Category Archives: Strategic Campaigns

Fall 2017 Strategic Campaign Client Presentations: Reflections and Learning Opportunities

This semester, my COMM 470 Strategic Campaigns students had the opportunity to take on an international non-profit as a client. That non-profit was Children of Uganda.  Children of Uganda seeks to give a hand up to women and children in Uganda. Among its efforts, Children of Uganda helps put Ugandan children through school and provides micro-funding for income generating projects for Ugandan women.

It was an amazing learning opportunity to partner with the passionate and dedicated team at Children of Uganda. It was very inspiring for me. And I believe it was for the students as well.

The Pitch

On Thursday, December 14, the students had the opportunity to pitch their completed campaign plans to Children of Uganda. The students were nervous. I was too.  They worked all semester to research and plan their campaigns and had worked hard to address the client’s earlier feedback on their proposals. It was time to see what the client thought.

Students presenting their campaign projects in Dec. 2017

As a professor, you work for years to help the students grow, mature, and learn. You push them to believe in themselves and to realize what they are capable of. The campaigns class is the culminating class in the Strategic Communication concentration in our department. It is where the students have the opportunity to transition from being students to being professionals.

Both presentations went very well. The team at Children of Uganda expressed sincere satisfaction with, and excitement about, both campaign plans. After the presentations, the client asked great questions and the students handled them very well. It was a #proudprofessor moment for sure!

When it was all over, I could sense a feeling of excitement and relief emanating from the students. I sensed that they were almost surprised in how well they executed and how well their ideas were received. I sensed that the students were impressed with themselves, and rightly so. They did an awesome job!

I’ve taught the campaigns class in the fall for the last four years (here’s the syllabus from the first time I taught it in Fall 2014). I always find that it is the most challenging class to teach and for students to take. Further, preparing students to give a pitch presentation is hard. I’ve shown different slide decks, talked about strategies, etc. We did a few trial runs and had the students work on ironing out the weak points.

I reflected on this a bit.

I realized that I had missed a teaching opportunity.

As an educator who has been teaching at the college level now for over 10 years, I’ve come to see my mission as: to help my students self actualize.

It is not enough to me that my students do well. I want them to feel good about doing well. I want them to believe in themselves and know that they can accomplish things they didn’t think they could. I think that, to many of us educators, the information we help the students learn is at the surface of how we are hoping to help them. Beyond knowledge, I think that for many educations, educating is about helping people push personal boundaries, enter new spaces, and grow confidence in those spaces.

I believe that one way to do this, is to help heighten student awareness of how they are perceiving themselves and/or a situation and how that can limit their growth.

Was the students’ nervousness before the presentations justified? Was mine?

Of course.

Presenting before a client is a scary proposition, especially when you’re a student doing it for the first time. It is of course natural and perfectly normal to feel nervous. We all feel that way from time to time.

But, I want to help my students begin to take control of this feeling so that they can continue to become more comfortable giving presentations and pitching clients. I believe that the more at ease one feels in these settings, the better they will enjoy them. The more they enjoy them, the better they’ll go.

One way to do this, is to examine the evidence when facing a high-pressure situation. Students could look at what they thought might happen that would be bad. A thought might be: “What if the client hates the idea and tells us so?” Afterwards, they could look at the evidence as to whether it actually happened. Since, most things we fear never come to fruition, chances are that things will turn out better than one expects.  When one sees that things turned out better, I think it has the power to break those limiting perceptions about one’s abilities.

Here’s what I’m going to do next time:

1) Have students write down on a scale of 1-7 with 1 meaning “terribly” and 7 meaning “amazingly”: “How well do you think this presentation will go?”

2) Have them write down a brief description of what they think might happen that wouldn’t be good.

3) Write a statement to counter those negative thoughts – such as, what might go well.

4) Give the presentation.

5) Use a scale of 1-7 to answer how well the presentation went, with 1 being “terribly” and 7 meaning “amazingly.”

6) Have the students identify the number of things that they thought might happen that wouldn’t be good that actually happened.

7) Have the students write a positive statement about how the presentation went, such as identifying things that went well.

Afterwards, we will discuss their answers to these questions, with the goal of having them reflect upon the positive of what they did. My hope is that it will help them start to break any limiting perceptions that they may have. I hope this will accelerate their comfort with presenting so that their comfort is in line with their abilities.

Closing out 2018

I think for all of us, when we face a challenging task, there is a tendency to focus on what might go wrong. As I look forward to 2018, a goal I have for my classes is to continue to shift the narrative for my students to focus on what will go right. These students are amazing people with wonderful talents. I’m super impressed with how they performed this semester!

Congrats to the December grads and to the students who have taken their final course from me.

