California State University, Long Beach
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Journalism Chair Praises CSULB’s Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America

A five-member team representing CSULB’s chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) recently returned from this year’s Bateman Competition in Detroit bearing its best placement in years with a second-place finish.

Bateman is a national competition in which CSULB’s PRSSA chapter competes every year. Its winners are honored for their ability to successfully apply the public relations tactics they learned in the classroom to a real-world client. The contest’s goal is to develop and implement a public relations campaign. The competition was created in 1973 by the Public Relations Society of America to exercise members’ analytical skills and judgment required for problem solving in the public relations field. Each year, the society, along with PRSSA, puts on this national competition for all its member schools.

“The Bateman Competition is the most important national venue for public relations students,” said Raul Reis, who joined CSULB’s Journalism Department in 2000 and now serves as department chair. “This year’s competition included teams from 76 universities including a veritable who’s who in higher education and was focused on a car safety campaign aimed at 11-to-14-year-olds. Our team traveled to Detroit in May as one of the finalists and wound up taking second place, defeating teams from places like the University of Michigan, the University of Georgia and the University of Florida. We hadn’t placed in the top three in quite a while and we all think our students really deserve recognition for representing us so well.”

Joni Ramirez, team faculty advisor and Journalism Department member since 1998, agreed.

“Their `Survive the Drive’ campaign not only reached the tweens about vehicle safety in a way that was fun and measurable but it also promoted clients General Motors and Safe Kids Buckle Up better than any of the other finalists,” she said. “I remember one of the GM judges telling us she smiled during the entire presentation.”

Armando Vazquez-Ramos, who is seeking a bachelor’s degree in journalism at CSULB with an emphasis on public relations, was ecstatic that the team made it to the finals. “This is something that has not been done in quite some time,” he said. “To have been on the team that finally brought CSULB back in to the top three was very fulfilling and I almost didn’t believe it when I first heard.”

Vazquez-Ramos believes the reasons for the team’s success were two-fold. “First, we really thought outside of the box and the whole team committed themselves 110 percent to making our campaign/special event unique and engaging to our target audience – tweens (teenagers between the ages of 11 and 14),” he said. “Second, we were all motivated by our amazing coach Joni Ramirez.”

The team’s biggest strength, Vazquez-Ramos argues, is its diversity, both in terms of their ethnicities and their backgrounds and experience levels. “Very often throughout the research, planning, execution and evaluation phases, there were things where one or more team members fell short and where others of us were able to pick up that ball and run,” he said. “Our teamwork really blew my mind.”

CSULB’s winning entry partnered with Long Beach’s Jackie Robinson Academy to create a “Survivor”-style obstacle course with four stations, each offering tips about driving safety issues using GM vehicles. For two of these stations, the university paired with Long Beach’s Miller Children’s Hospital whose trauma nurse explained the importance of booster seats and with the Long Beach Police Department for a close-up look by the tweens at a modern patrol unit.

“I think one reason we were recognized was the way we could measure the before-and-after reactions of more than 300 students and discover how their attitudes changed about vehicle safety and GM,” said Ramirez. “Student feedback was very positive.”

Ramirez congratulated team members Vazquez-Ramos, Monica Bolds, Taryn Grows, Geoff Kutnick and Adrian Marquez. First place went to New Orleans’ Loyola University. “Loyola has consistently finished in the top three for the past 10 years so we should be proud to have rejoined their ranks after several years of not being a top team. "Our most recent top three finishes came in 2001,” said Ramirez, who is also vice president, health, for the Los Angeles-based Edelman public relations firm. “The award will be presented in October at the annual PRSSA meeting in Detroit.”

Ramirez has a previous connection with the Bateman Competition as a member of the first CSULB team to enter – and win – in 1994. That same year, she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism at CSULB and currently pursues her Master of Business Administration here. “It was a different competition then,” she recalled. “It was very hypothetical.”

Reis believes one strong reason for the team’s success is the CSULB faculty’s real-world experience. “Many of our public relations faculty members work on the outside in the professional world,” he said. “Most of them have strong connections to public relations firms. They offer students not only knowledge, information and real-life experience but the opportunity to network. The university has a strong chapter of PRSSA. It’s getting better and better and the students are getting more involved.”

Ramirez thinks the most important resources offered to students at CSULB are practical skills. “When students choose CSULB, they come out knowing how to write a press release, how to develop a media list and all the things they need to know in the field,” she said. “Other universities are more theoretical. They learn history, not tactics. This recognition establishes us once again as a top program.” 

Reis is excited about following up this year’s success. “There’s nowhere to go but the top,” he said. “That’s what we want next year. The next student team has big shoes to fill.”

“The pressure is on to do even better next year,” added Ramirez. “This was my first year leading the team against other universities with faculty advisors who had led them for years. I learned a lot from the other schools’ presentations and I have high expectations for next year.”