Elon in Los Angeles receives a PR lift
Students in the Elon in Los Angeles program have been running a simulated production company, dubbed "Climbing the LAdder," for the last three summers. In year one, only a production class was offered. Last year, an acting course was added, and the company began to expand and take shape.
But there was still an important component missing—marketing and public relations. It’s an element that J. McMerty, the director of the Elon in LA program, said is needed to make any organization successful and viable. So this year, students in the nine-week summer internship experience had the opportunity to enroll in the brand new “Entertainment Public Relations” class, which is being led by PR veteran Brad Lemack, the owner of Brad Lemack & Company Public Relations.
McMerty said the course also satiates strategic communications majors—who come to LA in abundance every summer—because it gives them the opportunity to head west and learn firsthand about how professional practitioners build and maintain the images of their often well-known clients.
“One of the things that rounds out a production company—and it can’t exist without it—is the strategic marketing and publicity,” McMerty said. “The students seem to be enjoying the classes. They really like getting insights from Brad.”
Lemack himself has more than 30 years experience in the PR field and 15 years teaching in Emerson College’s Los Angeles program. He said he’s teaching “real-life lessons” in class, covering topics such as the right of privacy vs. the right of publicity, how celebrities can make a comeback, the role of the publicist and several case studies in public relations management, which have focused on the marketing campaigns of PGA golfer Tiger Woods, actor Charlie Sheen and the country music group Dixie Chicks.
“The goal is to take advantage of being in Los Angeles so that we can bridge what they’re learning academically at the main campus in Elon with really what the landscape is out here,” Lemack said. “I think by coming to Los Angeles you learn stuff you can never learn sitting in a classroom. You learn in the classroom the theoretical, the academic, which is critical. It provides the educational foundation for everything that follows, but the challenge is in learning how to apply that to the needs of the real world.”
Between their internships and their classes on location in LA, students say the course has proven exceedingly useful and practical. In fact, for those who are rising seniors, it’s given them a different, but important, perspective on the PR field.
Evann Clingan, a strategic communications major who is interning at Warner Music Group in its New Media Department, said Lemack and the class, in general, have helped her “fine tune” her awareness of marketing strategies.
Recently, after watching pop singer Chris Brown cry following the completion of his tribute to the late Michael Jackson at the BET Awards, Clingan immediately turned to a friend and said, “That’s a publicity stunt.” She thought Brown’s emotions were staged in an effort to sway public sentiment in his direction following his well-publicized split with singer Rihanna.
“Learning how to think like a PR professional is something that’s going to get us ahead before we get into the field,” Clingan said. “It has been great. It’s the kind of class that I don’t think could be taught as well on campus because we’re in an environment where everything is happening.”
And it’s true that Los Angeles provides a vibrant climate for strategic communications students. The harried nature of the city and the nearby entertainment industry has given senior Matt Smith a place to grow into the role of a working, capable young professional.
“I want to get as much professional experience before I graduate,” Smith said. “I just looked at this program and just felt that this would be a great way to transition to being a student and becoming a young adult in a workplace environment. I want to be able to be a little bit more comfortable with myself and my abilities after I graduate.”
Students have taken to Lemack’s teaching style, as well, praising him for his enthusiasm and his breadth of knowledge.
“Like many Elon teachers, he’s lived it, gotten paid for and now wants to teach it,” Clingan said. “He’s very passionate about (PR). Elon has prepared us really well on campus, so now that we’re here, he’s been impressed with our caliber of work.”
As part of the “Climbing the LAdder” production company, the students will be doing marketing work for the final five short films that will be produced by the production and acting classes. Pairs of PR students will work with each of the five productions to publicize the films. In the end, one final press kit will be put together prior to the premieres at a venue that the PR students will scout and reserve.
Lemack is helping the students pull together all the materials for their final project, but he isn’t worried about it all coming together.
He said the students have brought a “remarkable collection of brainpower and perspective” to the course, and he hopes by the end of the summer they have learned how to blend successfully their formal classroom education with real-world experiences in the entertainment capital of the globe.
“I think coming to Los Angeles, you learn stuff you can never learn sitting in a classroom,” Lemack said. “I think everybody who really, really wants to do this should be required to come (to Los Angeles) and experience what it’s like while we hold a safety net under you.”