Lastly, on behalf of the class, I want to thank Professor Larson and the students of COMM 406 Advertising & Imagery. For the first time, my class partnered with Professor Monica Larson’s class. The Ad & Imagery students created all of the graphic design work for our campaigns. The campaign students decided what they wanted created, and they worked with Professor Larson’s students to flesh out the ideas and refine them. Then, Professor Larson’s students did the graphic design work.

About half of the students were in both classes.  My class had two different groups, each working on their own campaign. Half of Professor Larson’s students worked on creating media materials for 1 of the groups in my class and half of the students worked on creating media materials for the other group. Thus, each student in Professor Larson’s class created their own version of the media materials my students requested. The best 3 designs were chosen for each campaign.

Professor Larson is a very talented, amazing professor. Having the opportunity to work with her class elevated the experience for the students in both classes, I believe. I know that it  greatly enhanced the quality of the final product in my class. Her feedback in helping the students refine their pitches was instrumental in their success.

– Cheers





Exciting Feedback for Strategic Campaigns Class Helping #StartCT

Students in my COMM 470 Strategic Campaigns (syllabus from previous year) had a big surprise last Tuesday when they presented their campaign plans to the client, a local non-profit, Charles Town Now.

The purpose of the class is to teach students the campaign planning process. In learning that process, students take on a client and complete all of the background research (e.g., client analysis, publics analysis, situation analysis, etc.) and come up with a plan to address the client’s problem. This includes the opinion leaders, key messages, objectives, goals, strategies and tactics as well as all of the content that would be needed to implement their plan. That means they create any materials that the client would use to execute the plan, whatever that may be. Think of it as a ‘turn key’ situation where the client would be able to take over the plan and execute it. This semester, both student teams determined that hosting an event was the best solution to the client’s need. So, students planned the events and needed materials to execute the events. But, because the class is focused on teaching the process, students don’t go out and execute their plans (now that they know campaign planning, students plan and execute campaigns for their individual capstone class projects).

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However, the president of the non-profit loved both proposed events so much that at the end of the presentations he asked  how Charles Town Now could work with the students to put their plans into action. The board agreed, and, since the class is over and we can’t do the project as a class project, now the students are going to get the opportunity to work as interns next semester for Charles Town Now!

The students were super excited and pleasantly surprised! I’m extremely proud of these students. This is their first experience with campaign planning and they had a very tough problem to address.

Charles Town Now is seeking to build a relationship with 17-30 year-olds in our rural county here in West Virginia. The aim is to bring young people to downtown, a downtown on the rebound from years of struggling. It is a downtown that primarily caters to older shoppers with a lot of antique and second hand shops and several vacant storefronts. That’s no easy task.

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The great folks at Charles Town Now are energized and forward-thinking. They are working to revitalize the town, attract new businesses, and help make it a central destination for local residents, like it once was.

So what were the solutions the students came up with?

  1. #TrendingTown 5k, “Putting Charles Town on the Map” – More than just a 5k, #TrendingTown aims to help young people see Charles Town as their place to start a trend. It is designed to harness hashtags and start a conversation. It is both a 5k through town and fun-filled all day event with local music and local vendors. It is a fundraiser for the town aimed at bringing to the exercise community in nearby counties to Charles Town.
  2. Champion of Charles Town High School Football Parade & Tailgate – Charles Town sits between the two high schools in our county. When the two teams play in football, it draws a big crowd. Yet, neither team is really associated with any one town in our county; for example, there are no homecoming parades through downtown (much different from where I grew up, where each school represented a town). The students’ idea is to bring the spirit of high school sports into downtown by hosting a tailgate and parade involving both schools when they play one another. The team who wins the game, is the champion of Charles Town – the place that divides the two schools – and holds the rivalry trophy for the year. By tapping into the existing local sports  culture and exploiting the fact that there isn’t a big cultural tradition like a homecoming parade to excite and involve the students, experience for the band, the Champion of Charles Town offers a new tradition. It creatively addresses the problem of getting 17-30 year-olds because it can bring in members of both schools’ football, cheer leading, band, and color guards, as well as their siblings in the target market. The secondary audience of parents and others who follow the local sports will also come downtown for the event. There are promotional tie ins between the town and the school sports, and local restaurants will be vendors at the tailgate.

This is the second time I’ve taught Strategic Campaigns. Last year, students worked with Charles Town Now on a different project. But, this is the first cohort of students that started at Shepherd when I started here and that have gone through the Strategic Communication concentration that I created and that was launched in my second year at Shepherd. So, this is a milestone for me and the concentration. And, I’m extremely proud of the hard work, willingness to learn and push themselves, and successes this group of students has had.

