Agency is a senior-level, capstone course that provides public relations and communications support to area organizations. During the semester students work together to create communication plans and campaigns based on the individual needs of the client. The fast-paced nature of the course and the demands of working with clients, encourages the the highest level of professionalism, performance, and strategic thinking. Each course is supervised by an account director who serves as both an instructor or record and client liaison. Director's guide student work, while monitoring progress and deliverables to the client. Agency concludes with a formal student presentation to the client, with all materials and rights to work passed to the client for use.
Clients range from small start-ups and programs to well-established organizations. The criteria for becoming an Agency client are based on need and prioritized through an application process. Each semester, clients are selected and matched with an Agency class of up to 20 students.
At the start of the semester, clients and Agency students meet to discuss needs and goals. Depending on the needs of the client, a meeting schedule may be established to keep in regular communication throughout the process. At the end of the semester, clients are given a final communication plan or campaign presented by students. During the presentations clients can ask questions and offer feedback.
Clients are provided with copies of all materials, plans, prototypes, etc. The rights to all work are also given to the client for immediate use. Clients may select students from Agency for internships or to hire to help implement the strategies and tactics presented at the end of the semester. Upon completion of this class the majority of students will graduate with a bachelors’ of science in mass communication and are seen as independent contractors unaffiliated with Agency, The Richard T. Robertson School, and Virginia Commonwealth University.
Agency students are senior mass communication majors focused on the study and practice of public relations. Students are only permitted to take Agency after completing prerequisite courses in the program. These include Communication Ethics and Law; PR Writing, Media Relations; Graphic Design and Production; Social Media; Professionalism, Case Studies, Crisis Communication and Research. Students also complete public relations electives like Sports and Entertainment PR; Special Events; etc. to explore different skillsets required in the industry.
In Agency, students will apply what they have learned about public relations theory and methods through the semester-long development of a strategic communications plan or campaign. Special attention to the planning process, including issues analysis, application of public relations, and research methods are also implemented.
Students are given high industry expectations in professionalism, performance, and strategic thinking. Students are also assessed on their individual and group contributions at the midterm and again at the end of the semester.
Each student is provided an evaluation at the end of the semester with feedback from peers, other professors, and the client. At the end of their Agency experience students should have a well-rounded understanding of their strengths in both the theory and practice of public relations.
Agency account directors are highly qualified industry experts hand selected to manage the relationship between the students and client. Account directors also function to support the overall framework of the class by assigning teams, coordinating instruction, monitoring progress and project development.
Account directors support the learning functions of the class as the official instructor of record, both generating assessments and assigning final grades to groups and individuals.
Beth P. Musick, Adjunct Professor with VCU Robertson School of Media and Culture
Beth enjoyed over 20+ years of a successful career in Professional Sales & Account Management with Thomson Reuters and affiliates. Graduate of the VCU School of Mass Communications with a B.S. Degree - Public Relations. Holds a variety of career experience in Marketing, Public Relations, Advertising, Sales and Communications. Currently serving on the Board of Directors with the Valentine Museum and President of the Willow Oaks/Clevedon Neighborhood Association.
Diana Burkett, Adjunct Professor, Director, Communications and Enrollment Management with VCU School of Education
Diana joined the School of Education in August 2014 after spending two years at University of Richmond as communications manager for the Office of Alumni and Career Services. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, Burkett focuses her efforts on supporting the mission and initiatives of the school by developing and implementing a comprehensive communications strategy consistent and integrated with VCU strategic goals and brand requirements. She also manages the communications team and provides communications council to the school leadership. She has more than ten years of experience in communications and public relations, including at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Edelman Public Relations and Chandler Chicco companies.
Jeff Caldwell, Adjunct Professor, Director of External Affairs with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management
When not teaching undergraduate PR classes at the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture, Jeff Caldwell currently serves as director of external affairs and chief agency spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM). Caldwell previously served as a corporate communications manager with Altria, press secretary to former Governor Bob McDonnell and communications director for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH). He has more than 20 years experience in journalism, crisis and representational public relations, marketing, media relations and writing. Caldwell also has experience in corporate communications with Circuit City Stores, Inc, as an award-winning journalist with Richmond Magazine, and as a freelance public relations professional, writer and strategist.
Caldwell earned his bachelor’s degree and master's degree from the University of Richmond. He is a graduate of the Virginia Executive Institute, is a licensed real estate salesperson in Virginia, and has won multiple state and national awards from the Virginia Press Association, VDOT and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
He’s also passionate about spending time with his kids, finding unique antiques, restoring classic cars and woodworking. A native of upstate New York, he has lived in Richmond for more than 20 years.
Agency is a VCU Service-Learning course designed to serve area programs and organizations.Through client research, planning, materials development, and a final communications plan, each student will complete a minimum 20-hours of community service.
Agency estimates *$30,000 of pro bono community service through **2,040 hours of student work annually
*Financial impact based on local average of $15hr for entry PR work per student at $30,000 per yr ($5,100 per client)
**Hours of work based on 17 Students per section (or 102 students per year) completing a minimum of 20 hrs of community service per student
“The VCU Division of Community Engagement mobilizes university-community partnerships that generate innovative solutions to societal challenges and prepares the engaged citizens of tomorrow.” - VCU Division of Community Engagement