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BYU School of Communications launches PR Intelligence Lab

PR Intelligence Lab builds on Y Digital’s foundation, increases mentored-learning opportunities for more students.

The BYU School of Communications is creating a PR Intelligence Lab. The lab will provide mentored-learning experiences with real-world clients to all students in the public relations program. The lab will run client projects through existing PR courses and extracurricular opportunities.

The PR Intelligence Lab is an evolution of Y Digital and the Carroll Digital and Social Media Studio associated with it. Y Digital, a successful digital marketing agency in the School of Communications has provided an enriching experience to 32 students a semester for four years. With this change, the lab will provide an inclusive experience for all 200 students in the PR program each semester.

The brand name of Y Digital is being replaced; but the Carroll Digital and Social Media Studio and Y Digital’s core digital and social media services will remain. The PR Intelligence Lab will focus on data intelligence, drawing heavily on digital and social media. More sources of data will be used in the lab, including news media, issues and trends, and social science data. As part of the lab experience, students will learn how to draw insights and create strategies for multiple communication channels including paid, earned, social and owned media.

Refocusing the lab on data intelligence anchors it to the PR curriculum. The PR Intelligence Lab reflects the historic core competencies of the PR program. Since the early 1980s, BYU PR faculty have taught students to use data to make smarter decisions about communication strategy.

“One of the School’s initiatives is to tie our professional labs to the curriculum of our academic programs,” said Mark Callister, the new director of the School of Communications. “I could not be more excited about the PR Intelligence Lab. It will provide a space where all students within the program can work with real-world clients using the principles and skills they have learned in their courses.”

The PR Intelligence Lab will help students prepare to enter an increasingly data-driven communications industry. The lab is inspired by data intelligence initiatives adopted by the world’s top media companies, including Cision, APCO, Edelman, Ketchum, Fleishman-Hillard and Weber Shandwick.

How will the PR Intelligence Lab differ from Y Digital?

The lab will be integrated more closely into the PR curriculum, and the lab manager will support client projects connected to classes, as well as running client projects that are not part of a class. To handle an increased number of client projects, the students will be supported through three types of mentors – a PR faculty member, a professional and a student leader.

What type of projects will the students work on in the PR Intelligence Lab?

In addition to the commercial digital marketing and social listening projects that Y Digital has typically serviced, the PR Intelligence Lab will include non-profit, humanitarian, and Church-related projects that will help the students learn skills, hone their abilities, develop their character, and increase their desire to serve in their communities.

What will happen to the lab’s competitive application process?

The PR program is already a limited-enrollment program. Every fall and winter semester students apply to be accepted to the program. The program admits 55 new students each semester, which equates to about 200 students at any given time in the program.

These students have already demonstrated a high-level of promise and dedication. Eliminating the competitive application process for the lab allows students who have already been vetted through the program application to be included. Now all PR students will have access to mentored-learning experiences that were previously only available to a small proportion of PR students through Y Digital.

How do these changes reflect what is happening in the industry?

The PR Intelligence Lab reflects changes in the industry, which involve the integration of data from multiple media sources. For example, two of the digital tools currently used in Y Digital – Brandwatch (an AI-powered social listening platform) and Buzzsumo (a content marketing insights platform) – were acquired by Cision, a company that historically provided traditional media list software. In the past few years, Cision acquired PRIME Research (a social science research and communications measurement agency), PR Newswire (a digital press release distribution service), Falcon.io (a social media management platform), and Visible Technologies (a social media analytics company).

Research with Chief Communications Officers (CCOs) conducted by the Arthur W. Page Society, the world’s leading professional association for senior public relations and corporate communications executives, found that they are investing in technology (and employees who understand technology) to make their communications departments more agile, more digital, more data- and analytics-driven. The Page Society called this important aspect of corporate communications CommTech. The PR Intelligence Lab will be focused on helping students understand and be prepared to contribute on CommTech teams at major companies and agencies.

Another trend in the industry is an increased focus on measuring the performance of communication and linking that performance to business objectives. In response to this, the PR Intelligence Lab will include communications measurement and evaluation as a core competency.