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Public relations students develop campaign for racial justice organization

Dec 17, 2020

Posted in: News

By Ebonique Little, Communications Intern

Public relations students at the Robertson School of Media and Culture lent their skills to The Conciliation Project, a theatre organization dedicated to racial justice, this semester.

Based in Richmond, The Conciliation Project was founded in 2001 by VCU theatre professor Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates. The organization seeks to foster difficult conversations surrounding race relations, systemic oppression, and the liberation of all people through the messaging in original plays and educational workshops.

To further their mission, The Conciliation Project outlined their goals and applied for help from students enrolled in Agency, a senior-level public relations capstone course in which students work together to create communication plans and campaigns based on the specific needs of local organizations.


“We all need to learn from a group like this,” public relations instructor Judith Crenshaw said. “If we can help them right now, then this is what we need to be doing in this moment in time.”

Crenshaw said she selected The Conciliation Project as the course’s client because the organization felt relevant to her students and contributes to the social discourse within the greater community.

“It wasn't always easy to be talking about systemic oppression and trying to create meaningful suggestions  at this particular time,” Crenshaw said, “but probably all the more necessary.”

The course was organized so that three groups of students built a campaign creating potential  solutions for The Conciliation Project based on areas they’ve identified within their business model that could use amplification or improvement — fundraising and partnerships, media relations and digital media.

Senior student Khalied Bashri led the team focused on the latter, working alongside Kimberly Brown, Maya Blacken, Emmy James and Luke Porter. 

Bashri said he was personally compelled to brainstorm ideas for the client.

“They really had a message that I resonated with,” Bashri said. “I grew up doing theater, so working with an organization that was in that sphere, but also promoted Black voices, that was something really special for me.” 

Their campaign book had three objectives to be fulfilled by the end of 2021 — increase their social media engagement among millennials by 25%, redesign the website to decrease bounce rate by 15% and increase digital engagement with community collaborators by 15%. 

Bashri said extensive research guided the strategies they implemented to accomplish the objectives, some of which included Instagram post templates to ensure consistent branding, a social media content calendar detailing when and what should be posted for six months, changing the text on the website and establishing a structure for online workshops. 

The strategies had to be practical, especially during the pandemic as theatre productions have halted.

“It was really great as well to not only be able to help a client who is in the Black Lives Matter sphere, who is ingrained in the Black community,” Bashri said, “but also, who is struggling so much right now just because of the current climate with the pandemic.”

Bashri said the group met three to four times a week to come up with effective ways for The Conciliation Project to reach their goals, but he said the immense work was worth it.

“They did mention that a lot of the pieces we produced could just be posted tomorrow,” Bashri said. “Like it was stuff that is really usable immediately.”

Brown said the quality of their campaign was largely driven by their passion for the organization’s work, and that narrowing down their ideas was the most challenging task.

“The work that they do is just so awesome,” Brown said. “So it really helped us really enjoy working with them.”

Brown, who also works independently with small businesses to assist in strengthening their social media channels, was responsible for the graphic design aspects of the project, leading the direction for the Instagram and website templates and visual appeal of the campaign.

Brown said she wanted to be sure she used all of the colors The Conciliation Project uses on their website and social media channels, and then completed research on traditional African artwork to reference in creating some of the design elements. 

She then experimented in Adobe Illustrator and said that’s usually how she creates her best work.

“It was not hard,” Brown said of the project. “They just want to give insight to other people about what some of us have to deal with, like people of color in general. So for us it was just really awesome to be able to work with a client like that.”