Recent grad connects with alumna to land internship

Sofia Anderson was looking for an internship after graduating and staring to give up hope. Graduating in the middle of a pandemic and economic slowdown was a perfect storm for frustration.

Sofia Anderson

But she found success after networking with another graduate of the same Advertising and Public Relations program

“I was feeling very discouraged after a majority of the internships I had previously applied for were cancelled due to COVID-19,” Anderson said. “However I kept researching agencies and looked specifically at ones with GVSU alumni and ones I had visited on agency tours with PRSSA.”

That’s how she came to find Mort Crim Communications (MCCI).

“I remembered visiting their office on an agency tour a couple of years past and being very impressed with their team,” Anderson said. “I then connected with a GV alumna (shoutout to LinkedIn), Erica Bush Stamatoulakis, who works there and asked if MCCI was still offering their internship program.”

Stamatoulakis was very responsive and gave Anderson great information and encouraged her to apply. Now she is Anderson’s supervisor.

Anderson will be working from home for at least the first couple weeks of her internship and then hopes to move to the office in downtown Detroit. 

After the completion of the internship at the end of the summer Anderson plans on moving to Spain to spend a year teaching English at school in Arroyomolinos, Madrid. However, due to COVID-19 and the uncertainties of travel and schools abroad, these plans may be postponed. 

“This internship will be an immersive experience in learning all the ins and outs of an integrated marketing agency,” Anderson said. “My role includes media relations responsibilities, attending client meetings, development of written content and receiving mentoring from PR team members. I am very excited for this opportunity and to get to work!”

GVSU students finish fourth in nation in National Student Advertising Competition

Students on the NSAC team work via Zoom.

A team of students from Grand Valley State University finished fourth in the nation in the National Student Advertising Competition (NSAC). The annual competition is Ssponsored by the American Advertising Federation (AAF), which includes the industry’s top professionals. The NSAC is the premier college advertising competition that provides college students the real-world experience of creating a strategic advertising, marketing and media campaign for a corporate client. Students develop a marketing plan and then pitch their work to advertising professionals at the district, semi-final and national levels.

The group of Advertising and Public Relations students worked the entire academic year on a campaign for this year’s client, Adobe. The significant, hands-on project was completed in two courses, CAP 494 Agency Experience and CAP 495 Advertising/Public Relations Campaigns. Some students from other majors also participated.

The students had to pivot in the middle of the winter semester because of the coronavirus to work on the collaborative project online. But they persisted to win first place in the AAF District 6 and then win the semi-final round to advance with only 8 other universities to the national finals. There were 102 schools in 14 districts that participated through the course of the year-long competition.

“What stands out the most is their brilliant minds, can-do spirit, and ability to collaborate (even remotely) on an exceptionally complex business-to-business problem for a highly technical ad stack product for the iconic brand such as Adobe,” said Assistant Professor Robin Spring, who taught the classes and advises the NSAC team each year. “I am so proud of their creativity in solving real world problems and their ability to laugh in the face of adversity.”

It was the first time in the competition’s 46-year history that presentations and judging took place virtually. The client was impressed by the student’s persistence as well as the quality of their work.

“Sponsoring the NSAC for 2020 has been an amazing journey,” said Adam Morgan, Adobe’s Executive Creative Director in a news release from AAF. “COVID-19 didn’t stop the students from delivering great campaigns. We gave the students a complicated B2B technology project, and they came back with big ideas and great research that we can use today. Best of all, the students who actually dug into learning about the ad tech category are now more prepared than half the industry.”

GVSU was in good competition among the nine finalists, all of whom were larger schools. The overall winner was the University of Virginia, with second and third places going to Texas State University and the University of Missouri, respectively.

“We always say just to participate in the NSAC is of great value for students,” said Tim Penning, professor and coordinator of the Advertising and Public Relations program. “But this national finish is as significant as if our football team were invited to a Division I Bowl College Series game. For our students to compete among the best schools at the national level and to be judged favorably by the top ad industry professionals is a credit to the quality of our program. With this being the third time now for our students to make it to the finals, our national reputation is growing. ”

Student studies corporate CSR response to COVID-19 in place of internship

Brittney Whitefield

Brittney Whitefield had an internship all lined up. But the personal quarantine and closure of many businesses and other organizations put an end to that.

