real world experiences they can use to set themselves apart when they start applying for internships and jobs.”
Barclay also hopes Phin Comm will become more interdisciplinary, growing to include students from all majors. Students can sign up for a practicum credit, but that isn’t a requirement to participate. Anyone wishing to join should apply through Barclay.
“For bridging the gap of what I can teach in a three-credit course and having students apply it, this is the perfect laboratory.’’
– Jim Nasella