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Marketing campaigns for non-profits are the work of the new ad/PR program.

By Jeri Peterson

About a dozen TCU students are literally on the ground floor of a new communications agency. In a renovated two-story house on Sandage Avenue, they not only work with clients on communications strategies, but they grapple daily with the details of starting a business.

Clients came knocking right away, and the students began designing an agency logo, developing a Web site and selecting paint and other wall décor at the same time they began working on client projects.

This isn't virtual, and it has nothing to do with grades – this is RealWorld experience.

RealWorld is TCU's new integrated marketing communications agency affiliated with the Schieffer School of Journalism. This fall, junior- and senior-level students, all of whom had to apply for the select positions, began performing the functions of a full-service agency: advertising, public relations and marketing strategies, plus creative work and production in all media.

This has never been done before at TCU, and, in fact, there are fewer than a dozen such programs nationwide. Schieffer School director Tommy Thomason says he knows of no other student agency that is located off campus in a nonacademic space and devoted to providing low-cost or free services exclusively for nonprofit organizations.

The agency came about in August through a $350,000 TCU Vision in Action grant, which funds programs that offer unique partnerships between the university and the community. Until now, local nonprofits had few options for professional communications services and often sought pro bono work. Thomason says agencies that can handle only limited pro bono work can now refer charitable organizations to RealWorld.
Just as important as the grant criteria, RealWorld provides supervised learning for ad/PR students. Print students have an on-campus daily newspaper and a magazine; broadcast students have their own weekly TV news show. Until now, ad/PR students haven't had that kind of outlet.

"We wanted our students to get legitimate experience working with seasoned professionals and at the end of the day be able to look back and say, ‘This city has benefited from what we did,' " Thomason says.

Nine students who serve as account executives are required to commit 15 hours each week at the agency. They don't get paid, and although they are eligible to receive one hour of class credit, none have elected to do so. Two additional ad/PR students are paid assistants.

They all draw heavily on mentors Jack Raskopf and Claudia Butts, who carry the titles "program director" and "assistant director/creative director." Raskopf, a veteran ad man and TCU professor, allowed himself to be coaxed out of a brief retirement to lead the program. Butts ran her own agency for more than 20 years.

Ad executive Tyler Cochran says he expects his RealWorld time to help him decide what he will do after he graduates in May.

"We get to taste a little of everything," he says. "We're really starting to define who we are as a company, and we learn how to be a team, when to be a leader and when to follow. That helps in class, too, because we're leaning there about what we're doing here in the agency."

For more information, call 817-257-5965 or e-mail

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