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PR students stay cool under pressure, win top awards

Nov. 18, 2010

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A team of Baylor public relations students, led by journalism and media arts faculty, won first place for both its crisis plan and its news release at a competition at the Texas Public Relations Association in Austin.

By Nydia Perez

Knowing how to work effectively as a team to communicate a crisis earned Baylor public relations students top awards this past weekend in Austin.

The students competed at the Texas Public Relations Association last Friday at the Crisis Communication Conference. The competition tested the students' ability to prepare and handle crisis communication.

Agency principal and creative director of MM2 public relations agency Larry Meltzer, who is also president of the Texas Public Relations Association, was present at the competition and praised the Baylor team.

"As someone who runs an agency and sees a lot of mediocrity walking through our doors for interviews, it was heartening to see the cream of the crop last week in Austin. Baylor should be really proud," Metzler said.

There were six students and two professors from Baylor, including San Antonio senior Brittany Black, Thousand Oaks, Calif., senior Kate Williams, Spring senior Claire Moncla, Euless senior Colton Wright, West senior Becky Petter and Waco senior Kristina Ballard. The professors were Larry Norwood, Radford professor of journalism and media arts, and Carol Perry, lecturer of journalism and media arts.

The six students split up into two teams of three.

The Baylor teams took home both first and second place for their overarching crisis plan, and first and second place for their news release. Six other schools competed. Texas Tech took third for overarching crisis plan and Abilene Christian took third for news release. Each school had two teams.

"Working as a team is what ultimately placed us ahead of the larger schools," said Williams.

Williams said Baylor competed with very few aids or resources.

"We thought the rules were no notes and one computer. We showed up and the other schools had multiple laptops and notes," said Williams.

The team had to share a computer and Williams drafted the news release by hand.

Williams said the limited resources actually worked in the team's favor, because while other schools were able to split up the work individually, Baylor was forced to work as a team.

Wright, who was on the team that won first place for news release and crisis management, said that getting along with a team is an important factor during an actual crisis.

"You have to work very intimately in a crisis. You show a little more of yourself because nerves are on fire but you have to get over it," Wright said.

The teams were given a disaster scenario and were given an hour and 15 minutes to prepare the news release and overarching crisis response for the disaster.

"The disaster included a tornado hitting and leveling a fully packed basketball stadium," Petter said. "Due to the commotion of the game, the audience failed to hear the sirens. The storm hit, leaving more deaths than survivors."

Petter explained that crisis management involved taking information and knowing what to do with it. Petter also said the team's ability to respond well was a reflection of the preparation they received from their instructors, Norwood and Perry.

"We met for a month prior to the competition, working two days a week sometimes up until 8 or 9 p.m.," Petter said. "They would give us slips of paper with news and give us 10 minutes to write a news release. It was very intense but very helpful."

The students participated as part of a public relations agency class that was offered for the first time this year.

Petter said winning the competition was significant for the public relations department.

"It shows the kind of work that our professors are doing with us here. It's awesome to be recognized and I hope that it continues," Petter said.

Perry also expressed her satisfaction in the students' work.

"The Baylor teams not only applied their expertise, but they worked together seamlessly," she said. "We couldn't be more proud of these students."