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University student wins competition in public relations

Person of the week

Since her first year at the University, Kristina Amaral wondered how she would make her mark on the 40,000-student institution.

Amaral, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said she knew she had found her chance when her Public Information & Public Relations course this year assigned her to participate in the Public Relations Student of the Year Contest, a national competition.

The class assignment directed students to attract people in the millennial age group, born between 1980 and 2000, to the Marine Corps’ “Toward the Sounds of Chaos” campaign. Amaral did some research and changed her approach.

“The majority of millennials disagree with our national security policy,” she said.

Amaral said her first-place campaign was a museum event in which millennials could visit and interact with different aspects of life in the Marine Corps.

After a brief presentation, visitors could look at different career areas of Marine Corps life such as medicine, mechanics or engineering, depending on what their personal interests were, Amaral said.

Elizabeth Fuerst, who taught Amaral’s public relations class, said she thought Amaral’s contest entry stood out to judges because of its principal thrust — an interactive game and event known as “The Marine in Me,” which appealed to the Marine Corps, who are looking to revolutionize their recruiting techniques.

Her campaign included detailed instructions on how to use YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media to spread the word about the event and record the impressions of recruit candidates, Fuerst said.

“As I read through Kristina’s contest submission, I could envision [this] event actually taking place in a venue like the Lexington Avenue Armory in New York or Philadelphia’s 23rd Street Armory,” Fuerst said. “Perhaps the Marines could, too.”

Making it to the final five student submissions put pressure on Amaral because it required travelling to New York City and presenting her campaign in front of a panel of judges, pitching her story to a journalist and reacting quickly to a crisis scenario, Amaral said.

To prepare, Amaral discussed her project with Fuerst and spoke with her mentor from Taylor Strategies, where she had previously interned, she said.

“I went in that week and just kind of did my best and fortunately it worked,” Amaral said.

Amaral said after presenting her work to the panel of judges, she did a live pitch to a journalist. But the journalist brushed her off without letting her finish her pitch, she said.

Afterward, the judges approached her and said the journalist wanted to give her another chance because she had not known Amaral was participating in a student competition, Amaral said.

After a crisis management scenario, the judges dismissed the candidates and picked the winner that day, but waited until the next week to announce that she was one of the final two contestants, Amaral said.

Amaral said she went to the awards dinner thinking even if she did not win, she and the University had gained great exposure. She brought her business cards, looked through the list of attendees, and began networking.

She said she was taken aback when the speaker announced her as the winner.

The public relations industry publication PRWeek attracts hundreds of students to the contest, Fuerst said.

Fuerst said she learned about the competition from School of Communication and Information Dean Jorge Schement, who heard about the contest at a PRWeek event in the spring.

“I decided to make it our capstone project for the course as a way to engage student creativity and implement the public relations skills we learn in our course,” she said.

Amaral said her time spent in theater when she was younger allowed her to feel comfortable speaking in public.

She said she started with an internship at George Street Playhouse and began working her way up in public relations, networking with people she met at panels and conferences.

Over the summer she said she earned an internship spot for Taylor Strategy in the Empire State Building. The company hired interns to work with various clients, and Amaral worked with Procter & Gamble, sponsor of the London Olympics.

During the first half of the internship Amaral worked with a team of six people and had a hands-on role pitching ideas and assembling biographies and briefing books, she said.

“I felt like an account coordinator,” she said. “I didn’t feel like an intern.”

Then the rest of the team flew to London for the Olympics and Amaral, the only one of her team to stay in the United States, picked up the pace.

She said she would get to the office at 7 a.m. and often stay as late as 9 p.m. When she returned home, she would turn on her company iPad and work more.

“A lot of my knowledge of PR so far … stems from that experience,” Amaral said.

Amaral said the award was a perfect way to leave her mark on the University and jumpstart into her field because it pushed her to do more and be more competitive.

Amaral’s award is a reflection of the School of Communication and Information’s communication program and faculty, said Diane Gomez, director of marketing and communications for the school.

Going through the mechanisms of creating and presenting a campaign to a client prepared Amaral for the processes she will encounter during her career, Gomez said.

She said Amaral developed a unique campaign that demonstrated the knowledge and tools she acquired in Fuerst’s public relations course.

“The award reflects her creativity and willingness to take risks — two traits that will take her far in her career,” Gomez said.

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