Cases in Public Relations Strategy
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Cases in Public Relations Strategy

Burton St. John, Diana Knott Martinelli, Robert S. (Scott) Pritchard, Cylor Alexander Spaulding

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  1. 216 pages
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eBook - ePub

Cases in Public Relations Strategy

Burton St. John, Diana Knott Martinelli, Robert S. (Scott) Pritchard, Cylor Alexander Spaulding

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Cases in Public Relations Strategy, by Burton St. John III, Diana K. Martinelli, Robert S. Pritchard, and Cylor Spaulding, draws on original, real-world case studies to provide you with a strategic approach to meeting the needs of a client before, during, and beyond a campaign. Using the RACE (Research, Action Planning, Communication, and Evaluation) model, you will explore successful contemporary campaigns and evaluate best practices in all major areas of public relations activity. This practical, client-oriented text shows you how to systematically evaluate and adapt to the needs of a particular client—whether big or small, global or local, for-profit or nonprofit—in order to launch the most effective campaign. Each case includes a brief introduction focused on fundamentals and core competencies, and all cases have been carefully selected to present a wide range of client types. In addition to the lessons from professionals in the case studies, a section on PR consulting and an appendix on advancing your PR career give you the knowledge and skills you need for success in the field.

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1 Branding

A brand is essentially a reflection of an organization’s identity, which means that branding is a crucial part of crafting a good public relations strategy. A strong, effective brand should communicate an organization’s purpose and values to the public and all its stakeholders, is easily identifiable, and fosters positive associations in the mind of stakeholders long after a public relations campaign has ended.
The cases in this chapter, executed on behalf of the University of West Georgia, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the state of Mississippi, all illustrate how important branding is to an organization and how effective brands can be for communicating with audiences and key stakeholders.
“Amazing Things Happen When You Go West”: Raising Visibility, Interest, and Enrollment
Jami Payne Bower, Associate Vice President, University Communications and Marketing, University of West Georgia
Amber M. K. Smallwood, Associate Professor of Mass Communications, University of West Georgia


The University of West Georgia (UWG) is the state’s seventh-largest public university, with a fall of 2017 enrollment of approximately 13,520. The university is located 45 minutes from Atlanta and draws students from 44 states and 75 countries. As UWG evolved, it developed a track record of growth in academic programs and in student enrollment. More recently, however, enrollment growth rates were slowing. Total enrollment growth slowed at some points from 2003 (10,255) to 2006 (10,163) and again from 2008 (11,252) to 2010 (11,283). In sum, the university saw the opportunity to increase its brand recognition among key constituencies including faculty, staff, alumni, students, prospective students, and parents. It needed to find ways to differentiate, and stand out, from peer universities.


To better define the institutional challenge, UWG commissioned the university’s Survey Research Center to gauge key constituencies’ awareness, attitudes, and perceptions of the university.
Four focus groups were held with students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community audiences, comprising 7–10 individuals per group. Common themes heard in focus groups included the following:
You could be a marginal student, an average student, or an exceptional student. No matter where you came from, you’re going to leave better. There’s a niche for everyone here.
We provide a lot of opportunities. We’re just the right size for that. There are opportunities for faculty interaction and involvement that you’d never have at a huge school.
We’re not your father’s West Georgia. We’ve grown in research, in academics, in admissions. But we’ve done it quietly.
Phone surveys were conducted within a 10-county area surrounding the university and stretching to the Atlanta metro area. A total of 282 surveys were completed with prospective students, parents, and influencers. Additionally, a total of 585 web surveys were completed by undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff, and alumni. A key finding of this research was low awareness of the university; about 42% of respondents were not familiar with UWG. Among the various groups surveyed (including within metro Atlanta), there was considerable confusion about the difference between UWG and other institutions that include Georgia as part of their name. In addition to surveys, agency partner Mindpower Inc., a communications and marketing firm in Atlanta, conducted several weeks of intensive campaign interviews with campus leadership (administrators, deans, department chairs, etc.), campus directors (admissions, enrollment management, student affairs, athletics, alumni, development, etc.), civic and community groups, alumni groups, UWG board and foundation members, and student, faculty, and staff groups. This qualitative research revealed those who were familiar with UWG described it as up-and-coming, cool, understated, right-sized, a place for involvement and personal discovery, open-minded, proud, engaged, non-elite, first-choice, and ambitious. Through the focus groups, surveys, and interviews, it became clear that the university did not suffer from a negative perception. Rather, there was a bewildering non-perception. Survey participants noted a lack of tradition or legacy as the university was not known for specific traditions. They noted that UWG was not top-of-mind or in the “considered” category for many prospective students. It seemed many of the state’s brightest students might not have UWG on their radars.

