Across one semester, me and my fellow Ad/PR students moved through a process called “RACE” (Research, Action, Communication, Evaluation) to create a campaign planbook for one of our school’s departments.
The acronym “RACE” is something we have learned to be at the very core of advertising and public relations methods of improving businesses’ brand, image, outreach, crisis control, and overall problem-solving. This was the task laid out for us with little direction from the department/client, and even the professor.
The original acronym was popularized by John Marston in his 1963 novel, The Nature of Public Relations, but there have been alternatives coined to fit specific analytical models; such as “ACE” (Assessment, Communication, Evaluation), “GRACE” (Goal-setting, Research, Action, Communication, Evaluation), and the like thereof (Turney, 2011). But nearly all alternatives focus on the same four key principal items: Research, Action, Communication, and Evaluation – Marston’s RACE model.
And over the course of one semester, this four-step process was our guiding star in creating an action plan for Grand Valley State University’s Disability Resource Services (DSR). While our professor was of much help in our learning and understanding of what RACE entails, she was also adament in not giving us any ideas on what to suggest to the DSR. And so with only our imaginations and research of similar institutions, every student’s planbook was completely different, with still the same client and the same client’s abstract goal of improving inclusiveness on campus. Because of this, we were able to see just how different one could approach this, with everyone’s project turning out unidentical during the last week of class.
After moving through each RACE step over 15 weeks, our professor told us days before our project was due that there is a public relations event where professionals are challenged to do this in a mere 24-hour window. And, that other professors (and hers in the past) spend the first ten weeks lecturing and then ask students to put together a planbook in the last five weeks. The way in which our class went through the learning and the doing, a semester-long process, is how I would have preferred to teach this as well.
In going back to the very first week of classes, when we were assigned to write a piece on what public relations is and consists of, I also wrote what interests me most about it:
“For me, the reason why I want to go into public relations is that it requires one to commit to challenging tasks. As a profession, you take a company’s everlasting problem and try to solve it. With that problem being: reaching, keeping, and intriguing both customers and potential customers. And for those who highly enjoy problem-solving, research, and helping improve businesses, public relations is a complicatedly easy route to choose.”
Artem Alexandra, 5 September 2019
What I didn’t realize was that my assessment fifteen weeks ago was nothing short of correct, but more specifically, that the commitment “to challenging tasks” is what is necessary to be a public relations specialist altogether. Each step of the RACE model had its own sets of difficulties, not to mention, staying on task the whole way through. Starting from our own imagination and what we could find on Google, all stages brought us back in circles, having to add in more and more secondary research to show evidence of and prove the effectiveness of the ideas that were thought of later.
One student, towards the end, suggested that we should have started with the “Objectives, Strategies, Tactics” section because of how it organizes our proposals into something explainable. And our professor said that that is not unheard of and would help the learning process. But she also said that starting with our imagination first means starting with a blank slate. And with a blank slate, she thought we could better grow our skills of problem-solving as her route allowed us to think outside of the box by not having a set-in-stone standard to follow. Our professor tried to induce as much reality into the class as she could by highlighting that the real world generally does not have assignment sheets to follow.
And while we were given a 13-page outline of the campaign project on the first day of class, there was not an exact blueprint on what to do, what to research, or how to come up with ideas. But in-class discussion did aid in trying to put wrap our minds around such a massive venture. The rough guideline did have these main points to stick to:
- Summary of Situation
- Client’s Objective
- Client Background
- Strengths and Weaknesses
- Goal of the Project/Planbook
- Secondary Research
- Analyze Client’s Target Audience
- Information from Similar Institutions
- Create Interview Guide for Focus Groups
- Primary Research
- Importance of Focus Groups
- Findings from Focus Groups
- Discussion on Findings
- Analysis on Findings
- Conclusions and Recommendations
- Objectives, Strategies, Tactics
- Multiple Objectives with Strategies for each
- Tactics then, for each Strategy
- Example Communication Tactics
- Timeline, Budget, Evaluation
- Outline Objectives via a Timeline
- Demonstrate Budget for Tactics
- Evaluate the Measurability of Campaign
When asked “where do I start?” or “what do I Google?” – our professor refused to answer and told us over and over again that “you got this!” and “I believe in you!” In acting as our mentor and not our hand-holder through the process, it was a unique semester of looking inside our own minds and trying to answer “How would I make a campus more inclusive?” And after conducting focus groups, where we asked students on campus for their opinions (with our own organized questions), many of the answers given did most of the work for us. I would argue that this would be the perfect place to start a RACE-modeled project to start because of how much it brought to light. But, as Marston’s RACE model is a “continually-cycling process” (Turney, 2011), it would be difficult to point to an exactly perfect place to start.
By giving us a world of freedom, our professor made it so that we could easily reproduce such experience for any other client. And by all of us working with the school’s DSR department, we were also able to become familiar with having a client whose industry is completely unknown to most but was still something we could empathize with as students.
On the last day of classes, our professor asked the class (each student, one by one), “What advice would you give to pass on to the next class?” And most of the students answered “time management” with a heavy emphasis in their voice – all sections of the projects had a due date, but our professor was not adamant in checking our work. This was the most self-dicipline-provoking teaching technique that I, and most probably, have ever encountered and undoubtedly was an aspect of the class being “reality”-focused.
Overall, throughout this planbook project, the way in which the course was taught was quite confusing to me – but following the end of the class, I would not have organized it in the same manner. There is no “right way” to go about things and there will never be as business public relations and marketing changes every day.
Artem Alexandra. (2019, September 5). What public relations is and why businesses need it. Retrieved December 9, 2019, from https://artemalexandra.com/2019/09/05/what-public-relations-is-and-why-businesses-need-it/.
Turney, M. (2011, April 1). Acronyms for the public relations process. Retrieved December 9, 2019, from https://www.nku.edu/~turney/prclass/readings/process_acronyms.html.