blossoms on trees in the spring
News and Announcements

Valuable PR Skills Learned at Student-run Agency lead to CBS and Sports Illustrated Stories for Area Non-Profit

Posted in: School of Communication and Media News

Sports Illustrated Screen Grab

By: Ariel Kaplan, Stevie Vallellanes, and Rayane Yamout

Pitching story ideas to the media is a vital skill for public relations practitioners that requires patience and perseverance, especially during these strange and challenging times.

For many students working at Hawk Communications, the student-led strategic communication agency housed in the School of Communication and Media, pitching media is one of the many real-life skills they can develop while being part of one of the many account teams.

The agency works with internal clients at the university and several businesses and nonprofit organizations in the Montclair area. One of its clients since the spring of 2020 is New Jersey Warriors Hockey, a nonprofit, volunteer-run program that gives disabled US military veterans an opportunity to connect with one another on the ice.

Given the wonderful story that the Warriors have to tell, a primary goal of the organization was to generate earned media coverage with news, radio and television outlets. Soon after the semester started, the account team developed a pitch around National Suicide Prevention Month, which is held every September. The pitch centered around a new social media campaign to honor the 22 veterans lost daily to suicide.

The team crafted a three-paragraph pitch and reached reporters and organizations that would be a good match for the story. The team also shared a media tracker and updated it regularly to keep track of who they were pitching and all responses. Things started to take off when agency member Ariel Kaplan reached out to CBS New York Lisa Rozner on Facebook in October, and she expressed interest in sharing the veterans’ story. However, while Rozner and her team decided that the timing wasn’t right, she informed Kaplan to pitch again in a few weeks as Veterans Day approached. She did, which resulted in CBS running this incredible story about the organization.

As November 11 approached, Kaplan connected Rozner with Warriors Executive Vice President Ted Curtin to coordinate interviews and film b-roll at the Prudential Center, which is one of the places the Warriors practice and play. Students learned how bridging the gap between the media and a client can be time-consuming, and how important it is to communicate clearly and frequently.

After images of the interview surfaced on social media the morning of November 11, Sports Illustrated (SI) reporter Kaitlin O’Toole reached out on Instagram with the aim of covering her own angle on the Warriors for Veterans Day. O’Toole was fascinated by this organization’s rehabilitation efforts to aid veterans through the exciting world of ice hockey. O’Toole has a personal connection to the military, as two of her immediate family members have served. Team member Stevie Vallellanes connected her with Curtin, and they were able to shoot and release its own story later the same day.

While the team had originally struggled to make media connections, pitching more than 30 media outlets during the semester, they learned an important lesson about the value of persistence in strategic communication. By simply obtaining one response, they were able to help provide a platform to tell the  stories, and it also showed that just one successful earned media “hit” can lead to other great opportunities. The events and media coverage that unfolded on Veterans Day would have not been possible without the internship experience of Hawk Communications and the students involved in this unique educational program.

Under the guidance of Professor Keith Green, Hawk Communication provides students opportunities to build invaluable skills in strategic communication, including social media management, content creation, client relations, teamwork, analytics, and networking. Students across majors are encouraged to take advantage of this incredible internship-like course offered on campus.

Read the Story from CBS.

Read the Story Sports Illustrated.