There is so much I want to accomplish here at Shepherd in terms of creating opportunities for my students. And I feel like we are beginning to build some great traction and establish our students’ reputation among non-profits and companies in the region. I’m looking forward to watching these students continue to grow and succeed and to future opportunities in 2016.



Reflections on how My Strategic Campaigns class helped #StartCT

This past semester was the inaugural offering of Comm 470 Strategic Campaigns in the Department of Communication here at Shepherd. And with that, I’d like to offer a brief reflection on the experience. It was a great learning and growing experience for both me and the students!

We were extremely fortunate to have worked with Discover Downtown Charles Town, an awesome cause that seeks to promote and help revitalize a wonderful small town near our campus: Charles Town, W.Va. We got to meet and work with Van Applegate and Patrick Blood, two of the awesome people who helped turn this cause into a recognized not-for-profit during the semester (and have gotten a good bit of positive coverage for it along the way).

I’ve taught courses before that have worked with clients in the past, like our Social Media and Social Movements class that did some great work for the American Conservation Film Festival a few years ago. But this semester was special for me because it represented the first time students were taking the seminal course in the Strategic Communication concentration I officially added to the curriculum in Fall 2013. So it gave me an opportunity to see what the students had learned and how they had matured over the two and one-half years of taking my classes. In a sense, it was the first ‘graduating class’ of the concentration (though not entirely as a few of the students have not yet taken all of the classes).

It is always a different animal when your class is working for a client for an entire semester, especially when the client is participating not just with the goal of helping students learn but with the hope of implementing some of the ideas and work that comes out of the class! The high stakes and knowing that if they produce high-quality, professional materials that meets the needs and goals of the organization, it could be more than just an assignment – it could be implemented by the client! -, are a great experience and motivator for the students. And I’m proud of how well the students came through!

I was impressed by the students’ ideas, creativity, and execution. Both teams dug in and did some great background research and produced strong proposals based on the goals the client and I established before the semester. After their proposals, they followed through and created the materials based on their strategies and tactics for DDCT to implement. I pushed both groups because I knew what they were capable of and they both probably they found me a bit demanding and overbearing at times. 🙂

Our campaign goals were:

  1. Help articulate the Charles Town Now brand and what its mission is
  2. Raise awareness of Charles Town Now and its mission among local businesses and community stakeholders such as the town council.
  3. Get local businesses to buy into Charles Town Now’s efforts to assist downtown Charles Town businesses to expand and grow.

A major emphasis was to find ways to bolster the success DDCT is already having through their Charles Town Now (#StartCT) social media campaign and augment or provide a number of things they were in need of. One part of this included bridging their highly visible social media presence online with the analog world, where what they are doing is a lot less obvious to the person walking the street of downtown Charles Town.

In short, the teams proposal and thus final implementation materials included:

Team A:

  • Monthly email newsletter offering an additional avenue to stay in touch with residents, visitors, and shop owners (with added benefit of reaching the demographic that doesn’t use social media).
  • Monthly calendar of events in Charles Town to be distributed with email & downloadable as a photo to smart phone
  • Proposed new blog for DDCT including sample posts – purpose of which is to tell the unique story of the people of Charles Town and what makes living, working, and owning businesses in Charles Town so unique and special.
  • DDCT branded window-signage for businesses downtown to promote their social media and promote awareness of DDCT.
  • Letterhead

Team B:

  • Proposed new blog for DDCT including sample posts – with the same purpose in mind as above.
  • Media Kit
  • Letterhead
  • Boilerplate
  • Proposal on how to better make use of Instagram, a social channel identified as an underutilized opportunity for DDCT
  • Tip sheet for local businesses on how to use social media for their business
  • Sticker designs for businesses and for residents to promote awareness of and demonstrate support for DDCT and #StartCT

Both teams also produced a targeted media list of legacy and new media outlets using the CisionPoint software, but those were only turned into me as an assignment and were not distributed to DDCT per the CisionPoint education program terms.

I hope I’m not forgetting anything. 🙂

The students got some great feedback and kudos for their ideas and their work. I’m proud to say that some of the materials the students created from their campaigns are already being used by DDCT. And I know the students are proud as well!

I want to thank Van and Patrick from DDCT for volunteering to work with our class, taking the time out of their busy schedules to do so, and for the amazing learning opportunity they provided our students!

Congrats to all of the students who participated in Strategic Campaigns this semester! Great job!

I am looking forward to continuing to grow and enhance the concentration and the classes. And I feel a great sense of pride in what our students have already accomplished in the brief time I’ve been offering these classes!

I hope everyone is enjoying the winter break and staying warm!



Note: I’ve written a bit more about our client and the course project here.

And a copy of the Strategic Campaigns syllabus and an overview for Fall 2014 are available here.

