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Ad/Pr Students Compete to Create City Parks Campaign

By Rhiannon Rashidi

CITY COLLEGE, April 15- Dozens of Advertising and Public Relations (Ad/Pr) students gathered in the CCNY quad and set up tables and games to raise awareness about New York City parks and safe spaces. The students are part of a capstone class in the (Ad/PR) program, which is run like a real world agency. And their job is to impress real world clients with their ability to engage City College students and encourage them to take advantage of the more than 1700 parks in the city parks. 

But it's not as simple as impressing the client for these students. They have the added challenge of being more impressive than their peers, because they are competing for the same contract. 

Ad/Pr professionals John Totaro and Gerardo Blumenkrantz, chairman of the Department of Media & Communication Arts, lead the class, and after the first day they divide students into two teams. Each has a mission to  develop and execute competing campaigns. The winning team will get a ‘contract’ with the class’s nonprofit partners, Fox Sports Supports and America SCORES.   

“It’s definitely a competition and we sort of act as human resources. And this sort of gives them a sense of what happens in the workforce,” Professor Totaro said. “Both teams, separately, came up with their own strategy,” Professor Blumenkrantz added.   

Through extensive research, both teams identified barriers that prevent CCNY students from utilizing the city parks. Then, it was their job to decide how to use that information to create campaigns that inform and engage students. 

Francina Saint-Hilaire, the project manager of Elite Edge Communications (the name of her team’s “agency”), explained that her team’s research showed many CCNY students are not aware of the recreational opportunities that city parks offer. “So, [we] decided to create a campaign where we actually highlight those opportunities and show students that instead of paying 100 dollars for a gym membership, there are programs in NYC parks that offer the same activities for free,” she said. “That’s why we came up with the slogan ‘Your parks, your perks.’” As part of their event, Elite Edge Communications offered soccer lessons and interactive games with a trivia element, to teach students about what parks have to offer in an entertaining way. 

The other team decided to go a completely different route. “Our team found that the online sense of community is a huge part of Gen Z and a younger demographic. So instead of bash it, and give negative connotations– all ‘instead of online, go to parks’-- we wanted to use the strength of online to drive people to parks,” Luis Herrera, the project manager of GSD communications (the opposing team’s “agency’) said. 

“Through our research people said that they’re more likely to go to parks if they go with someone else, because they’d rather not be alone,” Herrera added. In a play on popular social apps like Tinder and Bumble, his team offered "speed friendzoning." “It’s just about how we can really hit home that online connection is important to actually drive that sense of connection.” 

But one thing both teams and campaigns have in common is the client. “[Our team] is having the students participate in different activities that they would normally do at the park. But we also want to showcase some of the nonprofit organizations that we’re working with,” Oscar Flores, a member of team Elite Edge Communications, said.  

One of those organizations is Fox Sports Supports. Its website mission statement describes its work as a “ community impact program dedicated to harnessing the power of sports for transformative social impact.” The sixteen year old program works with around 10 schools per semester according to Cati Hance, senior manager of strategic partnerships at Fox Sports. “We just launched into finding the right class to partner with about a year ago. And that led us to this capstone class,” she said. “And what we do is bring real world challenges to the students. So connecting our Fox Sports support team with one of our partners, America SCORES, here in New York made a lot of sense.” 

America SCORES is a nonprofit organization that offers after school programming in soccer, poetry, and civic engagement. “We’ve had conversations actually with an organization called New Yorkers for Parks, which is an independent lobbying group. And this engagement with CCNY helped our conversation with them,” John Riordan, director of development at America SCORES, said. “0.6% of city funding goes to parks. And the goal of New Yorkers for Parks is to get that up to 1%.”  

Hance and Riordan, representatives of the “client,” were at the students’ campaign events to assess the progress and execution of their ideas. “The [Ad/Pr students] had to start from scratch and get to know us as the client, figure out what our needs are, and then build a campaign around that. And it’s never easy!” Riordan added. 

“You’re learning on the fly in capstone classes like this. You have your first client, and are tasked with this project, where you are implementing bits and pieces of every class,” Luis Herrera said. “We have to write a press release. We’re coming up with the research to find out what actually drives students and how to get our message across. It’s really hands on, and that's the best part.”

“I think both teams today have accomplished what they set out to accomplish, which was to develop and execute fun, educational events, and to have city college students become more aware of the importance of city parks, and safe spaces,” Professor Totaro said. 

The professors laughed and explained that they get the same question from students the first day of every semester: “What do we get if we win?” The reward is a small grade bump and the satisfaction of winning. And though clients generally use the winning team’s findings and suggestions, Professor Totaro emphasized that, in the Ad/Pr world, winning over a client doesn’t mean the competition didn’t propose a good campaign. “At least in my experience teaching this class, I would say that 100% of the time, the client ends up using work from both teams,” he said. 

In this case, the client John Riodan from America Scores sees a broader application for the students’ work.

“Because [America SCORES] is part of a larger network, some of the learnings from these student campaigns could be passed on to other cities as well. So then we look like heroes!” he said.  

At the end of the semester, the capstone students present their campaign to the clients, with what they’ve learned from this event. But, true to their goal, they aren’t the only ones who learned something from it. 

“What stood out most to me was that New York has so many parks available,” Brian Bautista, a CCNY student who participated in Elite Edge Communication’s event, said. “There was a trivia question about the biggest parks, and I didn’t know that Central Park isn’t the biggest one!”


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