From Friday afternoon at 6 p.m. to 10 a.m. the next morning, the halls of Boston University’s College of Communication were lit up with the nonstop buzz of student energy and creativity during PRLab’s annual overnight communication marathon, PRoBono.
The event featured 88 student volunteers, who worked a total of 1,350 hours to create “tangible deliverables” for five nonprofit organizations. Participation as volunteers was open to all BU students from any major and grade, regardless of previous experience.
Mia Parker, a senior in COM and the director of events for PRLab this year, said the event is a great way for students in the “earlier stages” of college to gain professional experience outside of class.
“It also helps with a lot of networking, not just with students, but with the professors who are helping out and the coaches who come in,” Parker said.
Yadira Cabrera, a senior in COM and co-president of PRLab, said participants gain experience in a wide range of work done by PR professionals throughout their careers.
“You’re developing, redesigning, you’re creating a campaign from scratch, you’re learning how to pitch, you’re learning how to write a press release, all in one night,” Cabrera said.
At 8 a.m. on Saturday, after 14 hours of work, professional coaches came in to give students feedback on their work in order to prepare them for the final presentation to the clients at 9 a.m.
Reflecting back on the final presentation, William White, a freshman in COM, said he “learned how to structure a PR pitch way better.” White also said he learned from the coaches to speak confidently, which he struggled to do in the past.
“It’s something new, I had never done it before, and I had a great experience,” White said.
One of the event’s coaches, Amanda Fountain, digital engagement lead at LEGO Education, said volunteers already had a solid campaign when she came in.
“My focus was on just helping them fine-tune a couple of things, ” Fountain said. “I think a lot of it was just instilling confidence after they’ve been awake for a long time.”
One of the volunteers, Diya Shah, a sophomore in COM, said she signed up expecting the event to be fun and unique, aside from being able to get hands-on experience in PR.
“I loved the social part of the event with prizes and raffles and the events that [they had] each hour,” Shah said.
Throughout the 16 hours volunteers spent in COM, PRLab hosted events ranging from bingo, to trivia, to musical chairs. Students were provided three meals to keep them fueled, as well as a designated “nap room” for a quick recharge. Local companies, like Kupel’s and Ben & Jerry’s Boston, sponsored the event.
Another client, Greater Roxbury Arts & Cultural Center, was represented by its inaugural president and CEO, Taneshia Nash Laird, at the event. GRACC is a new nonprofit that is developing a cultural center and a space for social justice and economic development in Roxbury.
Laird said she decided to take part in the event to gain the “fresh perspective” that students can provide. After the final presentation, she said there was “amazing creative, very thoughtful strategic approach to every aspect,” of the campaign. She plans to use all of the deliverables created.
She also said PRLab is “an amazing way for students to not only be able to work with clients but to be able to do something that can have impact.”
Amy Shanler, an associate professor of public relations and the co-director of PRLab, has seen the event evolve from its start in Fall 2013.
While she has seen the number of participants grow significantly from only around 20 participants 10 years ago, she said the fundamental mission of the event to give back to deserving nonprofits has not changed at all.
“We have to learn how to give back,” Shanler said. “It’s part of building community, building a stronger society.”