SALT LAKE CITY—It’s been a good year for JCOM senior Courtney Schoen Lewis, who was named the best public relations student in Utah on Monday—the second such honor for the Texas native in less than six months.
Richter7, a Salt Lake City-based advertising, public relations and digital marketing agency, named Lewis its 2010 PR Student of the Year after competition among students from the state’s colleges and universities.
Lewis, president of USU’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter, also won the Golden Spike Award in November as Utah’s top PR student from the Salt Lake City PRSA professional chapter.
This was the seventh year for the Richter7 competition, the oldest of its kind in the state. The honor comes with a $1,000 scholarship, which recognizes the Utah university student who demonstrates superior skill in communication and public relations.
“This is a great opportunity to further Utah students’ education with a sizeable cash award,” said Richter7 partner Tim Brown. “The Richter7 PR Student of the Year program gives future professionals first-hand strategic planning and presentation experience as they prepare to enter the public relations field.”
Lewis was selected for her professionalism, academic record and aptitude for success in public relations as demonstrated through a written case study and oral presentation, Brown said.
“I absolutely loved the structure of this competition,” said Lewis. “The initial application gave me reason to complete a portfolio piece. The actual presentation portion based on a mock scenario was exciting and realistic.”
Six finalists—including Lewis and fellow USU PR senior Lisa Janssen, plus students from Brigham Young University, Utah Valley University and Weber State—were selected from an original field of 16. The finalists’ task was to generate a hypothetical public relations plan with objectives, key messages, strategies, tactics and social media, which they presented to the Richter7 judges.
After completing their initial contest entries April 10, Janssen and Lewis were notified on April 13 that they were finalists. “The e-mail gave us a mock scenario and told us to come up with a PR plan to wow the judges,” Lewis said. “So ‘wow’ them is exactly what we tried to do.”
USU PR instructors Troy Oldham and Preston Parker said they couldn’t be prouder.
“We are so pleased to be represented by two outstanding USU students for the Richter7 PR Student of the Year award this year,” Oldham said. “Courtney is a leader and a great example of someone who brings a sense of purpose to everything she does.”
In addition to her studies and PRSSA activities, Lewis works part-time as a media relations assistant for the new Caine College of the Arts.
Parker said USU’s public relations student “amaze” him. “I feel honored to work with so many quality students,” he said. “It’s validating to get recognized by professionals.”
Lewis says she rehearsed her presentation for hours. “The drive to my gym is about 15 minutes, which is exactly how long they gave us to present our PR plan,” she said. “So I’d get in the car each morning, turn down the radio and work on not saying “um” 50 times like I did in my last professional presentation.”
Janssen, Lewis’s Aggie competitor, says she has no complaints about the outcome.
“You know, I’m not that disappointed,” she said. “I know that I did my best in the competition and I am so proud of what I accomplished. It was a great way for me to utilize everything that I’ve learned while being in the PR program.”
For Janssen, the competition helped sharpen her skills and ambition. “I walked out of the Richter7 board room literally in love with PR and enthralled with everything I had prepared for my presentation,” she said. “One of my main goals in life is to be one of those speakers that you bring back to share how the program here has influenced their amazing careers; my involvement in the Richter7 competition will only help me achieve that goal.”
Oldham said the award and high level of professional competition reflects well on the whole JCOM program. “I think all of our students can be pleased with this award,” he said. “It’s like an exclamation point on an amazing year for USU public relations students.”
In evaluating Lewis’s presentation, the Richter7 judges said, “We thought her presentation was professional and creative.”
Lewis said she felt confident giving a professional and creative presentation because her instructors have taught her well. “One aspect of the competition this year was presenting ideas on how to engage the media and increase news coverage,” she said. “I would not know how to make a PR campaign newsworthy if I not taken the pre-PR major courses like Media Smarts or News Writing.
“My JCOM professors have taught me everything I know, but not everything they know,” Lewis said.
“I am so grateful Richter7 hosts this annual competition,” she said. “It gives PR students across the state a fantastic opportunity to present an original campaign before a panel of leading experts in the field.”
Established in 1971, Richter7 has been named Utah’s “Best of State” advertising agency for the past six years and is consistently recognized for effective advertising, public relations, online interactive and design for local, regional and national clients.