Story Careers

Student-Run PR Agencies: Real-World Practice for a Digital Future

Christianne Salvador


​Students at CSU Fullerton's PRactical ADvantage pitch PR strategies to real-world clients. Photo courtesy of CSU Fullerton​


​​​​​Advances in technology continue to evolve the work of public relations (PR). While traditional PR skills, such as writing and public speaking, will always be valuable, today's PR practitioners must also flourish in the digital landscape. Tech-savviness, in addition to interpersonal skills, has become essential to effectively reach the modern audience.

To meet the increased expectations of PR professionals, CSU undergraduate students are gaining strong career preparation by working in student-run PR agencies. Currently available at 10 CSU campuses, the agencies are student-managed businesses that provide advertising, public relations and event planning services to real-world companies. The agencies are designed to benefit the clients while providing a robust hands-on learning experience for students.

Producing Real Results for Real-World Clients

When the Bob Hope USO in Orange County needed help with introducing their new military services center to the community, they called on California State University, Fullerton's agency, PRactical ADvantage, to increase their brand awareness.

To inform the public about the services that the USO offers, students hosted a mixer at the Bob Hope USO center at the John Wayne Airport, inviting members of the community and local Orange County businesses. As part of the process, students developed a marketing campaign to promote the event using the USO's social channels.

They also created a video that was posted on Facebook asking for donations during the holiday season. Between the video and the advertisement campaign, more than 77,000 people were reached and the organization's social media channels have generated more than 290,000 impressions.

“It was great to have a team of hardworking young students dedicate a semester to Bob Hope USO and seeing their perspectives on PR for the organization," says Allison Anderson, director of special projects and events at Bob Hope USO. “They familiarized us with social media advertising and helped us get our calls to action to reach more people. Soon after, we connected with an individual donor and a veteran who wants to help recruit volunteers."

Student-run PR agencies operate within an academic program, typically in the Communications or Business departments. Students can work at the agency for a semester or two to earn college credits, allowing them to gain valuable work experience without compromising their time to degree.

Chico State alumnus, Benjamin Liwanag, says the work he did at the campus' Tehama Group Communications (TGC) agency closely aligns with his job duties today, helping him land a job at Highwire PR in New York City.

“During my interview at Highwire, I talked about a successful social strategy that I had developed for a client, which helped me stand out from other applicants," says Liwanag. “They found my experience to be valuable with digital communication becoming a bigger part of today's PR practices."​

Strengthening Interpersonal Skills in the Age of Digital Communications

The future of PR is likely to be in digital communication media, according to Doug Swanson, professor of Communications at CSUF and author of the book “Real World Career Preparation: A Guide to Creating a University Student-Run Communications Agency." But despite the growing emphasis for digital communication, Swanson says interpersonal skills will be as important as ever.

“There are students who are hesitant to pick up the phone and pitch an idea; They're afraid of one-on-one presentations. As digital skills continue to grow, we must not forget about the interpersonal skills that are so important to business and personal success. Business is not done through text messages," says Swanson.

Agencies prepare students to meet the business realities of the future by balancing their use of hard and soft skills. Meeting clients' needs often involve blending hard skills, such as social media analytics, with well-developed soft skills, such as face-to-face communication and strong work ethic.

“While writing is an important skill in PR, so is building trust and relationships with clients," says Tawnya Bear, associate vice president at Finn Partners marketing agency and Chico State alumna. “When I worked at TGC, I learned how to work with different personalities. You don't get to choose your team, so you quickly realize what makes a person tick or how to best work with someone."

Swanson says many companies will continue to value soft skills in their employees more than they value the hard skills. “An employer told me just last week, 'I can train students to perform any task. But I cannot train them to have a sense of urgency, self-awareness, or values that align with my organization.'"​​ ​

To learn more about each of the CSU's student-run PR agencies, visit the following campus sites: