Student-Run Agency Lands Big Client and Creates Relevant Career Experience

Many colleges in small cities that lack an abundance of internship opportunities have created their own hands-on work experiences via on-campus, student-run agencies.

I have long admired the creative work from Cardinal Communications at Ball State University, and I recently visited Lindsey + Asp, the impressive 2-year-old student-run PR and ad agency at the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord of Journalism and Mass Communications.  Lindsey + Asp PR adviser Robert “Pritch” Pritchard moved to Norman, OK in 2009 from Muncie, IN where he served a similar role at the Ball State student agency.

Thanks to a $22 million gift from the Gaylord family, owners of the Oklahoman newspaper, OU has one of the best new communications facilities in the world.  And Lindsey + Asp’s digs are as impressive as any agency I’ve ever seen.  More importantly, the work coming from the 50-student agency is even more impressive—and a dozen clients are actually paying for the agency’s services.  Other clients range from the Norman Police Department to American Airlines and the Nature Conservancy.  Revenue from clients helps fund professional development opportunities for students.

This week, Lindsey + Asp landed its largest contract to date — $77,500 — from the Office of Strategic Communication for the U.S. Army Fires Center of Excellence at Fort Sill in Lawton, OK.  The one-year contract includes options for four additional years, which means it could become a significant $387,500 client.  Lindsey + Asp will produce a variety of collateral materials to promote Team Sill and the museums at Fort Sill.

“I think it’s huge that in only our third year of operation, we have been able to land a contract like this,” explains Pritchard. “It shows the professionalism and talent of our young professionals and gives them a real edge as they enter the business world.”  Pritch’s co-adviser is David Tarpenning, a 30-year advertising professional who previously headed his own ad agency in Oklahoma City.

Senior Megan Snowbarger, a member of the agency’s media team, said she loves the Lindsey + Asp experience.   “We are always growing, always working, always planning and always learning.”  She says team members recognize the value of their professional development and the opportunity to cultivate valuable relationships.

Recruiters take note of the talent that is coming out of student-run agencies on the prairie.  Top flight pros are coming your way.

Proud of your on-campus agency?  Share links in the comments for this post.


16 thoughts on “Student-Run Agency Lands Big Client and Creates Relevant Career Experience

  1. So wonderful to receive a shout out like this. Thank you so much Culpwrit! As Dillion stated, we are having a great year and this sure helps to fuel our excitement.

  2. What a great experience! Congrats to our colleagues at Lindsey + Asp on the great work in getting such an awesome account.

    I work with the Bradley Public Relations Agency at BYU and we pride ourselves in the work we provide for our clients. Here’s a link to our website-

    We hope that we might be able to meet fellow PRSSA members from Ball state and the University of Oklahoma at the national conference next week!

  3. WOW! What an accomplishment. Pritch has been doing some great things for student-run firms for a long time. This doesn’t surprise me.

    Love to have you take a trip to Newhouse to see what our firm, Hill Communications, is up to.

    Congrats on the new business!

  4. I was a member of Cardinal Communications and it was one of the best experiences of my student and professional career. It helped shape the professional I am today. Student run agencies are an amazing source of fresh thinking and breed some of the most successful professionals in PR today. Congrats to all of them and thanks Ron for writing this great article and your committment to the future of PR.

  5. I was on staff at Cardinal Communications at Ball State for three years in the 1990s (back when it was called Limited Edition), and it was a fabulous experience to supplement my internships and classroom learning.

    Thank you, Ron, for showcasing excellent examples of student-run firms.

    PRSSA offers great resources for student-run firms:

  6. Thanks for the invitation to visit Hill Communications, David. Would love to come to Syracuse sometime. Looks like a great program. Also enjoyed checking out the impressive BYU agency website, Matt.

  7. This blows me away! At my university, we have a student run firm, but we cannot seem to get students to take it seriously or get out of the nonprofit client circle. Do you have any advice for getting students excited about getting involved in the firm? And acquiring clients who want more than warm bodies to volunteer at events?
    Thank you!

  8. I agree with Bethany, our chapter is small and is located in a smaller town that is very non-profit focused. Do students at larger student run firms receive credit for their participation? Or are they paid? We struggle with students taking their work seriously and setting up structured firm practices.

  9. Wow that is fantastic for Lindsey + Asp! I can imagine the student experience would be amazing!

    I wonder if the alumni from the school and program stick around to help the current and incoming PR and Ad-agency students? Just like any other organization, it can be hard when hardworking students graduate and pass off their organizational positions, contacts, and responsibilities.

  10. As one of the students talked about in the previous comments, I also would like to know how to get more involved outside of non-profits. I realize that I am not as involved in our local PRSSA as I would like to be but I already get a lot of experience in the non-profit sector. At our University we have service-learning classes which pair us with a local non-profit to run different communications tasks. Don’t get me wrong, I think these classes are extremely helpful in progressing my education, I would just like to have other experience in a different sector of public relations.

  11. I’m the director of a student run PR firm (the very same one Bethany, Caleb and Doug are talking about) and I have to say that I am blown away by these students. Before there was this firm, was there a group of active students in another organization? Or did they just get involved with the firm from the get-go?

  12. This seems like a wonderful opportunity to be involved with.

    In my advanced advertising class we do something similar by creating ad agencies within the class. We have two different clients per semester that we create a marketing plan for to fit their needs. This has been some of the best experience I have got from my schooling. It is also very rewarding to present to the board of the non-profit organization because you can see first hand how much we have helped them.

    By participating in this style of class I have gotten first hand experience creating a plans book, working intensively with a team and selling the idea to a client.

    If you ever have this kind of opportunity I would highly recommend it!

  13. I apologize for being a little late to task with this feedback, but with the PRSSA National Conference this weekend it’s been a little crazy.

    First, we greatly appreciate Ron for highlighting the tremendous opportunity given our students. I’m compelled to point out that this successful contract didn’t happen magically. Lindsey + Asp students have been working for the Office of Strategic Communications at Ft. Sill for several semesters. The Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Oklahoma has also conducted media training for the Captain’s Course at Ft. Sill for several years. It’s the combination of a well-established relationship and excellent work on the part of the previous Agency account teams that put us in the position to compete for this award.

    To the several questions in this forum on motivating students and breaking away from the non-profit mold I’d add several comments.
    1. In terms of motivating our students, they understand that this experience will help differentiate them from the thousands of other students graduating with public relations degrees every year. But I also think motivation starts with the selection process. Students become members of Lindsey + Asp through a highly competitive application, interview and portfolio review process. If their application passes muster, they are then interviewed by myself and at least one student Agency leader. Our selection rate since opening the doors in August 2009 has been less than 50 percent of the 25 or so applicants each semester. I think this tends to crank up the motivation.
    2. There are a variety of models being used in student agencies in the U.S. Most are non-credit, volunteer experiences attached to the PRSSA Chapter. At Lindsey + Asp, students can take a one credit hour Public Relations Practicum that they may repeat once. But we also have non-credit students who have either already used their practicum credits or do not need the elective credit.
    3. The revenue at Lindsey + Asp is used to pay some of our overhead and expenses. We pay for all our equipment and supplies & subscriptions. We also pay for a student employee who handles our finances and summer pay for our graduate assistants. The net revenue will be used as Ron described; covering AdClub and PRSSA dues, covering registration and travel so our leaders can attend the PRSSA and AAF National Conferences, covering travel expenses for speakers and other professional development efforts. Otherwise, our students are not paid. Some Agencies pay a small stipend or scholarship to their leaders and cover pre-professional organization dues, but I’m not aware of any organization “paying” their students.
    4. Establishing firm practices is the job of your Policy & Procedures Manual, which is a crucial element of any student-operated agency, in my humble opinion. This manual should cover every operational detail of the agency, such as structure and position descriptions, required reports, common procedures such as logging hours, client agreement documents and evaluations. It should also cover in detail agency policies such as communication with clients and termination of members. I’m happy to share the Lindsey + Asp P&P Manual as long as the Agency gets at least a footnote credit; just give me a shout.

    Hope this helps! I think student-operated agencies are an essential element of every public relations curriculum and will do what I can to see that every student has this experiential learning opportunity!

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