My PR 324 service-learning project this semester, which has consisted of partnering with SCVNGR and the International Town and Gown Association (ITGA) to bring students closer to the Morgantown community while stimulating the local economy, has not been what I thought it would be.
To begin, before this project, I never thought of “service” on this large of a scale. I mean, I love volunteering at our local Ronald McDonald House and public library, but I never realized that helping to stimulate the Morgantown economy while encouraging college students to foster closer relationships with Morgantown businesses could be considered service.
However, after reflecting on this and speaking to one of my professors, I realized serving the community is a significant duty of those working in public relations.
“One of our main goals as public relations professionals is to educate people about opportunities that they may not be aware of. Whether it’s providing information to help them in their everyday lives or helping businesses to stimulate the state economy, it is our obligation to publics to provide information that can help them succeed on many levels,” said Cassie Waugh, adjunct public relations professor at WVU.
My group, entrtnU, has been working with businesses focused on providing entertainment to Morgantown residents. The first concern with this area of business is that Morgantown does not generally have many places that cater to this need. Most of the entertainment in Morgantown consists of bars (which were a separate category outside of entertainment) and sporting events. However, the truth is that Morgantown bars and sporting events do not particularly need the extra foot traffic to survive…they are the most popular places to be in Morgantown year-round.
So far, we have 3 businesses signed up to work with us: The Morgantown Ice Arena, the Mountainlair Games Area and The Wow! Factory. Each business is very excited to engage with customers through their FREE SCVNGR subscription. However, many other businesses in Morgantown have been less responsive to this FREE (note the emphasis) marketing opportunity.
Some businesses, such as Carmike Cinemas, already use SCVNGR on a national scale. However, I don’t feel that the outreach and marketing efforts have been very successful if no one in our group was aware of their promotions. The rival theater in town, Hollywood Theaters, was unable to participate in our project because they would have to go through their corporate headquarters to subscribe.
Despite some setbacks and difficulties, I have learned a great deal this semester. I feel that I have learned to write more directly and efficiently and the interaction with local business owners has provided us with a huge dose of real-world experience and sense of responsibility.
My classmate, senior PR major Haleigh Cohen, works under her group’s company, The Pink Umbrella Company, and has appreciated the relationships she has formed from working with bars and pubs around Morgantown.
“This project has been a great learning experience,” Cohen said. “It has been great to meet local business owners and a put a face to the business name. Now I can see beyond the typical perception a college student may have of a bar or pub, for example “that bar I go to get wasted.” These places are the owners’ passions, and I love that I get to do something for them while gaining experience and applying the skills I’ve learned thought my education at WVU.”
Creating challenges and rewards has been a great way to express our individual creativity. Challenges need to meet a special formula. They must be engaging, entertaining and specific to the business to keep customers on their toes and coming back. My favorite challenge has been “Strike a Pose” that customers can complete at the Morgantown Ice Arena as they “get their Michelle Kwan on.”
I believe that the businesses we are working with will benefit from their subscriptions to SCVNGR and will see an increased amount of business, as well as a more loyal college-aged consumer base, through our partnership.
I have seen SCVNGR popping up at local businesses I love, including my favorite restaurant, Black Bear Burritos, and it is exciting to see the number of checkins on SCVNGR grow every day on campus. I even hear WVU is planning University-sponsored treks in the future!
However, as far as service-learning goes, we cannot serve those who do not want to be served. I mean, you cannot serve dinner at a soup kitchen if no one is hungry. I never thought that the words “free marketing” could be so hard for businesses to ignore or to decline.
On the other hand, we can look at this in a positive way. Morgantown has been featured many times over the past few years because of its booming economy despite difficult financial times on a national scale. Maybe businesses don’t want to mess with a winning formula or feel the need to? Maybe they will be itching for a SCVNGR subscription once they see it in action across Morgantown?
Do you have any solutions to this mystery? What’s your opinion on a public relations professional’s responsibility to the community?
Comment and tell me your thoughts and any suggestions for us during these last two weeks!