Last semester, my Principles of PR class had the opportunity to participate in the Ketchum Mindfire Challenge for the first time.
The program was a great learning experience for students and a ton of fun. From what I understand, the program has been around for several years. But, after slowing down for a few years, Ketchum has been working recently to re-build it.
Still, I haven’t heard many professors talking about the program. So I want to give an overview how it works and how I used it in my class last spring.
What is Ketchum Mindfire?
I first heard about Ketchum Mindfire during a presentation at the PRSA Educator’s Academy Super Saturday last year in Indianapolis. Unfortunately, I don’t recall who was talking about it. But I was intrigued by the possibility of students coming up with creative solutions for real-world clients.
The Ketchum Mindfire program crowdsources university students in public relations courses to come up with creative solution to the needs of Ketchum clients.
Students submit their ideas through an online portal. There, they can see the other ideas that have been submitted. The winning ideas are chosen by the client. The students who win get recognized through the program and receive a prize. Persons who get honorable mention are also recognized.
It is my understanding that, by participating in the program, Ketchum can use the idea the student submits in working with the client.
The challenges are sent to the students through the portal on a regular basis. The challenges we had last semester provided students with a variety of opportunities to come up with creative campaign ideas. The students submit a summary of their idea, explaining how their idea addresses specific requirements from the client. The background for a challenge might include a brief overview of the company (or it may describe the type of company it is but omit the company name), the problem or opportunity the client is facing, the goal, and important contextual factors such as audience, market conditions, etc.
The program is described on the Mindfire portal website this way: “When you share ideas on Mindfire, you receive career coaching and training from Ketchum, along with other prizes and compensation if your idea is selected.” You can read more about Ketchum Mindfire.
How I Integrated Mindfire into my Public Relations Principles Class
One objective I had for improving my PR class was to get students a taste of the sort of client needs that they might face in their careers. I felt that the class had a lot of information about what PR was, its history, what working in PR could be like, and so forth. And I had created small activities and large assignments to try and emulate what the experience of PR work might look like. For example, I gave students a mock PR problem and had students work on a solution which they would pitch to the class as a large project.
Still, nothing prepares students to understand what a career in PR might be like and the types of creative problems they may be tasked with solving than seeing first hand what the real problems an agency is working on.
So I jumped at the opportunity and got my class signed up.
Here’s how I integrated the program into my class:
At many of the universities that participate in the program, the students work individually on their ideas and submit them to the Mindfire portal. Students come from a variety of different classes at these universities, from intro classes like mine up through senior-level campaigns courses.
Because my students work in teams all semester on other activities and assignments, I wanted the students to work in teams on the Mindfire challenges. I also thought that, because the students were all new to PR and probably hadn’t worked on coming up with creative solutions for clients like this before, the students would learn a lot from brainstorming with one another. And I think that teamwork aspect really helped. There were those students that ‘got it’ quickly and those that needed to observe their teammates to understand what we were trying to accomplish with each new challenge.
On the days that students would work on the Mindfire challenge, we would work in the computer lab. We’d start the class with students reviewing the challenge and identifying the due date. Then, I’d give students 20-30 minutes to work on the project and provide them a little guidance where needed. It was important to me that I did not provide the students with ideas because I’ve noticed that students have a tendency to think that the professors idea is the ‘good’ or ‘right’ idea and they end up going with that. Instead, I would nudge them or give them things to think about with their ideas.
Once time ran out, students would have to work on the challenge outside of class if they weren’t done so they could submit their proposed solution by the challenge deadline.
In terms of the graded assignment, I required teams to complete 5 challenges over the course of the semester. This number was chosen based on the amount of time in class I felt we could reasonably set aside for the project and my expectation that there wouldn’t always be a challenge each week. I was flexible with how I set aside class time as I found that some weeks there were several and some weeks there was one challenge and a few weeks there weren’t any available during the times I had classes.
Additionally, I wanted to encourage students to also go out and complete challenges themselves individually. So, I provided an extra credit opportunity for students wanting to go above and beyond. Students could do an extra 8 challenges on top of the 5 from class.
In review, I think 8 was a bit too many. In the future, I will cut it down to 5.
I’ve posted a copy of the assignment below.
How It Went
I was super excited and proud when I found out that one of my students won one of the Mindfire challenges in our first semester ever participating. Sophomore Sarah Burke’s idea was selected from over 1,000 participating students at over 50 universities. She won first place for her idea in a paint challenge for a major brand.
Several weeks later, another student won honorary mention for her idea in a different challenge.
I believe the project brought a creative and competitive atmosphere – an energy – to the class that was not there in past semesters. Having students get recognized in the program helped the entire class see the merits of their work and what they as students are capable of.
In closing, I believe participating in the Ketchum Mindfire program made a big difference in helping my students understand what working in PR can be like. The project showed students how exciting and creative the job can be. The students seemed to enjoy working on the challenges and I got the sense that they felt closer to and more familiar with the field than any group I’ve had in that class before. I’m looking forward to participating again next semester when I teach the PR principles class.
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The assignment is below. See all of my assignments and syllabi on SlideShare.net/profkushin