But, since COVID-19 took away her internship, Whitefield thought she would use the pandemic as fodder for an independent study she conducted with Dr. Tim Penning in place of an internship so she could earn her final 3 credits to complete her degree.

Specifically, she conducted a study to determine the effects of corporate social responsibility (CSR) on a brand’s identity during crises such as COVID-19.

“What started as a health crisis, has transitioned into an economic crisis,” Whitefield wrote in her paper. “Industries and companies are taking a big hit as a result of COVID-19. Some companies are taking action to fight back while others sit and wait for the crisis to resolve.”

After completing a literature review on CSR as well as summarizing the facts about the COVID-19 situation, Whitefield brought forth companies whose response was good as well as some whose response was bad in terms of CSR and public relations.

The Good:

  • Apple–the well-known company donated masks, money and more to directly help with response to the pandemic, and also continued to pay all workers, even those not currently working.
  • Cisco–this tech company donated more than $200 million to provide its products and services, including WebEx software, to help people meet from home during the quarantine.
  • JoAnn Fabrics–the company gave away supplies for individuals to make their own facemasks.
  • Crocs–the company known for its unique shoes donated 10,000 pairs to health care workers.
  • Feeding America–the largest hunger relief organization in the United States partnered with many other organizations to ensure food banks are well stocked and children in particular would not go hungry during the medical and economic crisis.

Whitefield noted how each organization’s efforts were genuine, well-received and would likely lead to long term positive reputation. But she also look at those whose efforts, or lack of them, will have negative consequences.

The Bad:

  • Disney–waited too long to close and seemed to put profit ahead of public safety.
  • Landry’s–the restaurant chain is alleged to have required employees to come in and clean restaurants and then laid them off, giving the perception that they took advantage of them.
  • GameStop–some media reported that the company required employees to work in unsafe environments.
  • WeWork–the office rental company upset many who said they did not change the layout of desks closer than six feet from each other and also continued to charge rent to people who could not safely use the office space or were not able to because they had no work.
  • Corona–the beer whose name is associated with the virus did not do anything, but they got in trouble with public sentiment because they did not stop running their regular ads with people on beaches as if life was normal. The company seemed oblivious to the pandemic.

Whitefield provided more specific analysis on each of the good and bad examples. But she also concluded that, generally, a brand’s response to a crisis has to consider sensitively the specific situation and the genuine position of the organization.

“You want to make sure that you are being respectful of the situation and those who may be affected,” Whitefield concluded. “It is not enough to make a campaign around ‘we are all in this together’; it needs to be unique to your brand and its brand identity. You don’t want to come off as generic because that can be taken and insincere. Specializing the campaign to incorporate your brand and the crisis is the best option. “

Students work remote internships during coronavirus summer

Morgan Layne interning from home for Comcast

Morgan Layne is interning for Comcast in Plymouth, Michigan this summer before her final year of college. Alexis Smith is doing a post-graduate internship with Quicken Loans in Detroit. Layne works 9-5 daily and has many meetings. She recently finished prepping and participating in a Fox 2 Detroit news segment with Emmy Award-winner Pamela Post. Smith has been assigned to the Rock Ventures creative team and is doing a lot of copywriting, most recently a semi-annual report and internal communications. 

Both of them are working from home.

Smith had originally lined up an internship with a different company, but they became uncertain given the pandemic. She applied for the position at Quicken after they had already decided to make internships fully remote. Layne’s internship at Comcast was supposed to be in the office, but switched to remote. The Fox 2 segment was taped while everyone was socially distant.

“Originally, I was kind of frustrated that my internship had to be online, but once I took a step back, I realized how lucky I was,” Layne said. “Out of my friends, I am the only one still able to work an internship. Comcast did so much to make sure they were able to continue their internship program, and I really appreciate that.”

Smith also appreciates having a remote internship as compared to none at all.

Alexis Smith interning for Quicken Loans from home.

“To me, it is a little bit upsetting just because Quicken Loans has such an awesome office space and workplace culture,” Smith said. “I think that there is an opportunity with working in the office to be able to network with other interns and team members easier. Although, Quicken Loans has done a fantastic job with hosting orientations and other events that new hires normally would experience but via Zoom.”

Smith, who wants to move to Detroit now that she has graduated, said the remote internship gives her more time to find housing.

