For PRWeek Student of the Year Finalist, a Lot of Research, a Lot of Planning, a Little Acting

By Sabina Leybold, March 10, 2017

For PRWeek Student of the Year Finalist, a Lot of Research, a Lot of Planning, a Little Acting

An Ithaca College senior is one of the top five finalists in this year’s PRWeek Student of the Year competition, and she got there with a little help from her theater background.

Mackenzie Gannon, who graduates this spring with a degree in integrated marketing communications, applied to the industry magazine’s competition as part of an independent project in her Public Relations Lab course in the Roy H. Park School of Communications. She’s one of only three Ithaca College students to try their hand at the competition, and the second to be selected as a finalist.

“I wanted practice for the real world since PR is what I want to do after graduation,” Gannon said. “It was really just a challenge for me and my learning experience. I wasn’t looking at it in a competitive way, and I definitely didn’t expect to be a finalist.”

To enter the competition, students from all across the country conceived and proposed a public relations promotion for IKEA, the Swedish furniture company. The process included conducting research, developing a spokes-figure to embody the campaign, and planning strategies and tactics for releasing the campaign.

After collecting responses through an online survey, Gannon decided to target her campaign toward young professionals in urban areas.

“When you move to an apartment in a city you need optimized space, and IKEA’s furniture has collapsible parts and hidden compartments that make it versatile,” she said. “My character wanted a fresh start. They were excited to embark on that new adventure, and IKEA was right there with them.”

Gannon also chose to film a video to accompany her submission. “When I was creating my spokes-character, I realized that one of my roommates would personify this character perfectly,” she said. “I taped and edited a cool video to beef up my submission.”

Arhlene Flowers, associate professor of strategic communication and the instructor of the Public Relations Lab, worked alongside Gannon throughout the process to help bounce ideas back and forth and edit her work.

“It was quite thrilling to see the campaign develop with insightful research and the identification of a dynamic, compelling spokesperson to share IKEA’s brand attributes,” she said.

To plan her campaign, Gannon drew on principles she has learned throughout her four years at IC. That included not diving right into her first crop of ideas.  “I’ve learned in class that you have to start with your research, then brainstorm — look at other past campaigns, see what works and what doesn’t — before you plan it out,” she said.

Acting It Out

After being selected as a finalist, Gannon moved on to the second round: a personal phone call with a news editor from PRWeek. She pitched her IKEA campaign to him as if he were writing a story about it for the magazine. At first, she said, she felt off-guard speaking with the editor. But her extracurricular background in acting came in handy.

“I slowly realized during the phone interview that I was supposed to be role-playing as a professional PR representative,” she said. “My previous experience in theater helped to ease the pressure. I just had to get into character as if it were real.”

After graduation, Gannon plans to move to New York City to work in PR, but first she’s waiting eagerly for the results of the Student of the Year competition. The winner will be announced during a dinner ceremony in New York City on March 16.

“I’m on pins and needles waiting to find out,” she said. “I’ll be thrilled if I excel to the winning position, and if not I’ll still be proud and astonished to make the top five. It’d just be icing on the cake if I got a call.”