Strategic Campaigns Class Overview and Syllabus

2014-10-25 15.03.23

Fall is in full effect here in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia! As a follow up to my last post about my Comm 470 Strategic Campaigns class client, Charles Town Now, I want to share the class syllabus.

A few quick things to note about Comm 470 Strategic Campaigns.

  • The purpose of the class is to teach students how to plan a campaign. Thus, they learn via class lecture and activities, as well as by taking on a real world client to practice what they are learning.
  • Students work in groups and this semester we had a single client for the entire class.
  • Students work with a client – they create a campaign for the client, including materials for the client to implement. However, due to the condensed nature of a semester, they do not execute the campaign.
  • Students create an evaluation plan, but do not do evaluation because the campaign does not run.
  • The major project for the semester – the campaign – is broken into 3 parts. Students complete the background research section of their campaign plan (ending with a SWOT analysis), and turn that in for grading. This is an opportunity to provide students feedback for modifications to make. They then make modifications, and add the proposal components (channels & opinion leaders, key messages, goals, objectives, strategies, tactics). They then present this to the class. After getting feedback, they will put together their implementation materials and evaluation plan.
  • The text for this class is: Developing the Public Relations Campaign: A Team-Based Approach by Bobbitt & Sullivan
  • Additional assignments include:
    • Campaign Case Study paper
    • CisionPoint University Software Training . If you’re not familiar, Cision has an online, self-direct training program that works like Hootsuite University. But it is aimed at teaching students how to use CisionPoint. Students can become accredited in CisionPoint.
    • Team Evaluations – students evaluate one another in terms of their effort and dedication to the team project. Since most of the work in this class comes from a team project, peer evaluation is worth 16% of their grade.

I know many people have found the syllabi I share helpful, and hope this one is helpful as well. Please remember that you can access all of my syllabi by hovering over ‘syllabi’ from the menu on the left.  If you have any questions, contact me via Twitter or leave a comment below!

How do you teach this class? What recommendations do you have for improving my class, or assignments and activities I should consider?



photo credits: Me. 🙂 


Working with Charles Town Now: Shepherd Students Aim to Help #StartCT

I can’t believe it’s mid October and … even scarier, it is midway through the semester! It’s been fun but it is moving fast!

One thing that has made this semester so fun and rewarding is our brand new COMM 470 Strategic Campaigns class in the Department of Communication at Shepherd University that I had the opportunity of adding to our curriculum.

This class works with a real world client to teach students how to build a strategic campaign. Hands on learning and real world experiences are some of the most valuable opportunities we can provide our students, particularly those that are upper division. When looking for class project clients, I always look for local prosocial organizations filled with passionate people who are truly dedicated to improving their community. That sort of passion and excitement is infectious to me and the students. And the people behind our client this year are most certainly that! We have an amazing client this semester.

We’re working with Discover Downtown Charles Town (DDCT) and its social media outreach Charles Town Now. DDCT is an entirely volunteer-run nonprofit aimed at promoting the revitalization of the small town of Charles Town, West Virginia.

You may have heard of Van Applegate and Charles Town Now from the widely popular “This Guy Promotes an Entire Town Online” article in Small Business Trends, or seen Van on ABC 7. Charles Town Now has a great Facebook and Twitter account and hashtag campaign #StartCT.

Our class has been so impressed by what they have achieved and the passion and dedication people like Van Applegate and Patrick Blood have accomplished for Charles Town already.

Our class has 3 goals for the campaigns they are developing (students work in teams, each team creating their own campaign; we have 2 teams):

  1. Help articulate the Charles Town Now brand and what its mission is
  2. Raise awareness of Charles Town Now and its mission among local businesses and community stakeholders such as the town council.
  3. Get local businesses to buy into Charles Town Now’s efforts to assist downtown Charles Town businesses to expand and grow.

Since our concentration here in the department emphasizes social media, we hope to help Charles Town Now grow and enhance their online efforts. But that doesn’t necessarily mean social media alone – we are seeking not to simply recreate what they’ve already done well but to create communication across digital and “analog” 🙂 that will leverage what they are doing.

The benefit of working with groups like this, is that the project becomes more than simply an exercise for students to learn how to put a campaign together. The work they do is work the client is seeking help with and, as I tell my students, if they do great work there is a high likelihood the client will use their work. That means, the students have a real opportunity to help grow and shape the economy here in West Virginia.

I’ve spent countless hours myself thinking of ways to get involved and improve Charles Town, and have increased the time I spend in Charles Town supporting local businesses (I live in a neighboring town).

I’ve gotten a lot of feedback and thanks for sharing my other syllabi. So I will be sure to share my Campaigns syllabus here soon and hope to keep you all apprised of our class project as we go along this semester.

What tips do you have for choosing and working with clients?