For some students, BYU’s mottos “go forth to serve” and “the world is our campus” are just nice sayings, but they can be difficult to put into practice. Public relations alum Andrew Cook and Professor Robert Wakefield are working to make BYU’s motto a reality.
Wakefield, an international scholar of public relations, was invited to attend the 25th anniversary of the Bledcom International PR Research Conference, one of the largest gatherings of PR scholars in the world. The conference’s theme focused on the role of PR in the world’s future.
“What better way to honor the theme of the global future of PR than by giving it the perspective of university PR students from around the world,” said Wakefield.
Cook and Wakefield went through six months of challenging preparation before the conference in July, 2018.
During the fall 2017 semester, Cook helped Wakefield review past research and articles. In early February, Wakefield submitted a panel proposal to the conference. It would bring together PR students from across the world and would be the first time the conference included student presenters.
The panel was composed of four live participants. Cook, the National President for the Public Relations Student Society of America for that school year, represented the U.S.
Daniel Ziegele from Leipzig University in Germany, Jan Jamsek of the University of Ljubljana and national president of the Student Association of Marketing Comms in Slovenia and Carolina Falcão of the Federal Universad of the Amazonas in Brazil joined Cook.
Wakefield and Cook also gathered 10 video clips from students around the world. In the videos, students shared their views on the outlook on the world and the role of PR in that world, their personal career plans and whether or not they saw a benefit in developing a global PR student network. These clips were shown as part of the panel discussion.
“The panel was perfect,” said Wakefield, “’I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more satisfied with a national or international presentation I’ve organized.”
The IPRRC panel was only the beginning. Cook said the project has been ongoing. They have continued to gather videos from students. Currently they have over 25 videos from students from 15 different countries. Cook also created a Facebook page called Project Bled where students can talk and share resources. Cook said they plan on revealing a website shortly.
“Before this panel, we did not have a global PR student network or any other way for students to connect,” said Cook. “Now, hopefully, with what we’re developing, they can talk and share resources.”
For Wakefield, this project has been a long time coming. He has been conducting and researching PR on a global level for nearly 30 years and the need for this type of global network became very apparent to him.
“Students are the bedrock of the future of public relations and society itself,” said Wakefield. “Their generation networks naturally and I have always felt there needs to be a better connection between students around the world who want to practice PR.”
Cook said their experiences in Slovenia only solidified their belief in the importance of a global PR student network.
Wakefield said despite the fact that Cook and the other students had never met before the conference, they bonded immediately and “showed a collective passion for global PR that was contagious.”
The students also added that their favorite part of the conference was interacting with each other and exchanging ideas.
Ziegele said “My favorite part definitely was the exchange with the other students. I really enjoyed sharing insights and listening to the stories of the others.”
Falcão, the student representing Brazil at the conference, said she learned a lot from the other students and Professor Wakefield.
All the students involved agreed that a global network for PR students was a necessity.
“What motivated me to participate in this project was its importance for the global PR student community,” said Falcão. “It was an amazing experience and a really good way to spread the idea of a global networking for PR students.”
Ziegele agrees with Falcão. He said building connections has already helped him further his opportunities during his academic career
“Students can play a big role in global PR even before they start a professional career, and a global network is a great idea,” Ziegele said.
After graduating in April 2018, Cook landed a job at Edelman, a leading global communications marketing firm in Chicago. Cook said that his experiences at the conference and his work creating the network helped shaped his perspective on where he wants to go with his career.
“There was a fundamental shift,” said Cook. “I do want to work in firms and be a practitioner, but I also want to contribute to the field academically.”
Cook said his advice to undergraduate students is to get out of Utah and look for ways to “go forth to serve” on a global level.
“There are so many opportunities out there, but it’s hard to be a global leader if you just stay in Utah,” he said. ”Look for those opportunities to expand your world. The world really can be your campus if you want it to be.