Oswego has 2 of 5 finalists for national PR award

imageEvery year, five finalists from across the country are chosen in the PRWeek Student of the Year competition. This year, two are SUNY Oswego students.

Public relations majors Melissa Andrews and Leila Boukassi competed in the finals Jan. 28 and 29 in New York City. They will learn how they placed at an awards dinner March 8 at Tavern on the Green in New York City. “Everyone in the industry is going to go,” which will make it a great networking opportunity, Andrews said.

Andrews, a senior from Rochester, and Boukassi, a junior from Great Neck, prepared 10-page campaign plans for Motorola in Professor Tina Pierracini’s “Advanced Public Relations” class, which included an entry form for the competition, but admitted they were surprised to learn they were finalists.

“I wanted to do well on it,” Andrews said of the project. “I really didn’t expect to get top five in the country.”

Pieraccini said their performance speaks well for Oswego’s public relations program. “It shows that our program graduates students ready to compete in the competitive field of agency PR at the level of the top 10 agencies in the country,” she said.

Both their projects showed “creativity and attention to client needs,” the professor said. “They did not just do a generic campaign—they really thought about the target audience and came up with campaigns based on target insight.”

In New York, each finalist had to present to a professional panel and make a phone pitch to a reporter based on their campaigns. But they didn’t know they would have to do, on very short notice, a presentation on how they would launch a campaign to build buzz for a new product.

“They wanted to see how quickly we could respond to something, and how well and creatively we could do it,” Boukassi explained.

Finalists also had dinner with guests that included top management from sponsors Hill & Knowlton Public Relations and the editor of PRWeek. “That was pretty scary,” recalled Boukassi.

“The awards are really sought-after and really respected, so that says a lot for us,” she added. The winner receives $5,000 and a paid internship at a top PR agency in New York City, second place receives $3,000 and a paid internship, and the other finalists receive $1,000.

Pieraccini, who described Andrews and Boukassi as “both hard workers and goal-oriented,” also credited Ron Graeff of the broadcasting faculty. One of Graeff’s classes videotaped her students and asked questions about their presentations.

“He also let them come to his office and do their reporter pitch, designed to get a reporter to do a story for your client as part of the competition” and offered constructive feedback, Pieraccini added.

However they place come March, both students have savored the experience and learned about themselves.

“It definitely made me realize I want to do public relations because it was what I enjoy doing,” Andrews said.

“It was so much fun,” added Boukassi, who also said it reaffirmed her interest in PR. “It showed me I could do it.”

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PHOTO CAPTION: Double play—SUNY Oswego is doubly represented in a prestigious national competition, as public relations majors Melissa Andrews (left) and Leila Boukassi are two of the five finalists for the PRWeek Student of the Year award. They traveled to New York City in late January to compete in the finals by presenting ideas, some required on short notice, to top professionals. They will learn who won at a dinner in New York City in March.

(Posted: Feb 07, 2007)