All-nighter provides PR for local nonprofits

ProBono 2021

Lauren Hust (left) and Ally Corlett celebrate PRoBono's work. Photo: PRLab.

Armed with nothing but pizza and positive thinking, almost 90 Boston University students gathered last week at the College of Communication (COM) to face a daunting task: develop a public relations project for one of the area’s nonprofit organizations in 12 hours. 

“I was surprised how much we could get done,” said Nicole Yang, a graduate student in the Emerging Media Studies program. Yang helped conduct research for Silver Lining Mentoring, an organization that helps young people in foster care develop strong advising relationships. 

PRoBono, as the all-nighter is known, is the work of BU’s student-run public relations agency, PRLab, which has hosted the event since 2013. Although many participants are from the public relations program, it is open to BU students across campus.

At the beginning of the night, students are divided into teams and assigned a client, who comes with a project for them to complete. Types of work have included: creating a social media content calendar, developing a strategy for sponsored posts, writing media pitches, blogs, and even putting together holiday cards.

In the morning, public relations professionals arrived to help teams polish their work before they presented the finished product to their client at 9 a.m. “The Silver Linings representative was very happy,” Yang added. “She kept saying she was going to cry and felt overwhelmed.”

Lots of classes are theoretical, so it’s good to do actual work as opposed to a mock press release that nobody will see.

Seth Delise

In addition to Silver Lining Mentoring, other clients included pet adoption service Humane Society for Greater Nashua; Bunker Labs, an organization that supports veterans; Little Brothers-Friends of the Elderly; and Women’s Lunch Place, a shelter for women in crisis. 

For junior Lucy Gilbert, a transfer student in the PR program, the excitement of PRoBono was a major draw to BU. “I saw a video of this online while looking at the school, and it looked like a great way to gain actual experience,” she said. “People really cared.”

Amy Shanler, associate professor of the practice of public relations and co-director/faculty advisor of PRLab, said that students, collectively, donated 1,350 hours of time. If those hours were billed at a commercial rate, it would be worth more than $135,000 worth of services, she added.

Area businesses Insomnia Cookies, Ben & Jerry’s, and Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers also pitched in by donating food. “This shows what great neighbors BU has and is cultivating,” Shanler said.

Students cited the opportunity to apply their skills to a real-world setting as a reason for participating in the event. “Lots of classes are theoretical, so it’s good to do actual work as opposed to a mock press release that nobody will see,” said junior Seth Delise, a PR and political science major. 

Shanler said PRLab tried to host another PRoBono in the spring, but it just couldn’t match the energy of the fall with the holidays and the giving season around the corner.

“It’s so inspiring to at first see students at the beginning of the night who don’t really know what they’re about to get into, and then to see them again in the morning,” Shanler said. “Yes, they’re exhausted but they’re also confident. It’s one of my highlights of the year to see this whole transition happen and the incredible work the students put together.”

A Long Night of Work