A public relations campaign
By creating a PR campaign for a historial or literary figure, students can practice a wide range of thinking skills.
Students are typically very familiar with advertising in print, on television, and even on the web. In this discussion activity, students are charged with developing an advertising and public relations strategy for a historical figure, historical movement, literary character, or idea. You might choose to have students do a PR campaign about the plight of Dust Bowl farmers while reading The Grapes of Wrath, or to have them focus their efforts on advertisements for a presidential candidate in U.S. history, for example.
You may want to introduce the activity by talking more broadly about some of the possible goals of advertising and public relations:
- to make the client or product seem appealing to a particular audience
- to minimize any faults or liabilities in the client or product’s public image or counter any misconceptions
- to show the client or product to be superior to other alternatives, to raise awareness about the client or product and/or reach a new audience
- to emphasize particular qualities or features
and so on. This introduction to advertising/PR could be done as a brainstorming session with students volunteering their ideas about what purposes advertising serves as well.
Developing the PR campaign
After discussing the historical period and/or work of literature and familiarizing students with advertising and public relations, divide students into groups of three to six (depending on what works well for your class). Each class will be responsible for developing a PR campaign for the assigned person, character, group, movement, or idea.
Group work could vary based on the time available — in just twenty minutes, groups could develop a slogan and a brief ad strategy for the purposes of discussion, or students could do a more fully researched and elaborate campaign by working together over the course of several class periods.
Regardless, students will want to consider the following questions in their groups:
- What are the positive qualities of the client? To which groups of people might the client already appeal?
- What are the negative qualities of the client? Which groups of people might not particularly like the client?
- Who should your ad campaign try to reach? Do you think it is more important to reach people who don’t currently like the client or to consolidate your support from those who already have a positive association with the client and hope to persuade some people sitting on the fence?
- What do you want people to think about the client? What do you want them to do? (Vote for him/her? Think about him/her in a more positive light? Join the movement? Buy a certain product or act in other ways?)
- Are there any liabilities or misconceptions that you need to address in your campaign? Are there any alternatives to your client that you need to address in some way? (Will you run a positive or negative PR campaign, or some blend of the two?)
After making these decisions, students can then move on to developing an advertisement or public relations statement for their client. Possible in-class creations could include:
- a poster (or on a smaller scale, a bumper sticker)
- a one-page magazine or newspaper ad
- a public service announcement or t.v. ad
- a slogan, logo, and color scheme
Students should be reminded that their advertisement should reflect their views about the positive and negative attributes of the client, their perceived audience, and so on.
After each group has created its ad, each group, in turn, can present their results to the class and explain why they made the decisions that they made. The teacher might prompt the students in discussion by asking, “Why did you choose blue for the background color?” or “Why did you think that catch phrase would respond to your audience of senior citizens?” The instructor could encourage students to share what they liked about the other groups’ presentations, leading to the development of a new campaign that combines some of the best ideas from all of the groups.
Another option for this activity would be to have students develop campaigns for individuals or groups with opposing views. For example, various groups could develop campaigns for opposing political candidates or groups could develop campaigns for opposing forces in a historical event or novel. For example, in reading about a labor strike, student groups could develop ad campaigns promoting the views of the workers vs. the views of management.