Planning a planning competition

This week, our PRSSA Chapter hosted the first-ever “PRSSA Challenge,” a one-hour strategic communications planning competition. The Challenge developed out of a conversation I had one day with a sophomore PRSSA member who openly admitted she didn’t completely understand what public relations was. After talking to a few others, I discovered that she wasn’t the only one; because of the way of our program is set-up, many of our PRSSA members don’t get to take a Intro to PR class until their junior year. Unless they’ve had practical experience, it’s understandable that they wouldn’t necessarily what PR is before their upperclassmen classes. So, the question became – how do I educate these individuals on the basic principles of PR while still appealing to individuals who already have that knowledge? The PRSSA Challenge was the answer…and it turned out to be overwhelmingly successful!

As a public relations intern at multiple organizations, I’ve participated in my fair share of event planning. However, this was the first time I completely developed an idea solely on my own and had to plan and execute that plan from start to finish. Here are a few things I learned…

1. Identify your audience and their needs. Our audience was public relations and marketing students, ranging from freshmen to seniors and from no related experience to a lot of related experience. Because our audience was very diverse, I recognized that I need to give them a lot of background information on strategic planning and example plans. As a result, I created an electronic information packet that was distributed to each individual before the competition, so that even individuals with little experience could gain the basic background knowledge necessary to participate. Additionally, I knew having a developed strategic plan would be a great addition to any portfolio, so I created a personalized certificate of completion for each individual to include in their portfolios.

2. Be detailed-oriented. In event planning, there is nothing more important than thinking of every little detail! Whenever I plan an event, I create an Excel document that outlines tasks that must be completed, the deadline for completion, who will complete the task, and additional notes. This allows me to track every task and activity I have going on, and ultimately helps me account for the details necessary to present a strong, organized event.

3. Clearly communicate with your planning team. I was lucky to have a great co-chair to help with the event, so I created a shared Google Document for us to both add/view our overall task list. By checking this list regularly, we could monitor each other’s progress and confirm that our efforts weren’t overlapping. I also created a label for the “PRSSA Challenge” in my e-mail inbox to efficiently locate any conversation we had over the course of our planning.

4. Back-up “crisis comm” plans are always necessary. It’s important to recognize that the best planning in the world is not immune to a crisis situation. To combat this, my co-chair and I drew up a somewhat informal list of “Plan Bs” if our original event wasn’t going as planned. Luckily, we didn’t have to use it, but we had it on hand if necessary!

5. Always bring/buy extras! Our planning teams were made of 3-4 individuals, but when we had two individuals unable to attend, we had to create teams of 4-5 individuals. However, we had only purchased enough prizes for a 4-person team — forcing my co-chair to run out during the event (all dressed up, mind you!) to buy a fifth prize.

6. Evaluation is key. It’s an essential part of any strategic plan, including event planning. We created a post-event evaluation to garner more formal feedback from our participants, asking them everything from “How organized was this event?” and “Do you believe the teams were fairly balanced?” After getting the rest of these results, we will write up a more formal evaluation document to be used in future years.

Me with our winning group and our fantastic judging panel!

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About Abby Ecker

PR pro and healthy living blogger in the First State
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