Layne admitted that it takes time to adjust to a virtual work place. But she appreciates Comcast’s efforts to keep 84 interns from across the company engaged.

“We have a weekly video chat called ‘Intern Thursday’ and through this I get to connect and meet new friends I would have not met if I was just in the Michigan office,” she said. “It has also given me a community to lean on and who understand the challenges that come with being an intern. Although I am the only public relations intern, it is cool to meet everyone with different talents in different positions. It also seems to create a new appreciation for work and the team you work on. Everyone misses the full work experience since we cannot go in, so it makes us appreciate each other more.”

Looking ahead, both Layne and Smith are a little concerned about the future employment prospects given the coronavirus impact. Many companies have reduced workforces, and a second wave is a possibility this fall. But they both say it requires focus and persistence in networking and searching, because in some industries there is an even greater need for employees. 

Both Smith and Layne say the GVSU Advertising and Public Relations program prepared them well for their current roles. 

“The program at GVSU gave me experience in writing all the materials that I would need for this position,” Smith said. “The program gave me the skills, feedback and professional growth that I needed to succeed. I now have the necessary confidence to walk into this position with intention because of the AdPR program.”

Layne said her peers and professors were particular helpful in getting her the confidence to succeed.

“ Whenever I have an interview, they are impressed with the projects and resources we have in our classes,” Layne said. “I also think that my peers are a huge reason I am prepared. They really push me in group projects to grow and become better. Everyone in PRSSA and GrandPR are also constantly striving to grow in the field. I also think that the smaller class sizes really help when it comes to learning. It gives me the opportunity to ask questions and build relationships with my professors. At other colleges, I noticed my friends do not have these relationships and opportunities. The relationships, resources, and my peers all combine to help set me apart from other candidates applying for internships.’

Smith has advice for other recent graduates who have anxiety about the current job market. 

“Don’t get discouraged and fill this time with purpose,” she said. “Network like crazy and sharpen your skills. The moment you may not feel like searching for jobs anymore, might be the day that your dream position opens back up. Keep up the self-discipline even when it may feel impossible; that’s when it is the most important.”

(Watch this blog for more stories about how the Advertising and Public Relations program is adapting to the pandemic.)

Student starts instagram design business during coronavirus lockdown

Sara DeHaan said the coronavirus quarantine was a good thing because she’s taking 15 credits during the spring semester. Being forced to stay home has helped her to keep up with all the online coursework.

DeHaan’s illustrations on her Instagram.

But she’s also had some extra time to start a business.

The Advertising and Public Relations major is packing in the credits in order to be able to graduate in December. She hopes to use her degree as well as photography and design skills in her future career. She already had a photography business going, and decided recently to start offering illustrations as well.

“I’ve been doing illustrations for clothing companies, friends, and even did an illustration for a former NFL athlete,” DeHaan said.  “It really blew up and It’s enough to be a job. I’m hoping that with that, my photography, and previous jobs and internships, my resume and portfolio will be more beefed up.”

DeHaan is using the business features of Instagram for her freelance illustration business. It’s another way to take advantage of technology to adapt to the current environment.

GVPRSSA Students Create Video Content for Younger Peers

by Ella Rechner

Professionals in many industries, like Advertising and Public Relations, are excited to see the successes of new and incoming pre-professionals. Grand Valley State University’s chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (GVPRSSA) and members from the nationally affiliated student-run public relations firm, GrandPR, wrote and produced informational videos to teach high school students lessons on topics spanning professional development, leadership, volunteering, and the public relations industry.

Our students have persevered through this unprecedented time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the vast majority of modes of communication have changed, our students used their creative abilities and skillsets to create informational videos to share with younger peers seeking guidance. These peer-to-peer relationships allow greater time to connect and learn about potential opportunities that these younger students have to look forward to.

“Lessons from students in college who were once in their shoes can provide high school students with the motivation needed to finish out the school year strong and perhaps brighten their future plans a little bit – even when the future feels uncertain,” said  Dr. Adrienne Wallace, assistant professor and academic adviser for GVPRSSA and GrandPR.

With great empathy toward this situation, senior Teagan Epley spearheaded this project and presented this opportunity to her fellow GrandPR ad PRSSA students.

