The students in Kara Winton’s public relations capstone class weren’t hoping to pitch FOR the Minnesota Twins. They were pitching TO the Twins.
Instead of working on throwing, hitting and catching, Florida Gulf Coast University students created the biggest public relations campaigns of their college careers.
In any major, a capstone class requires students to utilize information they’ve learned over their entire academic career to deliver one final project. Winton, an FGCU public relations instructor, asked two companies to bring marketing challenges to her capstone class. In small groups, her students created solutions, culminating in a 60-page public relations campaign book. In April, they pitched their solutions to Busch Gardens or the Minnesota Twins.
In their wheelhouse
“We think of them as opportunities,” Winton said about the problems presented.
The students gain real-world experience in public relations, but how do the companies benefit? “Tops on the list is an infusion of public relations strategies and tactics from bright students,” Winton says. The clients keep the campaign books and can use any of the tactics the students propose.
Companies also benefit from meeting, and then potentially hiring, FGCU students. According to Winton, Arthrex and Lee Health hired students after seeing their campaigns in class. “The partnerships are circular and support the local and state business community and the economy over the long term,” Winton says.
Former students who found employment in marketing and public relations departments have come back to campus as capstone clients themselves.
Half of her class focused on a Busch Gardens campaign delivered by Viktor Tuparov (’20, bachelor’s, communication), to market their new ride, Serengeti Flyer. The Minnesota Twins asked the other half for solutions to increase ticket sales and e-ticket usage for spring training games.
In baseball, the “wheelhouse” is the area in the strike zone where a hitter prefers a pitch to be thrown. All of Winton’s students were in their senior year and had developed the skill set to address corporate marketing campaigns.
The campaigns they pitched in April were totally in their wheelhouse.
Ahead in the count
On pitch day, Mark Weber, the Twins’ Florida business operations director, and Victor Gonzalez, assistant director of the team’s Florida and Dominican Republic operations, listened as the first of three groups presented their pitch.
Brianna Felisko, from Milford, Connecticut, was in the first group to speak. When she registered for the capstone class, she knew the most challenging part would be pitch day.
“I’ve always struggled with presenting in front of people,” Felisko said. “I try to be a perfectionist, and my nerves can sometimes get the best of me.”
She felt the campaign pushed her “in a good way” to be a better PR professional. On pitch day, she appeared poised and smiled as she stood next to Orlando native Melanie Lamarche.
“For me, the most challenging part of this assignment has been constantly picking apart ideas to make sure they are strategic, realistic and appropriate,” Lamarche said.
“It’s easy to come up with a really great idea, but you have to be able to back it up with some rationale.”
#FGCUGrad and Brightline Project Engineer Alexandra Westphal is making waves in the high-speed rail industry. The project will soon bridge South Florida to Central Florida. Learn more in the #FGCU360 article here! 🚂➡️ https://t.co/xQCpR5Ol1U #fgcu #fgcualumni #hireaneagle pic.twitter.com/QdkeJk8qZT— Florida Gulf Coast University (@fgcu) June 1, 2023
Group member and Pembroke Pines native Chad Shim plays in a baseball league.
“I have two passions in life: playing ball and recording and making beats,” Shim said. His dream PR job would be to work for Major League Baseball. “Or play for them,” he added.
Teammate Paulina Seminara, an Orlando native, also had a connection to the sport, having played softball.
All four graduate this year with degrees in communication with a concentration in public relations. They agreed the major benefit to the class was creating a campaign and presenting it to a real company.
“This was the first time I was planning a full PR campaign, which is a huge learning experience,” Seminara said.
On pitch day, Shim folded his hands in front of his chest as he delivered the opening salvo: “Close your eyes and imagine a baseball hitting a baseball bat.” Together, Felisko, Lamarche, Shim and Seminara summarized the research and tactics spelled out in their campaign book, including focus group results and detailed suggestions to incentivize e-ticket usage.
After they finished, two other teams made pitches based on other strategies. When all were done, Weber thanked the students. “When I came in January, I’m not sure I knew what we were going to get,” he said. “You were all prepared and passionate, and every group gave us ideas we can glean.”
Anxiously, the students waited to find out: Which group knocked it out of the park?
Weber and Gonzalez huddled before announcing their decision. While there were individual tactics from all three groups he and Gonzalez liked and could see the Twins employing, overall: “We liked group one,” he said. The room exploded in applause as Felisko, Lamarche, Shim and Seminara beamed and congratulated each other.