Action Planning

In 2010, university leadership, with a $2 million campaign budget, designated developing and investing in a brand identity as a top priority with the following goals in mind:
  • Raise and improve the university’s regional profile.
  • Become a first-choice destination for more students.
The overall message for the campaign was that UWG was ready to show the world what it meant to “Go West.” That phrase expressed not only where UWG was, but where it was going—becoming a forward-looking, future-oriented institution.
For students, UWG emphasized that to Go West was to explore, discover, and learn, both about oneself and about the world around one. Go West was a symbol of the academic community UWG had built and how that atmosphere could help students attain their goals and aspirations.
For prospective students (10th–12th graders) and parents (particularly mothers ages 45–54), Go West provided the opportunity for students who did not want to follow the crowd to be inspired by the virtually unlimited ways to make their mark through leadership opportunities, discovering potential career paths, and finding new ways to make a difference.
Faculty and staff could make their mark in the programs and courses they developed to support students—through research, mentoring, and transforming student lives.
Alumni went west and beyond to make their mark in successful lives and careers. Since they had blazed their own trails, they were in an excellent position to inspire and support the independent, adventurous spirit of the students who would follow.
Local communities and the general public could be inspired by the Go West spirit to connect to, and show support for, the campus community and recommend that the high school students in their lives explore UWG.
The objectives for this campaign, all to be accomplished by December 31, 2013, included the following:
  • Increase awareness from 82.6% to 85.1%.
  • Increase familiarity from 64.2% to 66.1%.
  • Increase microsite visits and visits to the UWG home page by 2% to 3%.
  • Increase social media following by 5% to 10%, dependent on the platform.
  • Maintain a high level of students recommending UWG to other students.
  • Maintain the number of applications in 2013 (which had slightly dipped in 2012).
  • Collaborate with enrollment management/admissions to increase enrollment by 2.3%.


The UWG brand story was first shared internally to rally support, engagement, and excitement. The campus rollout included each of the following:
  • Multiple consensus-building presentations: The UWG brand rollout was presented to key constituencies to seek support and enthusiasm for the campaign. Presentation settings included UWG leadership, the brand committee, the presidential advisory council, three campus town hall meetings, the faculty senate, admissions and recruiters, business and finance partners, student organizations (including the UWG Student Government Association, the Public Relations Student Society of America, and the UWG Center for Student Involvement), athletics, and local and Atlanta-area alumni and key influencers.
  • Campus engagement campaigns: Teaser chatter went viral on social media channels and the UWG website to target students, faculty, and staff with messaging to generate intrigue and excitement, such as “Watch for something BIG at UWG!” and “Get on the Brand Wagon!”
  • Go West “Pack Pride” card: Students, faculty, staff, community members, and alumni presenting their branded Go West “Pack Pride” card or key fob received discounts from local area merchants.
Image 1
Source: University of West Georgia, Reproduced with permission.
The external campaign included advertising and publicity launched locally and in Atlanta:
  • Paid placement/advertising: Spanning television and cable, outdoor, cinema, radio, digital, newspaper (local and west Georgia region), and targeted area business and chamber publications, the incorporation of paid media was foundational in the success and outcomes of the comprehensive communications campaign due to its mass reach appeal.
  • Digital presence: The UWG website takeover featured high-interest stories, testimonials, and vibrant imagery that made a significant splash and provided the opportunity to optimize the site for efficient Internet searches. In addition, Google AdWords (the display of advertising copy and/or imagery linked to targeted keywords) provided a solid place for inquiry and interest. Digital display ads were placed on premium sites based on key target audience demographics (gender, age segmentation, geographic location, etc.). The campaign used video to capture attention and placed messages on targeted music-streaming service platforms. Multiple digital screens across campus featured branded content.
  • Press mentions: The UWG Go West brand story was featured as a cover story in the national Higher Education Marketing Report publication. Local newspapers and magazines in the west Georgia region featured news of the Go West campaign. The UWG student newspaper, radio and television stations, and social media platforms featured the brand launch with periodic follow-up pieces.
  • UWG Go West microsite ( All aforementioned communications strategies pointed prospects to a dedicated microsite full of information for how to “apply west.” The fully branded site showcased stories and videos featuring “best of west” students, faculty, and alumni. This included a “who’s going west” section for students to share their individual experiences from all walks of academic and campus life, a Go West gear tab, and, most prominently, the “apply” button. Prospects requesting more information on UWG received Go We...

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