Seminar students develop PR efforts for start-up nonprofit
May 23, 2012
By: Valerie Finholm

When Denver nonprofit Smart-Girl, known for mentoring adolescent girls, decided to expand its services to boys, it faced a problem. How do you publicize the launch of a new program if you have a tiny staff and no budget for promotion?

The answer came in the form of a partnership between the nonprofit and a public relations seminar in DU’s Department of Media, Film and Journalism Studies. Selene Neuburg (MS ’11, MRLS ’11), development coordinator at Smart-Girl, had completed the seminar as a graduate student and remembered the excitement of taking on a real client in that class.

“I knew what the seminar could do for Smart-Girl, and I was thrilled to work with the students,” she says.

Students in the seminar are getting hands-on experience, providing the services of a small PR agency for the launch of Smart-Guy, a program designed to help middle school boys handle the rough transition of adolescence. Through the project the students also are building their own professional portfolios.

“This is a mutually beneficial relationship,” says graduate student Shannon Cross. “We need the experience, and they need the work.”

Started in 1998, Smart-Girl is an activity-based program that helps girls learn to cope with peer pressure and other stresses of middle school. The mission of the program is to empower adolescent girls to make smart choices and to become confident, capable and self-reliant young women. The program is offered in 27 locations along the Front Range.

A Smart-Guy pilot program recently started in two locations, and the organization is seeking to grow the boys’ program. The mentoring programs use a near-peer model that matches middle schoolers with high school and college-age guides trained by the nonprofit.

The DU class, taught by Assistant Professor Nadia Kaneva, divided into two teams for the project. Each team presented a strategic communications plan for the expansion.

“The presentations were smooth and seamless,” says Smart-Girl Executive Director Karen Silverman. “The students had some ideas we wouldn’t have thought of.”

The teams worked for five weeks on their proposals, which include suggestions for rebranding the organization. They pitched their ideas to Silverman, Neuburg and two Smart-Girl board members, who then selected the five ideas they liked the most.

“That’s part of the learning experience as well,” Kaneva says. “There are going to be some things that the client will not necessarily love. That’s how it works in the business world—some ideas are accepted, and some are shot down. Then it’s back to the drawing board.”

The students are now working on executing the ideas their client liked, including promotional videos for the Smart-Guy program and a press kit with pitch letters, news releases and brochures.

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