Even in his campaigns logo crested T-Shirt, amidst the throng of trade show masses, Winona State University public relations student Phil Robin started to sweat.
“It’s nerve-racking, and I want to go to sleep,” he said exhaustedly.
For many public relations and advertising students in Winona State’s senior campaigns class, Thursday’s trade show in Kryszko’s Student Activity Center was their first real world experience.
At the start of the semester, Mass Communication professors Tanya Ryan and Muriel Scott had each student fill out a skill survey and submit a resume. From there, students were sorted randomly into five different groups, so that students with similar skillsets weren’t together.
Each group had to develop their own company name, logo, and identity. From there, they decided on the roles they would have for the duration of the semester.
“The first day we sat in a circle and all said what our strengths and weaknesses are,”public relations major Megan Hayes said. “I said I was good at social media.”
Since the class mixes public relations and advertising majors, only a small portion of the students knew each other. In a real-life atmosphere, groups have to manage with what they have, just as they would with coworkers they don’t know anything about after getting hired.
“We all just clicked right away… we’re all in the same boat, so we might as well like each other,” Hayes said.
For the students, there are no textbooks needed for this class. Everything that goes into the class involves time and resources.
“We meet five days a week for about two hours,” Hayes said. “We went over our budget first, then what we wanted to give out for ‘swag.'”
Hayes’ group named themselves Origin Communications, as “success originates with us,” as their mission statement says. Other groups include Avantive, Radiance, Meraki and Acai Eleven.
For the next two months, these five groups will be duking it out over a span of four events, vying for the coveted top spot. Each group was given two and a half weeks to prepare a booth for the first trade show, along with other handouts and information for a professional client. This year’s client is the Director of Communication at the Mall of America, Dan Jasper.
The students have to sign confidentiality forms and intellectual property forms in order to take the class. While the winning campaign isn’t used by the client, the winning group does receive some perks.
“Last year a client gave the mass communications department a donation, and it was used for [an end-of-the-year] banquet,” professor Tanya Ryan said.
She added that one time, “Best Buy gave everyone a gold membership.”
Professor Ryan said there is little teaching involved, other than feedback on how a group is doing after each event. The feedback and consequent rankings makes the groups strive to be better by the culmination of the class.
“You can’t ask your boss questions – they expect you to know what to do,” Ryan said. “The class is to empower students to make their own decisions, and teach them to become more confident in their knowledge and skills.”
Luckily for the group Avantive, advertising major Elizabeth Clark was able to offer some advice from her past experiences.
“I’ve done trade shows before at Mayo Center similar to this one for a gym [business],” Clark said.
That said, nothing could ever completely prepare students for what lay ahead – the trade show.
Students were cast into the fire as friends and strangers alike crowded the space around the booths, rifling off fast-paced questions and bumping into each other to fill out contest forms for the groups’ raffles.
“No matter how prepared you are, there are things where you wish ‘oh, I wish I would’ve done that,'” Clark said. “That and you always tell yourself to speak in a more professional manner.”
Amongst the photo booths, caricaturist and mini golf competition that groups brought, students kept piling in. Some WSU students had no vested interests in the trade show, and came to support friends. For Nicole Cullinan, a photographer at Winona State, she came to help her friends and help herself.
“One of my roommates is in Origin, and the other is in Avantive,” Cullinan said.
Like the groups, Cullinan was given a shortened deadline comparable to the real world.
“I shot for one team Wednesday, the other on Thursday, and then I sat down Friday night and did them all – I did it all in three days.”
Cullinan’s work was featured in slideshows playing at the booths during the trade show, and was also featured on social media.
“It was a good experience for me to do more studio work, and take more headshots,” Cullinan added. “It gives me a sense of pride, to see my work printed at the trade show.”
Hannah Ingebrand echoed Cullinan’s thoughts.
“This was the most real world thing I’ve ever done. I was really impressed by the whole thing. Everybody was on the same page,” Ingebrand said.
On the far end of the SAC closest to the stage, Phil Robin and Meraki waited patiently to talk to the client. Jasper’s first question when he arrived – why the group wasn’t dressed like the rest.
“When people asked us why we were wearing T-Shirts, we said we want our work to speak for us, yet remain approachable and comfortable,” Robin said coolly.
Jasper told Robin he was impressed with Meraki’s overall message and mission statement.
“[Jasper] was more forward than anyone… nice guy, but a straight talker who was actually pretty intimidating,” Robin said. “Based on feedback from my teammates, we thought we’ll rank pretty well.”
An hour and a half later, it was all over. The groups were able to relax and consume some of their leftover cupcakes they had brought for the show.
Their first glimpse of the real world was just beginning.