The “Student Firm” gives Murrow students real-world agency experience.
First, if you are a talented WSU senior in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, submit a resume and cover letter. Make sure you reveal your unique qualities and talents and communicate why you want to be a part of this opportunity. Don’t forget to include a link in your email to your portfolio. Then wait for a decision.
“We’re looking for collaborators, critical thinkers, and creative talent,” said Justin Barnes, a scholarly associate professor in Murrow College, who led the inaugural course of the Student Firm.
Launched in fall 2022, the Student Firm functions as an operating public relations and advertising firm. The course—which students and faculty have branded Crimson Creative—was launched “to give Murrow seniors real-world professional experience building both a solid portfolio and a professional network while earning three course credits,” said Barnes.
The course is the result of the vision of dedicated faculty members who have worked in the world of public relations firms and advertising agencies, as well as Cheri Brennan, APR, ’72, a member and former chair of the Murrow Professional Advisory Board. The course became reality thanks to Brennan’s philanthropic investment.
“My first job out of Murrow was at a small PR agency in San Francisco,” said Brennan. “It was the perfect first job because it was a small agency, and I had to learn every aspect of the business, from production to creative development to cold calls. I later realized that is exactly the kind of experience we need to give our Murrow students, so they’ll have a clear edge in the job market.”
After conversations with faculty and development officers at Murrow, Brennan learned that several other colleges and universities already offered a student firm experience, and she wanted to support a similar course at WSU.
Not only did Brennan’s gift support such an experiential learning opportunity, it also provided funding for students to participate in the National Student Advertising Competition, the premier college advertising competition challenging participants to create a strategic advertising/marketing/PR campaign for a corporate client.
“Crimson Creative is one part grueling job, one part rigorous course work, and two parts exhilaration and fun that come with the creative process and team work,” Barnes said.
Before joining Murrow College, Barnes’ career began at Ruder Finn Public Relations and Marketing, a storied New York firm established in 1948; one of their marquee accomplishments was to help make famous their first client, singer Perry Como. As an account executive at Ruder Finn, Barnes gained deep knowledge of this world.
To design the coursework and the concept of Crimson Creative as a functioning firm, Barnes collaborated with Murrow College faculty colleagues Stacey Hust, Chelsea Newman, and Ben Pingle, as well as former faculty member Margaret Ritsch. The end result was a course with students organized as members of account teams working directly with actual clients—while receiving guidance and mentorship from faculty throughout the process.
Balancing urgent deadlines, difficult clients, demanding workloads
Crimson Creative students take on all the duties of professionals at an agency, from interacting with clients to researching a company’s marketing needs to developing marketing and communications campaigns. Likewise, they learn to balance urgent deadlines, difficult clients, and demanding workloads.
For the launch of the two-semester course (fall and spring), Barnes began the way a start-up company might begin—with a retreat, capping the day with dinner. This provided an opportunity for the Crimson Creative team, a group of only 15 students (next year’s group may be a bit larger), to share their aspirations and build camaraderie in a relaxed setting.
Kayla Boydstun, a member of that first class, thought it was a wonderful way to begin. “We got to know each other in a way we hadn’t in our other classes,” she said, “and there was a sense of excitement and expectation.”
That excitement comes through when looking at the portfolio of work students developed for clients such as The Buffington Foundation, dedicated to community-building projects (named after civil rights activist Terry Buffington); Clean Age, a company that creates natural deodorants and hygiene products; McCoy Hotel, a boutique hotel; The North Idaho Athletic Club; and Kure & Co, a clothing store.
As Barnes said, “The work they do is what makes this unique course such a rewarding one.”
Students are evaluated based on their work with clients, their interaction with team members, and their ability to help build Crimson Creative’s brand as an elite program for those at Murrow pursuing strategic communications.
Barnes likes to advise his students: “Show up—being in the right place at the right time only happens if you’re there. Be curious. Appreciate your colleagues. And, most importantly, be kind and honest.”
Thanks to the talented and dedicated faculty and the generosity of Brennan, there is growing student interest in this real-world learning opportunity of a lifetime. The fall 2023 semester class is already full; Murrow will accept applications for the fall 2024 semester next March.
“If you’re a senior in Murrow College and you want to get a real advantage in this field,” said Boydstun, “you should apply.”
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