Providing Thoughtful Reassurance

In such a difficult time, students are very proud of their contributions to their community. As previously mentioned, communication is changing to the point where parents are becoming first-time homeschoolers and teachers are adapting to new curriculum changes and teaching styles. With hope to alleviate some of these hardships,  students provided some much-needed reassurance to their younger peers. They used their own knowledge and teaching to show the many benefits of this broad and growing industry of public relations. By creating inspiring content, easing some common fears like ‘Tips for Networking’ and meeting new people, and sharing on their most valuable lessons learned, they have shown what it takes to be an outstanding leader in their pre-professional years.

A Creative Way to Give Back

As many know, asking for guidance isn’t always the easiest thing to do. By aiding with online content creation, GVPRSSA equipped educators with the proper tools to maintain a successful classroom while allowing more time for them to check-in with struggling students and their families. Thankfully, as many of the students have shown, with the right compassion and perseverance, delivering inspiring content is a powerful way to give back and further pre-professional development.

About the author

GrandPR-30Ella Rechner is a senior studying Advertising and Public Relations with a minor in Writing. She is the Vice President of Public Relations for GV PRSSA, an Account Associate at Grand PR, and a team member of GVSU’s National Student Advertising Competition (NSAC). Recently, she has enjoyed her successes with NSAC as they placed top 8 in the nation at their semi-finals round. Ella spends her free time drawing, creating DIY crafts, and spending time outdoors.

UPDATE–GVSU makes it to finals in National Student Advertising Competition

GVSU students who took first place in their district (see previous post) have now won the semi-final in the National Student Advertising Competition.

They will now go on to the finals, which will be held June 5. The finals presentation and judging of campaigns will be online, as were previous rounds this year due to the coronavirus.

This will be the third time GVSU students from the Advertising and Public Relations program have competed in the finals of this national competition. They are one of only 8 teams in the country to make it to the finals this year.


Alumna Jennifer Cunningham earns military public affairs award

Lt. Cunningham Profile Pic
Lt. Jennifer Cunningham on base in Djibouti.

Jennifer K. Cunningham, a 2003 GVSU graduate, was recently honored as the Junior Reserve Public Affairs Officer of the Year (2019). Cunningham, a Lieutenant in the Navy reserves, has been activated and stationed in Djibouti, Africa, for past nine months. She was pleased to know that her commanding officers were so appreciative of her service in nominating her for the award.

“She is my public affairs conscience and trusted advisor who flawlessly communicates my strategic messages to all key audiences with maximum visibility and effectiveness,” said U.S. Navy Captain Ken Crowe in a letter nominating her for the Thomson-Ravitz Award for Public Affairs Excellence.

Cunningham credits both GVSU  and her Navy training for her success.

“Grand Valley gave me a great foundation, and then the Navy has given me some great opportunities to learn and excel and grow,” she said.

Cunningham recalls her first campus visit to GVSU in the Fall of 1999, a year before she enrolled. She knew from the moment she stepped on to the campus, accompanied by her mother, that GVSU was the place she wanted to be.

“It’s kind of a perfect university. I could walk across campus – after I’d been there for a semester or so – and I could always find someone that I knew to say hi to,” she recalls. “But it was also not so small that I couldn’t find new people to meet in the same walk.”

She opted for a major in Journalism and secured a place at the Honors College. It was her mother’s suggestion that she take up Public Relations as a minor. She recalls her reaction to her mother’s suggestion being “I don’t even know what that is, but sure, whatever.” That reaction changed almost instantaneously. Her first PR fundamentals class with Dr. Betty Pritchard had her switching her minor into her major and three and a half years later, she graduated with a degree in APR with a PR emphasis. She had found her vocation.

Cunningham remembers her time at Grand Valley very fondly. She joined the Renaissance Fair Club, served on the campus security team and wrote for the Lanthorn.

“My first story that I believe I had to write was for the 9/11 vigil that happened at the Carillon Tower,“ she reminisced.

While at GVSU, Cunningham interned with the ALS Foundation of West Michigan and Mercy General Health Partners in Muskegon.  After graduation, she put in a year’s stint at the Kalamazoo Nature Center and then moved to the Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Museum in Portage, Kalamazoo, where her job as a PR Manager sharpened her skill set and set her up for her current role as a Public Affairs Officer in the Navy.

Cunningham would have stayed in West Michigan but she met a Navy recruiter and ended up marrying him and moving out west where her new husband, Brent, was stationed. It was not a challenging giving up her job to move.

