By: Kayla Ramans
The fight against pediatric cancer is a cause that is near and dear to a large majority of Penn State students here on campus. This year, the cause was a little closer for 5 members of our executive board, Meghan Reinhardt, Ann Klinck, Maddie Woodrow, Morisa Young and myself. This year I lead this team of five amazing senior public relations students through PRSSA’s national bateman competition alongside our faculty advisor Ann Major. The idea came to Penn State PRSSA president, Ann Klinck when she visited national conference last year. She saw it as a way for our chapter to showcase our excellence and get real world experience.
In April of 2017, I applied for the position to lead the Bateman team through this competition and was chosen a few weeks later. The Bateman Competition is a year-long, case study competition that is designed to give PRSSA students a chance to put what they have learned in classrooms to practice. PRSSA chapters from all over the country to compete in this competition. Groups of five students from each chapter craft a campaign for a different client each year. Penn State has not participated in this competition for over a decade, so we felt a sense of pride and perseverance in bringing this competition back to our chapter. Last year, the client was The Campaign to Change Direction, which focuses on changing the culture of mental health in America so that those who suffer receive the care and support that they deserve.
At the beginning of the school year, our client, With Purpose was chosen for this year’s competition. With Purpose is a foundation dedicated to conquering childhood cancer and making sure that children with cancer have access to safe and effective treatment options. Founder, Erin Benson, who our team has been in contact with all year round, has a mission of getting youth involved in the fight against pediatric cancer. As many of us know, Penn State THON’s sole beneficiary, Four Diamond has a very similar mission, which is to conquer childhood cancer through assisting families and providing support. While the two foundations have the same goal in mind, they approach it in different ways, which is something that we wanted to show in our campaign that I will mention later. The competition timeline was broken up into four different phases so I will use those four phases to go through our campaign.
To be completely honest, coming into the research phase, our team was a little lost. We had no guidelines from prior competitions that Penn State PRSSA had competed in. We weren’t even sure at this point if Penn State had ever participated in the Bateman Competition. All we had under our belts was what we knew from our communications classes, especially Comm 420 Research in Advertising and Public Relations.
So we decided to call in our reinforcements, our gracious faculty advisors professor Ann Major and professor Renea Nichols. They reassured us that we will need both primary and secondary research. So with their help, we looked at secondary research while we set up a time to get IRB certified in order for us to conduct primary research.
Once we were all certified and ready to go, we crafted and sent out a survey on qualtrics as well as conducted two focus group sessions. The survey on qualtrics consisted of 20 questions about pediatric cancer research and the With Purpose foundation. After sending it to professors, posting it on our social profiles, and distributing it to any extracurricular group that we were involved in, we received 248 responses. The survey’s purpose was the gauge the climate and knowledge surrounding pediatric cancer.
For the focus group, we mainly recruited members from our chapter, however we also opened it up to the general public. We got enough people to sign up to hold two different sessions, each lasting 30 minutes. The biggest take away from the focus group was when we read them With Purpose’s mission statement and specifically the statistics that Erin Benson and her husband found. Most participants were shocked to hear that only 4% of the National Cancer Institute budget goes to pediatric cancer research opposed to other types of cancer. They were also shocked to hear that there has been little to no advancement in pediatric cancer research since the 1970s. This was something that also shocked us when we were reading through the competition brief. For a campus that is so heavily involved in THON, we were surprised to see how little people knew about the research half of pediatric cancer.
Suggested by our advisors, we set up in-depth interviews with two PR professionals who were able to shed some light on pediatric cancer as well as lobbying, which was what we saw our campaign heading towards. First, we spoke with the former Director of Communications at Hershey Medical Center. She offered us some great advice about PR in the medical field. However her most useful piece of advice was more personal to her. She had lost a daughter to cancer in the 1970s and she kept asking, why has nothing changed in pediatric cancer since then? At this point in the research phase, our campaign creative strategy came to us. We would use the concept of being “stuck in the 1970s” as a way to engage and educate the community on this issue.
Our second in-depth interview was with a local PR professional who ran many successful campaigns here in State College. He helped us craft our campaign objective, which was to hone in on one of With Purpose’s statistics that only 4% of the National cancer Institute’s budget goes to pediatric cancer research. Our goal would be to try to increase that 4% to 5% and we would have to do this through lobbying. He gave us really helpful tips about trying to work with the government that I will carry with me into my professional career. After speaking with him, the team had a solid plan on how to move forward with our campaign.
In addition, we did some research to find what legislators would be most effective to contact. We wanted to reach those who had the power to allocate more of the budget to pediatric cancer research. We also wanted to target those who might listen to us. So we decided to focus on legislators from the states that our team members were from. The three legislators that we found were Representative Glenn Thompson, Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, and Representative Andy Harris.
