The 2019 Global Public Relations Study Abroad Program in London


by Lauren Sullivan

The 2019 Global Public Relations Study Abroad Program in London

Imagine receiving a brief and having 30 minutes to come up with a PR pitch for the CEO of one of the world’s largest PR agencies. This was a reality for the 17 students who visited Ketchum during the Global Public Relations winter 2019 (UKPR19) study abroad trip.

George Mason University is a public research university in Fairfax, Virginia. Each winter break, GMU’s Global Education Office sends students to the UK to learn about and immerse themselves into global communications practices. The program is in its 17th year.

On Tuesday, January 8, 2019, the UKPR19 visited Ketchum. Ketchum is a leading global communications consultancy, having been ranked the fourth largest PR agency in 2018 by The Holmes Report. Students on UKPR19 met with Jo-Ann Robertson, the CEO for Ketchum UK.

Most students on the trip were PR concentrations within the communication major, but other majors were represented such as conflict analysis and resolution and graphic design. For some students, their first ever PR pitch was in front of Robertson.

“Coming into this program, I didn’t think that we’d have to take part in pitching a PR campaign to a major industry leader. However, our quick task at Ketchum was a rewarding challenge in terms of peer collaboration, receiving critiques and practicing my hand at professional communication,” said senior media production concentration Angelique Arintok.

The brief was for a new, healthier alternative for sports drinks – Coconut Water Sport. The 17 students were split into three groups to brainstorm strategies for engaging media and the public and a timeline for the release of the product. They were encouraged to incorporate social media into their campaigns.

Most of the groups focused on the biggest aspect of athletic culture in the UK, football (or as we Americans call it, soccer). Each group pitched a partnership or sponsorship with UK Premier League football teams – including handing out free Coconut Water Sports drinks at games that have QR codes to scan. One lucky winner as each game would scan a winning QR code and be able to meet their favorite team after the game.

Another group focused their campaign on being eco-friendly by creating re-usable plastic Coconut Water Sport bottles and having fill-up stations around the UK. Another group concentrated on the health benefits of the alternative drink and pitched the hashtag #RawPower.

After the pitches, students received feedback from Robertson, two other Ketchum employees and two Ketchum interns. Robertson praised the students for focusing on data and statistics during their pitches, because those supported why they thought their campaigns would work. Her advice for the students was to focus more on what results their campaign would drive and earning media coverage, not just paid media.

Salma Hamze, a junior PR concentration, said, “I wanted to be able to leave an impression that I’m passionate about and that I’ve learned a lot in my classes thus far. Her feedback on my presentation was invaluable and it really helped me see what I can improve when it comes to my pitching skills.”

Robertson was definitely impressed by the GMU students, writing in an email to the program instructor, Suzanne Mims, “I was genuinely impressed with their confidence and skills.”

Students were also able to hear about some of Ketchum’s most successful campaigns from Robertson herself. As a huge advocate for women, Robertson was specifically proud of Ketchum’s #BloodNormal campaign encouraging media to stop using blue liquid in menstrual product advertisements. Though some media banned their advertisements, this campaign skyrocketed among social media users.

Another project they were proud of was their success of promoting Head and Shoulder’s new recycled plastic shampoo bottles that Ketchum was able to help get promoted at the 2016 World Economic Forum (WEF). This was a huge feat because this was the first time the WEF allowed name brand products to be promoted on stage at their event.

Students were also able to learn valuable lessons from Robertson to help them before beginning their professional communication careers in the next one to two years. She talked about the difference between small and large agency life, saying, “Small agency life is good for stretching your skillset.”

Robertson also talked about the importance of channeling a company’s culture when they’re your client, “You need to understand what makes sense to that company, but in a new and innovative way.”

Senior graphic design major, Lauren Lapid, was grateful to learn about the PR process from communications professionals. “For those of us who come from creative backgrounds, it’s easy to overlook the process behind forming the campaigns and advertisements we are asked to design for. It’s incredibly fascinating and enriching to understand public relations and communications from both agency and corporate perspectives.”

At almost every visit during the UKPR19 trip, students asked speakers what their typical day to day was like. Robertson was no different in her answer than all other global PR professionals by saying that, “There is no such thing as a typical day in PR.”