Pouring rain did not dampen the spirits of Fort Hays State University public relations students when they competed recently in the third annual Mid-America Public Relations Competition at Pittsburg State University. The students walked away with third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place finishes.
"I think the students did great," said Andy Stanton, assistant professor of communication studies and team co-sponsor. "The competition was very top notch, especially with involvement of the Grunigs, two of the most admired researchers in PR, being there as our guest judges. I look forward to next year and learning from our experiences." Stanton was referring to Dr. James E. Grunig and Dr. Larissa A. Grunig, both Professor Emeritus of public relations and communications at the University of Maryland, who have established several public relations principals and theories.
The team also brought home a plaque and a $50 scholarship for the Communication Studies Department.
In the crisis news conference division, the students draw a case study and have 30 minutes to prepare for a news conference. The students compete in two rounds with a different case in each round. The top three individuals advance to the finals.
Amanda "Mandy" Johnston, Blair, NE, senior, advanced to the finals round in the individual's crisis news conference division and finished third. Savannah Hornung, Stratton, CO, junior, placed fourth.
"The students who did the crisis news conference certainly performed well. The topics were quite difficult, and they had the additional stress of being face to face with real reporters and journalists who were trying to get them to divulge more information than a spokesperson should release," said Jennie Straight, assistant professor of communication studies and team co-sponsor. "Both young women handled the questions very professionally."
Some of the crisis topics that Johnston and Hornung had to cover were a viral meningitis outbreak, a university president hitting and killing a family of four while driving home from a neighboring university, a fraternity hazing problem, and a fire in a residence hall.
The campaign event is an intense competition in which students spend three hours on Friday afternoon developing goals, strategies and tactics from information provided by the client. They present their proposal to two groups of judges on Saturday, and the top three teams move to finals.
This year, the project was to act as an independent public relations firm vying for a lobbying contract with a university.
Natalie Blair, Oakley senior, Jessica (Smart) Goodale, Abilene senior, and Jayna Montoia,
Hays senior, earned fifth place in the campaigns division. The team of Johnston, Hornung, and Amy Smith, Bertrand, NE, junior, earned sixth place.
"I believe the Fort Hays students did exceptionally well with such a difficult topic. We only touched briefly on PR from a lobbying standpoint in our public relations classes, and none of the students had any background knowledge on lobbying," said Straight. "Not only did they have to use PR skills to develop a campaign, but they also had to research the issue, all in a very short time period."
Blair and Smith were the only returning competitors.
The students competed with schools from Oklahoma, Nebraska, Arkansas and Missouri. FHSU was the only Kansas school in the competition. The University of Nebraska-Kearney won the competition.