When senior strategic communication major Mary Strehl started working on the Owls With Purpose public relations campaign, she was worried her team wouldn’t be able to successfully engage people.
“There’s always that fear that people aren’t going to show up, or they’re not going to be interested,” Strehl said. “How do we…make a lasting impression to make [people] continue to want to be involved?”
Seven months later, Strehl and four other strategic communications students working on the campaign saw their project displayed on the PECO Crown Lights from March 15-17.
The message “Join @TUWithPurpose in the fight against childhood cancer” flashed across the city, reaching more than one million people. The PECO Crown Lights display community messages atop the PECO headquarters building at 23rd and Market streets.
Owls With Purpose is a public relations campaign raising awareness for pediatric cancer devised by senior strategic communication majors Strehl, Marissa Reale, Jenny Lynch, Terra Kliwinski and Kaci Ricciotti. The campaign was created for their capstone course as part of the Bateman Case Study Competition, an annual event hosted by the Public Relations Student Society of America.
“This has honestly been the best experience,” Reale said. “We actually got to implement our campaign and see it alive. We were the event planners running around and sweating. It was amazing.”
Every year, the Bateman Case Study Competition challenges students in PRSSA chapters to create a campaign for a specific client.
This year’s client is With Purpose, an organization founded in 2014 that aims to advance treatment for childhood cancer. The founder, Erin Benson, created With Purpose after she lost her 2-year-old son Sam to diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, an incurable brain cancer. The organization aims to raise awareness about the lack of funding for childhood cancers compared to other forms of cancer like breast cancer.
Senior strategic communication majors with a public relations concentration can choose to either enroll in the standard PR capstone course or the Bateman course, which started this year. This is also the first time a group from Temple entered the competition.
Public relations professor David Brown supervised the Owls With Purpose campaign. He said that in addition to enjoying the passion and enthusiasm of his students as they developed the campaign, he appreciated that the competition focuses on organizations that highlight a specific social policy or issue.
“It’s more than just a clever public relations campaign,” Brown said. “We’re really moving the needle, and if we can get people to have a greater awareness about things like pediatric cancer, that to me helps students to understand the work they do can make a difference in the community.”
The Temple campaign included two Dine & Donate days with Lee’s Hoagie House on Cecil B. Moore Avenue near 15th Street, where a portion of the profits were donated to With Purpose. There was also a town hall-style meeting to advertise the campaign and a tabling event in the Student Center where students could sign a pledge to raise awareness about pediatric cancer.
The cornerstone event of the Owls With Purpose campaign was “Play With Purpose,” held at Smith Memorial Playground in Fairmount Park in February. An estimated 300 families attended the event, which featured a DJ, food and an appearance by the Philly Phanatic.
The seniors were inspired by Benson, the With Purpose founder, who made sure her son had fun before he died.
“We thought about free play and the impact it could have on kids, just letting them do what they want to do without that structured life they’re used to,” Strehl said. “Erin’s whole thing was making sure before Sam passed away that he had time to be a kid without all the hospitals and the sickness, just enjoying the time he had left.”
The students ran their month-long campaign starting Feb. 15, but they had been working on developing Owls With Purpose since last August as part of their capstone course.
Through Temple’s Bateman project, Brown said he believes his students were able to engage Temple students and people living in Philadelphia.
“As Temple, we…have a very diverse student population and community that surrounds us,” Brown said. “I think that will be able to help With Purpose reach out to more diverse communities, because particularly communities of color are severely impacted by pediatric cancer. … This could help to reach that otherwise overlooked audience.”
Temple’s Bateman group will submit its final plan to the competition on April 9, and the finalists will be announced later this month. The winning team will receive a prize of $3,500 and a trophy.
Freshman public relations major Gabby Arias will found a With Purpose at Temple during the next academic year to keep the project going.
“In the other capstone course you plan out the same things, it’s a huge campaign, but it never comes to fruition,” Strehl said. “You just present it. It’s been much more of a learning experience and more satisfying seeing it actually play out and the success of what the five of us created.”