Bradley student Shelby Brown learns self-defense techniques at an event organized by Bradley public relations seniors. (Photo provided by Kris Parks, Kuk Sool Won of Pekin)
December 6, 2016
Bradley public relations seniors find creative ways to improve the Peoria metro area each year through a friendly final project competition. Through the Ebeling PR-ize, students build relationships with local businesses and nonprofits in effort to improve the lives of local residents.
Founded by retired McDonald’s communications executive Chuck Ebeling ’66, the senior capstone challenges students to address worthy causes in the community with help from local organizations.
“This takes every class we ever took and threw it into one project,” said Kayley Koter, of Des Plaines, Illinois. “It’s a big deal because this is real life. It affects real people.”
Fall 2016 capstones targeted safety and financial concerns. One group paired area martial arts school Kuk Sool Won with the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Peoria to encourage and empower girls and young women. Another campaign paired Peoria education nonprofit Common Place with an area Mass Mutual office to promote financial basics. A third campaign promoted safe neighborhoods by passing out LED porch lights and hosting a block party with help from Ameren Illinois, Peoria Police Explorers and community advocacy organization South Side Community United for Change.
The experience pushed students outside their comfort zones as they took time to understand life and concerns of Peoria metro area residents.
“It’s good that we’re forced to get to know the city,” said Madeleine Koenig-Schappe, of Columbia, Missouri. “As we met people, we realized there were many important issues we could work on. Once we picked one, it was good to see the impact we could make, even though it was just a semester project.”
Students formed teams and functioned as full-service PR agencies for the semester. They followed the traditional PR campaign planning process from initial research to post-event analysis. Because of the small teams, students touched all elements of PR, with its marketing, advertising, event planning and business applications.
For many participants, the Ebeling competition was an introduction to nonprofit work. Though they may have volunteered for community service projects at Peoria-area organizations throughout their Bradley years, classroom and internship experiences focused on corporate PR.
As a result, the semester opened new career possibilities for people like Koter, whose group worked with Common Place.
“It was heartwarming and eye-opening to see the impact of organizations we worked with,” Koter said. “I hadn’t considered working in the nonprofit world before, but this is something I could see myself doing.”
The Ebeling PR-ize has recognized the top PR campaigns each since 2004. Previous winning teams include Hope Grandon ’11, whose competition success helped her land at the Denver Art Museum, where her team won a 2014 Silver Anvil — the top award from the Public Relations Society of America. Other past Ebeling campaigns included a voter drive and a community-building day of remembrance a year after a tornado devastated nearby Washington, Illinois.
“You’re going to have a hand up on many other graduates because of opportunity like this,” said Koenig-Schappe. “It’s really enriching to learn how to do a project in real time, with real people that produces real results.”