“My degree in Public Relations from GV and my experience is what allowed me to get a commission in the Navy Reserve as a Public Affairs Officer,” she said.

Her role as a Navy reservist has taken Cunningham to the far corners of the globe: Spain, Germany, Poland, Lithuania and Timor-Leste, to name a few. She recalls being in Hawaii for the 75th Commemoration of the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 2016 where she had the honor of meeting some of the survivors, and where she was assigned to escort media teams from across the world.

Cunningham’s stint in Djibouti is coming to an end and, depending on how the Covid-19 crisis pans out, she hopes to be back home in the summer. During her 9-month stint at Camp Lemonnier, she has witnessed some ups and downs, a particularly rough situation being extensive flooding during which Cunningham proved her PR chops. Another excerpt from the recommendation letter written by Capt. Ken Crowe speaks to Cunningham’s skill at her chosen vocation:

“Her innovative strategic crisis communication during a monumental flooding of the base resulted in a 400% increase in positive social media interactions, which increased the safety and security of base personnel,” Crowe wrote. “As a result of her expert leadership, her team of two mass communication specialists both received a Flag Letter of Commendation (FLOC) from Vice Admiral Luke McCollum for their communication contributions during this time.”

Such dedication to one’s vocation also calls for some sacrifices. Part of the price Cunningham has had to pay for her service to the nation is missing out key family events: she missed her elder daughter Kaylee’s fifth birthday and is likely to miss younger daughter Mackenzie’s birthday in mid-June. But she considers it all for a good cause.

Students persist through pandemic quarantine to win first place in district ad campaign competition

GVSU NSAC'20 D6 Winners! copy.png
First Row:  Zac Kuchar, Bailee Gunderson, Ella Rechner, Annica Steen, Jowei Yek
Second Row: Laini Ozark, Zachary Noonan, Justin Scott, Dom Cassisi, Lainey Garner
Third Row: Delaney MacKenzie, Chance Rusniak, Devon Yousif, Bayleigh Ivan, Griffin Platto
Fourth Row: Holly Tumbarello, Emily Gagnon, Claire Bennett, Kyle Molloy, Maria Schiavo
Fifth Row: Nikki Schroeder, Teagan Epley, Robin Spring, Jordan Skutar, Evan LaVigne.            (Photo by Bailee Gunderson)

Grand Valley State University’s National Student Advertising Competition (NSAC) team earned first place in the American Advertising Federation (AAF) District 6 competition on April 10.  This is the second consecutive year GVSU’s NSAC Team has taken first place in the AAF District 6 competition and the fourth top win in six years.

NSAC is the oldest, largest student advertising competition in the US.  Approximately 150 university teams compete to create the best advertising campaign for a real client in a three-tier contest, starting at the district level.  This year, the client is Adobe Experience Cloud for Advertising, an advertising technology (adtech) platform.  Student teams were tasked with a notably complex business-to-business case, the first of its kind in the competition history.

The difficulty of the challenge was elevated as the coronavirus pandemic quarantined the students partway into the semester, forcing teams to finish their work virtually.

“In lieu of holding the competition in person, the entire contest was moved online, requiring extreme discipline, exceptional communication and advanced technical skills,” said Robin Spring, assistant professor of Advertising and Public Relations at GVSU and advisor of the team.

GVSU competes in AAF District 6, a “mega-district” due to the large number of collegiate teams competing from Michigan, Indiana and Illinois.  First place winners from each of the AAF 15 districts move on to the national semi-finals where their advertising campaigns are judged again by different set of industry professionals.  The top eight NSAC teams advance to the national finals held in conjunction with the AAF national conference which was to be held in Palm Springs, California, but has now also moved to a virtual format.

The GVSU multi-discipline team is comprised of 24 students whose majors include: Advertising/Public Relations, Film and Video, Graphic Design, Multi-Media Journalism and Communication Studies. Students worked on the project for two semesters by conducting research, refining strategy, producing tactics, and perfecting the campaign plans book and presentation.

“This team was presented with an unprecedented challenge: a particularly arduous case compounded by a pandemic that shuttered all face-to face-communication midstream,” Spring said. “Their stellar teamwork, talent and resolve kicked into high gear as they problem solved all the way to a mega district championship. I am so proud of these exceptional students, most of whom are now graduated and available for hire.”

The team moves on to the semi-final round on May 7th.