Kankakee rebranding: PR students put down the pencils and hit the streets

Changing the perception of a county may not be something that would normally happen in a classroom; however, Olivet’s Intro to Public Relations (PR) class is working with three major clients to do just that for Kankakee County.

The project is called Kankakee re-branding, headed by three non-for profit organizations: Kankakee County Chamber of Commerce, Economic Alliance of Kankakee County and the Kankakee County Convention & Visitors Bureau. These three major clients seek help from the 31 students in Intro to PR to spread awareness of Kankakee’s local amenities and events, bring in tourism and increase public opinion of the area.

“We have a lot of work to do in order to turn around our perception. We want one that aligns better with who we are and where we are going,” Lisa Wogan, Director of Marketing & Business Attraction for the Economic Alliance of Kankakee County, said.

The students will specifically be working in teams of three to develop proposals for how best to help make the corporations goals’ a reality. At the end of the semester, students will submit these proposals and present them to the CEOs/Presidents of each of these corporations. The companies will then choose to implement whichever proposals they think are most viable.

This is not the first time the class’s professor, Elizabeth Kerns, has acquired corporate clients for this class, but none to this size or scale.

“In my teaching career, this is the most prominent and high level project that I have been approached about and taken on in a class,” said Kerns.

Kerns took this project on for a two-fold purpose, to increase student’s marketability and better the community. The vast majority of students represent the Public Relations and Strategic Communication and Marketing majors, Kerns believes the in-field experience will significantly help them in their future careers.

The organizations are separate in both vision and purpose. The Economic Alliance of Kankakee’s broad desire is to promote and nurture economic prosperity in Kankakee with the goal of becoming a global market. The Kankakee County of Chamber of Commerce caters to a conglomerate of local businesses in the Kankakee area; there is a cost for business membership which allows access to the Chambers various benefits. The Kankakee County Convention & Visitors Bureau deals with bringing in tourism for local events and attractions; they receive income through tax hotel goers spend in Kankakee County hotels.

“We want to come up with that big brand, to get that story out to the global residents, then to our regional people, the state and then to the world,” Barbara Brewer-Watson, President and CEO of the Kankakee County Chamber of Commerce, said.

The class is a 100 level class, yet Kerns strongly believes, “You can’t teach PR strictly out of a book, you have to practice your profession.”

The fact that the class is a 100 level class does not deter Kerns, she believes the student are up to the task. “The moment you walk on to Olivet’s campus you are a pre-professional,” Kerns said in regard to her students.

The organizations the students are working for hope to utilize the students outside perspective as fellow Kankakee residents.

“What we want to see from you guys is [to know] what are we doing, how effective is it, and what can our story be – as students here, you are one of our greatest assets – [you have] a perspective from coming into the County for the first time… we want you to portray what you see,” Staci Wilken, the executive director for the Kankakee County Convention, said while speaking to the students.

The students are allowed to choose where they want to concentrate their efforts, whether that is targeting those with a local or outside perspective of Kankakee. The ways in which the students decide to best approach the project is up to them, whether it be through social media, website update, promotional fliers, or something bigger like installing a new attraction in Kankakee. The implementation will be exclusively up to the organizations.

“I think we are going to do a lot better with the outside perspective, but struggle a lot more with local perspectives,” Joshua Pitts, a sophomore corporate communication major, said.

Pitts was concerned with how versatile and relevant the Olivet student’s opinion can be from a local perspective, since many have not lived in the area very long and only periodically interact with local life. Overall students seem eager to tackle this project.

“It will be cool to see the things we are creating in the community – and to see real live change,” junior marketing major Rachel Grimmett said.

In the Fall 2017 semester Inspired Strategies Agency (ISA), a student-run public relations firm on Olivet’s campus, will be taking on the implementation part of this project. Students that are currently in the class will have the opportunity to work with ISA as a class to implement pieces of the proposals that are chosen by the three Kankakee organizations.


— Jeremy McGrath, Staff Writer

Photo Credit – Abbie Mills

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