The Story Behind Seneca’s “Swipe Right for Seneca Brights” Campaign
If you happened to walk by Nathan Phillips Square in downtown Toronto on August 11th around rush hour, you probably wondered what the group of 20+ people were doing delivering elevator pitches to the general public. This would be the newest crop of Seneca’s Corporate Communications graduates, who were, with every intention of making a statement, aiming to prove their hireability to anyone who would listen.
The initiative earned these students national media coverage both online and in print, and a chance to meet and speak with communications executives and well-known local PR pros. The event – and students – made a big impact. We chatted with CorpComm graduates Irine Polyzogopoulos, Anita Rex, and Alice Huang to find out more about the event.
In your own words, what did the Swipe Right for Seneca Brights assignment entail?
Alice: “What a lot of people don’t know is that it was actually a final exam for our public speaking class. Our challenge for this final exam was that we had to write our speech in exactly 272 words, which is exactly the same number of words in Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. David [Professor David Turnbull] always gives us a challenge for our speeches.
“The media relations and the campaign portion were totally optional, so that’s something that we wanted to gain some experience with because it would be so vital to our careers. In addition, we thought it would provide great exposure for our class.”
Anita: “We just said, why not? Not only did we think we might get a job; it was also such a good experience and such good exposure for us. We had only from Thursday until the following Tuesday – four days in all, and only two-to-three working days to put it together. David simply guided us – he would give us one name at a random time and things like that. We all just took initiative.”
That must have been a whirlwind few days. Were you stressed out?
Anita: “Yes! We had five to six assignments to do near the end of the year, including this one.”
Irine: “It was the Thursday of the week before this happened that we actually brainstormed the plan. It was one of these organic sessions where we had the idea of drawing the comparison to Tinder, the idea of swiping right. In that same class, we drafted and finalized the media advisory and a news release as a collective, whiteboard style. With David’s guidance and the contact here at Marketwired, we just got on it.
“Alice sort of stepped forward as the director of the media relations team when it was decided that we needed a lead, and then we assigned various tasks. There was a lot of effort that went into social media, Facebook specifically. We filmed a video at 8 AM on Sunday. Then there was a craft component, which meant we printed off photos of our headshots and put them on this Bristol board. So the idea was born on Thursday morning – we worked Friday to Sunday, all the way up to the morning of the speeches developing key messages, pitching various outlets, etc.”
Why take to the streets of Toronto in this way to show people what you’re really all about?
Anita: “The funny thing is, the whole public speaking course… almost every class was out in public. We went to public gardens, the cafeteria… we never were inside the classroom because David believes public speaking is not an indoor thing. It is supposed to be with the public, so we always went to the public to do it. When it came to our final speech, we wanted it to be extra special so we took up the whole Nathans Philips square. The Toronto sign that was there at that time for the Pan Am games made it such an iconic setup. At that location on a Tuesday morning we knew there would be lots of corporate employees walking by and they would be our audience.”
Alice: “David would always throw us curveballs, so doing our speeches in public meant background noises, construction, dogs running by.”
Irine: “He made you walk backward.”
Anita: “I was walking uphill backward; we even did one in the rain.”
Irine: “The more awkward it is, the better. We just had to stick to our agenda, even if there were dogs sniffing our feet.”
So often you hear people talk about what is taught in the classroom as “just theory,” but this course seems like something that would really help prepare you for your careers.
Irine: “David always wanted us to learn to prepare for the worst. Event planning is a large component of what we do – it all ties into the idea of whether it’s you speaking or, if you set up for someone else to speak, lightning might strike. These things happen, so are you going to be ready for it? And we are now.”
What kind of responses did you get afterward? Any job offers or interesting connections made?
Alice: “No job offers resulted directly from the event yet, but a lot of us found that the PR professionals who spoke with us recognized us; they read about our program in the news and they just thought it was so great. During the event we received a lot of support from our instructors; David guided us, but so did instructors from last semester. They helped us retweet the media advisory and news release, and gave us a lot of support and encouragement.”
Irine: “Someone stopped during the event; she was standing there really curious and asked us what this was about, and she turned out to be the director of communications for University Health Network. She said, ‘This is fantastic. How do I look you guys up?’ She didn’t have any business cards at that moment so we referred her to our Facebook page. That was great. I don’t know how else we would have reached someone like that so directly.”
What kind of media coverage did the event get?
Alice: “We did get a lot of media coverage. The Star published our event online and also in print. Afterward I got contacted by this Chinese news site called WENBA.ca, so I did an interview with them on behalf of our group and they featured our event on their site. Another was skills.com, which is a Toronto-based startup that helps young peoples with career development. They interviewed us too. Seneca college was also very supportive. They posted our project on their Facebook page, their site and intranet portal, and sent a newsletter to our instructors.”
Irine: “Part of what we learned in our media relations class is how to write a powerful pitch. What’s going to stand out is your headline and subject line. Are they strong? Are people even going to read them? So we created our list, we did all the media lists, we branched off and said, ‘you pitch these radio stations’, ‘you pitch these magazines’, etc. David said you’re going to put in all this effort, but don’t be disappointed if no one responds. I pitched Louise Brown, who is a senior education columnist for the Toronto Star.
That must have been nerve wracking.
Irine: “I was like, ‘OK, well it’s now or never. What’s the worst thing that would come of it?’ So, when my phone rang two hours later, I broke into a fit of laughter when I realized it was Louise Brown. I was totally surprised she called. She said, ‘Why are you surprised? You sent me an excellent email.’ I just wasn’t expecting anyone to respond. So then she sent out a junior reporter and a videographer the day of the event.
“That was really exciting for all of us. I sent the pitch, but to find out that you do write in a clear, compelling fashion, this is what we’ve all been training on for eight months. Maybe there wasn’t much else going on in education that day, but boom, it just happened. It was really encouraging.”
Alice: “From that point on we were scrambling. We needed to pick five to six people to go on camera, so we did that, and then developed our key messages, and had to get there early in the morning to prepare for it all.”
Irine: “We had so many channels of communication happening between us, like What’s App and Facebook, which was critical. People really opened up the time in their personal lives and we just made it a priority. I think that’s what really made all this work pay off.”
Sounds like if you weren’t fully invested, it just wouldn’t have worked out as well as it did.
Irine: “Yeah, it would have fallen apart.”
Alice: “We didn’t really have any arguments or drama, we just did the work.”
Irine: “We really reached this apex of camaraderie.”
What’s next for you guys?
Irine: “The priority for me after this was all over was a bit of downtime. I took a week off to travel. I was in the co-op stream, so I have an internship that starts tomorrow at Ontario Power Generation; that will go on for the next four months as it’s part of the program. It’s full time, and paid.
Alice: “That’s part of our concern too, unemployment. A lot of us are trying to look for jobs but a lot of the co-op jobs offered are not paid, or paid by honorarium, which might be just a bus pass. That’s not enough for students – we really want to get rewarded for our hard work, so that’s the reason we chose this topic for our final speeches.
Anita: “Even if you check for entry-level jobs today, a lot of them are wanting five, six years of experience.”
Irine: “One of our concerns as a class was that they just declared we’re officially in a recession in Canada. We had to do this project anyway, but we thought, ‘why not be proactive since we’re heading into a potentially problematic economy?’ That leads to problems in getting jobs, especially for graduates. But that was part of the idea as well –being proactive about marketing ourselves to employers.
Seneca’s Corporate Communications program is a one-year intensive learning experience that prepares students to be flexible public relations and communications practitioners with excellent management, research, writing, technical and social skills. It’s based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Follow Seneca on Twitter and Facebook.