Up All Night: Public relations, practical experience, and mental health
Each year at Centennial College, Public Relations students at the Story Arts Centre participate in a special project that lets them put the various skills they've learned to the test in a real setting that will give them invaluable experience, while at the same time contributing to social good. They do this through Project Fusion, a collaboration between programs in the School of Communications and Media Design that aims to create a campaign to generate conversation and awareness on an important social issue.
Students partner with CivicAction, a Toronto organization that brings civic-minded individuals and organizations together to create transformative social change. The focus of this year's campaign: Mental health in the workplace. The final campaign idea, researched and developed over the first semester and early part of second semester was Up All Night, a 7 PM to 7 AM event that happened at the Story Arts Centre on March 31. The all-nighter featured, among other things, a speed-networking session between employers and students, an expert panel, and live music and dance performances by students in the college's Music Industry Arts and Performance and Dance Performance programs to keep energy levels up in the middle of the long night.
Aside from promoting mental health awareness, proceeds from the night went towards a Lucas Fiorella Friendship Bench and its associated mental health awareness campaign, encouraging conversations about mental health among post-secondary students and connecting those suffering in silence with support services. The event was conceived and executed by Centennial College students like Stephanie Murphy, a Corporate Communications and Public Relations (CCPR) student who served as the event's media relations lead. Here's how it all came together.
Putting it together
"There were a lot of moving parts to make the event a reality," Stephanie says about the preparations that went into the evening, which involved several different classes coordinating, making use of the skills the college had taught them. "We had the semester one CCPR students helping to organize the event as part of their event management class. They took on a lot of the details and execution, including finding donations for food and drink, bands to perform, a yoga teacher, etc. There were also six of us semester-two CCPR students who handled more specific areas, such as social media and the website, media relations and organizing the panel and networking session and overseeing the higher level vision for the event." They'd also routinely consulted with Public Relations program coordinator Donna Lindell.
"Because the event was 12 hours, we also put a call out to faculty to ask for contributions," Donna says. "Right away, dance students volunteered to stay the night and perform. They were very excited about it. We put a call out for music, and seven bands volunteered to play. And the arts students who had been working on an adult colouring book project, asked to be involved as well."
Up all night
"We had more than 40 students stay the entire night," Donna says of the final event. "We had eight departments contributing, we did nine media interviews, we had about 750,000 Twitter impressions (we were trending on Twitter the night of), and we raised $2870 online, and another $300 in cash the night of."
"We're incredibly happy with how the event turned out," Stephanie said. "Our discussion panel was one of the highlights of the night for me. The group, moderated by journalism faculty Ted Barris, had a great discussion revolving around both mental health in students and in the workplace. Sam Fiorella's suicide prevention workshop was also a very important part of the evening. The dance students were a huge help in keeping everyone up and moving and entertained over the difficult hours after midnight. I did an interview on CBC Here & Now on Thursday afternoon, as well as Global News, Breakfast Television and CP24 who came out to film the event. We also had a reporter from French CBC Radio-Canada come and speak to Andrea Zakaib and one of the event attendees."
"Beyond the dance, music and art participation, we also had graphic arts students creating the design elements of the evening, logos, posters and signage, film students created a video on the subject, PR students worked with a polling firm to develop a media release and our journalism students produced a magazine, called Affect and a website."
Making Career Connections
"Mental health in the workplace is one of the top five issues that businesses will have to make a priority, which is why Civic Action is working on it," Donna says. "So if students can go into the workforce and say they participated in this issue, and that they have a better understanding than most of the issues at hand, particularly as a recent grad, they can be part of the solution. It gives them the ability to be at the table. This should be their calling card when they walk into a job interview. I worked on this project. It's an amazing portfolio piece."
"I've got some great portfolio pieces out of this event and I'm hoping these pieces and the experience that came along with handling the media will help show employers the skills I've developed through CCPR," Stephanie says.
"For me this event was an enormous learning experience," Stephanie concludes. "I was fortunate to be doing something (media relations) that will be a huge part of my internship and my future career. I learned all the steps that go into a media release, email and telephone pitching, as well as all of the craziness that can go along with that. I'm incredibly grateful for the learning opportunity and the chance to put what I've learned this year through CCPR into practice."
By Anthony Geremia