GrandPR students have worked with clients including Meadows Crossings Apartments, ArtPrize, Latin American Film Festival and Humane Society of West Michigan. Courtesy GVSU
Advertising and public relations students at Grand Valley State University aren’t waiting until graduation to gain real-world experience in their future career field. Instead, they are running their own PR firm and completing a slew of projects for local clients.
GrandPR is a student-run public relations firm that was launched in 2007 under the leadership of Tim Penning, associate professor at GVSU’s School of Communications and owner of PR consulting business Penning Ink, who served as the firm’s first faculty advisor.
Penning said the firm was started thanks to the commitment of a couple of students and has continued to gain traction within the GVSU School of Communications thanks to the commitment of the more than 20 students who now make up the firm’s leadership and staff.
“The student-run firm was a good idea because it gives students a lot more ownership and experience in managing and participating in an agency,” Penning said.
GrandPR is one of only 40 student-run PR firms across the country to be granted national affiliation recognition by the Public Relations Student Society of America, which it earned for the second time this past December. Firms have to reapply for the recognition every three years.
Daltyn Little, GrandPR CEO, said participation in the firm has several benefits for students.
“It’s really important,” Little said. “In our classes, we get class clients. … GVSU actually brings in local clients and has them meet with us and we work with the client to provide whatever service they want. … That is really unique at Grand Valley, but in a lot of those classes you create a plan and if the client decides to implement that plan, it’s up to them. So your work could never be seen, potentially.
“With GrandPR, we pride ourselves on hiring the best of the best in the PR and advertising program, so our clients let us implement things now and let us work with them now to create measurable results in real time. It’s not something where we are creating a plan and hoping they do something in the future.”
Penning agreed GrandPR offers a unique experience that enhances students’ classroom education.
“In the classes we have to be somewhat structured, so the media relations class, they do media kits; corporate communications, they do communications audits, plans and some tactics. So the project fits with the pedagogy of the class,” he said.
“GrandPR can be anything under the sun. They could do just research, or sometimes people come to us and they just want a brochure or they want a time-limited social media campaign. This is an opportunity for students to get more experience.”
GrandPR clients have included Meadows Crossings Apartments, Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America West Michigan Chapter, City Lights Music Festival, Humane Society of West Michigan, ArtPrize, Girls on the Run and Latin American Film Festival, among others.
Little said the services provided by GrandPR fall under six categories: internal communications, crisis communication, community relations, financial relations, consumer relations and public affairs. Within these categories, GrandPR is able to provide media outreach, research, social media, event coordination and promotions work.
“Sometimes a client asks for something not (among) our services, but if we think we can do it, we will take on that challenge,” Little said.
While some of the work is done pro bono, clients often pay for the services. The money earned is used for professional development activities.
Students who have been part of GrandPR are able to set themselves apart after graduation with impressive portfolios of client work.
“People are telling us, after you graduate it’s going to be a whole different world, but I feel like if you are in a student-led firm, whether it’s nationally affiliated or not, or at GVSU or another school, it’s still going to give you that professional edge and that insight from working with a client on a different level,” Little said.
To join the firm, students apply just like they would for any job or internship and then go through an interview process. Students are hired as associates and can move up to account executives, or even vice president or CEO. Most are juniors or seniors in the advertising and public relations department, but Little said students at any level of their schooling can apply and can be from any major.
GrandPR is considered an extracurricular activity, so advertising and PR students who are part of the firm still have to complete a for-credit internship to graduate and also participate in multiple client projects within their classes.
“A lot of the staff that I have this semester are doing an internship as well as GrandPR,” Little said. “We are pretty busy students. A lot of us are ‘yes people’ — we say yes to everything. We don’t say no to opportunities, which is a good thing as long as we can manage our time.”
In addition to helping students, Penning said GrandPR benefits the community in keeping talent in the area post-graduation.
“Not only do they have great portfolio pieces, but they get to know these professionals they are working with and for,” he explained. “That leads to networking opportunities and opportunities here in Grand Rapids and West Michigan.
“If they are only on campus or in the classroom, they have one experience, but GrandPR really gets them out in the community more and they fall in love with the community.”
Adrienne Wallace, current faculty advisor for GrandPR and digital director and program director at 834 Design, summed up the benefits of participating in GrandPR.
“First, students are exposed to professionals in the workplace that do these jobs,” she said. “Second, students perform real work for real money for real clients. Third, as we all know, group work is never ending in ‘real life,’ and this allows students to practice the dance of group work in a scenario with actual deadlines and professional issues at stake. And four, client contact. Not often do students get an intern experience with client contact, so this puts them right smack dab in front of a professional sometimes 20-plus years older than them — it's a brilliant experiment in intergenerational communication.
“Sometimes students don't get great internship experiences, but I have never known a student not to get a great GrandPR experience. It's ‘boots on the ground,’ as they say. The pressure and consequences are real.”