Tips for Successful Student-Run Agency


In a recent post, I discussed meeting several impressive student PR firm leaders at the PRSSA 2009 National Conference.  Since that post, I’ve heard from many students and PR professors who want to start agencies on their own campuses.  So I asked Michigan State University senior Nick Lucido to provide the following information since he serves on the PRSSA National Committee and is responsible for helping develop student-run firms.

Currently, there are more than 100 firms in the U.S. with varying sizes and structures.  Nick notes that 15 student agencies are Nationally Affiliated firms, which represent the upper echelons of service and professionalism.  Thanks to Nick for the following tips.

I’ve had experience launching and working for a firm at MSU, so my advice is based on the Student-Run Firm Handbook (available by download on the PRSSA website) as well as my own trials and tribulations.  Here are some tips to remember for student-run firms: 

  1. Start small and build. Because many firms don’t charge for their work, there is usually an abundance of potential clients. However, when your firm is just being launched, choose one client that will give your employees the most opportunity to learn and grow. Once your firm has the minutia figured out, successful growth and expansion can occur.
  2. Choose a structure and stick to it. Make sure that your firm has a solid structure.
  3. Hire the right people. One of the downsides of having “employees” at your firm who are not paid and have other jobs is a lack of commitment. Make sure to employ reliable students who are willing to take the time to create professional work. During the hiring process, don’t come in with a goal to hire a certain amount of people; hire the best of the best.
  4. Elect an advisor who is interested in the long term. While you might have a great group of students interested in working for the firm, client relationships are long term and an advisor will be able to help you manage those relationships over a longer period of time.
  5. Know what you are capable of. By setting goals and objectives, you can hold your staff, advisors and clients accountable. A successful relationship comes from work on all ends and everyone should take the relationship seriously.
  6. Be realistic in your promises. Even though you might have a lot of depth of experience, make sure to never promise too much. This leaves you with an unhappy client and unreachable goals.
  7. Professional development for your employees. By bringing in experts, you’ll give the firm’s employees access to enhancing their skills, thereby improving your work. Make sure to step back from client work and take some time for professional development.
  8. Measure results and write case studies. Measuring your effectiveness will demonstrate to the client how beneficial your work is, which might lead to future work and referrals. Also, be sure to keep track of your successes so you can show potential clients the work you’ve accomplished.

 If you’re looking for a great way to get your firm going, consider participating in the Kohler competition. This is an opportunity to respond to an RFP with a campaign plan, and the top three Chapters will receive funding from Kohler to implement the campaign. Feel free to e-mail Nick if you have any questions or would like help with your firm.  

5 thoughts on “Tips for Successful Student-Run Agency

  1. I have been working to launch a firm at the University of South Florida. We face many challenges, such as the limiting structure of our program and the workload on advisors. But thanks for your help Nick! Your tips, and the handbook, have been very helpful. I have the support of other PRSSA members, and we are slowly launching the program by starting off with work for the Sport Clubs Program.

  2. Nick,

    Thanks for the great advice. I agree that supportive mentors and leadership is the key component to a well operated student-run agency. I’m a member of Allen Hall Public Relations at the University of Oregon. Our advisor is an advocate for our firm. Her trust in out abilities makes us strive for more and follow through with comittments.

  3. Great post and good reminders! I have worked for Allen Hall Public Relations for four years and now serve as the firm director. This next term we will have 40 members and 11 clients. It’s been remarkable to see how students are able to produce such professional work while still being full-time students. Running a student-run agency is no easy task, but it is certainly a rewarding one.

  4. Hi, I am a Public Relations/Marketing major but I attend classes online. I would like to start a student run pr firm, is there anyway I can do that?

  5. Teresa: Intriguing question. I have seen several virtual agencies, but none by students so that might be one way to go. Enlist fellow online students to join your agency. Ideally, you’ll line up a client and then seek help through Twitter and other online channels for help. Perhaps others will have suggestions. Good luck.

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