Now that I have entered year three advising a PRSSA chapter, I have learned valuable lessons on what works and what doesn’t in recruiting and retaining a small chapter. PRSSA national requires 10 members to be an active chapter. Being naive year one, I felt this was not only achievable: it would be a piece of cake.
Rewind to fall 2017 and my first semester on faculty. I worked to revive the chapter that had become defunct on our small college campus. I read through the recruitment tactics PRSSA provides advisors, connected on LinkedIn with other PRSSA advisors, and reached out to alumni to search for some advice. What I underestimated was the full time job I was inheriting in the revitalization of the chapter and the students lack of understanding.
Here are the steps I felt were helpful to attain and retain the required 10 members for a small chapter start-up or revitalized group:
1 – Read up on PRSSA. A lot of the recruitment tools are available and free to you as an advisor. Push the benefits to your students like scholarships, networking, and the internship/job bank.
2 – Find the right professional advisor. I had to exit my comfort zone and cold call or email PRSA alums I found on LinkedIn. After talking to a few, I found the perfect fit for what we needed for our chapter and she is serving year three as our advisor.
3 – Hold an interesting meeting with snacks. Finding a time to get college students into a room to learn about a society was tricky so I thought what would work were luring them in with snacks. It did initially. Promising pizza or sweet treats to students who are sick of the cafeteria or have nothing but Ramen noodles in the dorm will draw in students. This year we are trying a free cup of coffee from our campus hangout for the interest meeting.
4 – Pay for your students’ year one. It may be an expensive endeavor, but I believe it was the only way to have committed students to pay their $55 fee. I now require juniors and seniors to pay a $50 fee for the academic year to help with these fees and to attend meetings since they have an investment in the society.
5 – Recruit strong student leaders. I created a Google Form for students to fill out with simple fields: name, why you want to join PRSSA, and what would be beneficial to learn in PRSSA. From there, you want to pick strong leaders to fill roles and carry out the mission of your PRSSA campus charter.
6 – Invite professionals. It is not enough to have a PRSSA meeting. You need to have a reason students should gather together outside of a class on their free time. Make it worth their while to invite strong alums and guests who not only can provide wisdom but who can be leads for internships and jobs.
7 – Evaluate what doesn’t work. In year one, we picked a time to meet and each month the numbers dwindled down to our three officers. Students had excuses as to why it was not important to be involved and so I took the summer to reevaluate the current functions. Year two, we started a new program where guests would come at noon once a month on a Wednesday because classes were not scheduled during this time. Not only did we achieve 100 percent attendance, but we also had students landing internship offers, discovering job leads, and networking with future mentors.
8 – Include other majors. We have students in classes on our campus that are not in the major who have no idea what public relations is. By providing an invitation to similar undergrad students in related majors, you open the door to increase your numbers not only in PRSSA but in your major and minor.
9 – Celebrate the accomplishments. When students in PRSSA hold a successful fundraising event or start an internship or volunteer for an area nonprofit on a project, celebrate them! Tell leadership on campus, brag on your social media platforms from your department site, send an email to other faculty and staff. Whatever tools are available, celebrate the good work they are doing!
10 – Open your home. Because we are a small campus, it is not unusual to have students over for dinner or a movie. Build events into the calendar that students can be excited about. For our chapter, the students look forward each year to our Christmas movie, hot chocolate, and dessert night at my house. And again at the end of the year for a cookout at my house.
These are only a few options I have touched on, but I truly believe it is the best foundation for success on small campuses. Instead of panicking how you will hit 10 members or get all your majors involved, take a hard look at your current program or reach out to other advisors. It can be a lifesaver and time-saver for you as you grow your program.
Stefanie Leiter is a 2016 graduate of Purdue University in the master’s of science communication program and started her Ph.D. in Communications from Regent University in 2018. Stefanie serves as an assistant professor of public relations at Anderson University. Stefanie is the faculty advisor for Fifth Street Communications, a student-run pr agency; AU’s PRSSA faculty advisor; and serves on the United Way of Madison County board of directors. She also earned a graduate certificate in strategic communication from Purdue University in 2015. Stefanie is married to her best friend, Dave, and mom to their two adorable, young children.