Student Work – Case Study #1: CSR Memo

I recently had an undergraduate student, Jane, in my “J452: Strategic PR Communication” course at the UO. Jane is a very bright person. At the time she took my course she was a senior in the PR sequence and was interested in becoming a wedding event planner after graduation.

In my opinion, because Jane’s career goal was very niche, and because she had already focused a significant amount of energy on that specific career path, she sometimes struggled to nail the appropriate tone, detail and strategic thinking for our more big-picture, corporate-oriented communication assignments. For example, when I asked students to write a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) memo proposing a CSR initiative to the CEO of a major company, Jane’s first draft was well-organized, upbeat and professional, but it also:
1. lacked some of the core details necessary to explain her proposed CSR initiative
2. made sweeping statements without offering evidence to back them up
3. has a weak call to action

On Jane’s first stab at the CSR memo she earned a grade of 71 (C-):

CSR Memo by Jane BEFOREAfter Jane read the comments and edits I hand-wrote on her memo, we met in person to discuss the goals of the assignment and her first attempt at completing it. We talked about various principles of writing, like the need to build and advance the story (yes, even in a memo) and about the importance of using evidence to back up big statements like, “The costs are minimal and the cause is worthy.” Jane revised her memo into a solid piece of writing that:
1. includes the core details necessary to explain her proposed CSR initiative
2. makes no sweeping statements that beg for evidence
3. had a specific and strong call to action

Bravo Jane! On the rewrite of her CSR memo Jane earned a grade of 91 (A-).: 

CSR Memo by Jane AFTER

Jane recently landed a PR internship at a local food company. She credits her J452 experience, and the overhaul of her resume in that course, with preparing her for this next step in her career. I wonder if Jane will end up doing wedding planning after all?

This case study illustrates a few important issues for instructors:

1. Incorporating big-picture, corporate-oriented writing into the PR communication syllabus can initially challenge students who are focused on other types of PR, i.e., non-profit PR, local event planning, government communication, etc. Be ready to work with them on adjusting perspective, tone and style.

2. All writers know how easy it is to mistakenly assume that the target audience already has all the facts – so why explain? It is essential to remind PR students (and ourselves) again and again about the basics of good writing: be clear, be concise, tell a good story, prioritize information and support statements with evidence. Most importantly, know your audience and gear the level of detail in your writing accordingly. 

3. Offering clear detailed feedback, strict grading criteria and revision opportunities for PR students takes significant time and energy, but in the end it can make a great impact on the student’s ability to really understand an assignment and its real-world applications.

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