Nineteen public relations students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, are working on a PR campaign that will help get residents excited about revitalization efforts afoot in downtown Lenoir City.
The students are part of a class taught by Candace White, a professor in the School of Advertising and Public Relations in UT's College of Communication and Information.
The public relations students are working with other students from various disciplines including architecture, retail, hospitality and tourism management, consumer sciences and Spanish on projects for Lenoir City as a part this year's Smart Communities Initiative, which is overseen by UT's Office of Service-Learning.
The senior public relations students are split into four groups to create unique strategies to target a specific segment of the Lenoir City population. The students did background research to pinpoint the most important publics to reach in order to create excitement and support for the revitalization project. The groups they will target are community opinion leaders, such as elected officials and members of Loudon County's Chamber of Commerce; suburbanites, including residents of Tellico Village and other surrounding areas; Lenoir City natives; and Hispanic opinion leaders. Lenoir City has a Hispanic population of about 18 percent.
To start, every student visited Lenoir City either in their groups or individually. Some students were able to speak with residents representing their particular target group.
"Our group will be targeting the residents of Tellico Village and other surrounding suburbs of Lenoir City," said Jordan Shipowitz. "We were lucky enough to be shown around Tellico Village by John Cherry, the public relations manager for Tellico Village. He provided us with basic yet valuable demographics about Tellico Village, gave us a guided tour and provided us with specific channels we can use to target Tellico Villagers. He was incredibly helpful."
Others have more challenging target publics to reach.
"Our group spent an afternoon at Las Lupitas, a Hispanic-run grocery store, laundromat and restaurant combo located in the heart of downtown Lenoir City," said Elizabeth Rosenthal. "We didn't have a specific connection with someone in the Hispanic community, so we just spoke with people we encountered in Las Lupitas. Everyone we spoke to was incredibly nice, but the language barrier made it very hard to communicate. We did learn that the Hispanic community values family and tradition. They all visit the same restaurants and churches and prefer living in a tight-knit community."
White said getting familiar with Lenoir City was critical.
"There is no substitute for hands-on shoe-leather research," said White. "It's simply not possible to create an effective communications plan without firsthand experience."
From there, the groups will determine the goals and objectives of their PR campaigns and develop strategies and tactics that will appeal to their audiences.
"You have to get people to support an idea before anything concrete will happen," said Destinee Dowdy. "If we can create some excitement about the revitalization of downtown, then I think we can really help Lenoir City."
The students' final projects, which will include slogans and various other communications materials, will require additional research, design and plenty of writing.
"Students will leave this class with a complete public relations campaign that will be the crowning glory of their portfolios," said White.
The Smart Communities Initiative pairs faculty and students with Tennessee cities, counties, special districts and other government organizations to engage in real-world problem solving.
SCI is part of the university's Experience Learning initiative, which stresses real-world problem-solving to bring classroom lessons to life.
"After years of learning theories and studying for tests, nothing is quite as gratifying as turning classroom knowledge into real-world experience by working for a client," Rosenthal said.