Now that we had completed the heavy duty work, it was time to do what we do best: creating a well-rounded public relations campaign. For many of my team members, we have been involved in organizations or had internships where we had to help out with public relations campaigns. However, this was the first time that we had the creative control and responsibility to do it all on our own.
After many brainstorming sessions and marinating on different ideas, we came up with our campaign plan. We would hold a 70s style photo booth, put together a petition for students to sign, and create postcards with 4 cents attached to them. You may be asking how this would help to change the 4% of the budget to 5% so here’s how it helps. We would collect all materials from our events such as pictures from the photo booth, the 70s style With Purpose pins, the signed postcards, and signed petition and package them in a box to send to our three targeted legislators. The box would also include 70s candies, a mini Volkswagen bus, and disco ball necklaces. On top, we would have a letter explaining each of the items and why they were chosen. Our call to action would be included at the bottom of the letter. We would ask them to tweet us a picture of the box and take a pledge to allocate more of the National Cancer Institute budget to pediatric cancer research. We acknowledge that this is a very serious issue, however we wanted to go about it in a positive way and in a way that will get their attention.
I think my teammates would agree with me that the Implementation phase was the most fun. We were able to see all of our hard work and research come together. At this point, we had seen when ideas didn’t work out and we had seen mini successes. I was very proud of where our five-person team was so far.
First, we held our 70s style photo booth in the HUB. We created a Facebook page for the event as well as tweeted about it on a Twitter page that we made for our client. We utilized the Engagement Space, which was totally free and very accommodating to our ideas. We had costumes donated by the State College Community Theatre which included dresses, pant suits, fur coats, and jewelry. We also rounded up a lava lamp, disco ball and funky sunglasses. We emphasized that the event was free for anyone to come and take pictures that would be posted on the Facebook page. We handed out free 70s style With Purpose pins with facts about pediatric cancer attached to them.
Second, we designed postcards for people to sign with four cents attached to each one. The four cents would represent the four cents of every dollar in the National Cancer Institute budget that goes toward pediatric cancer research. The postcards included a little bit about what we were doing and facts about With Purpose. There was a spot on the back for people to sign their name. We handed these out at meetings and also held a booth at the HUB.
Third, we put together a petition for students to sign to pledge that they want to see the National Cancer Institute allocate more than 4% of its budget toward pediatric cancer research. To reflect the 4%, we got 4% of Penn State students to sign it. In fact, we got 1942 signatures, which is about 100 more than we were shooting for. In order to get all of those signatures, we had to crash many communications classes, some non-communications classes and a couple of organization meetings. We also held a booth at the HUB and enticed people to sign the petition with free Dunkin Donuts munchkins. However, each and every one of those 1942 people knew why they were signing this petition and actively chose to sign it. It felt good to be able to know my client so well and explain why this cause is important.
The implementation phase also included putting the boxes together. One of our meetings consisted entirely of packaging everything together. On March 14th, we shipped our three boxes containing one and half semester’s worth of hard work and dedication to our three chosen legislators.
For the evaluation phase, we basically took 10 relevant questions from our original survey and made a shorter one. This was a fairly easy phase for us because our main responsibility was to send out the survey to as many people as we could. Since this was a significantly shorter amount of time than the Research phase, we only collected 58 responses. We had to close the survey in order to look at results to include in the final electronic submission. With room for error, our original survey results showed that only 4.8% of those surveyed had heard of With Purpose, and the evaluation survey showed that 26% had heard of With Purpose. Although I know those numbers were a little skewed, it was still a little win for me!
As I said before, during this time we were also beginning to put together our final electronic submission. This would includes a campaign summary, our campaign objectives, our research, our campaign budget, and much more. It was awesome to see the whole campaign basically put together in one giant, 56 page document. Although a little bittersweet, I am overjoyed to say that we submitted our final electronic submission on April 2, 2018.
In the following months, a first, second and third place team will be chosen. For us, it was never about the competition. It was always about the learning experience and setting a foundation for the next Penn State Bateman team. All five of us are graduating in May so for us, this was a little taste of what we hope to be doing in the following months.
To my teammates, thank you for sticking out this year. It was a fun ride trying to build a framework for future members of the Lawrence G. Foster PRSSA Bateman Team. I hope that the foundation that we built is strong enough, but will be revised and even better next year and years to come. I look forward to seeing our chapter grow and succeed.
XOXO Your Fearless Leader
Special thanks to Ann Major for leading us from the early stages and allowing us to blossom as aspiring and soon-to-be public relations professionals. We will never forget your grace and understanding. You were the perfect balance between helpful, but hands-off. But most importantly, you always put Bateman first!