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Elon senior wins international Page Society case study competition

Heather Harder's case study on Coca-Cola's anti-obesity campaign takes the grand prize in the Arthur W. Page Society case study competition.

Arthur W. Page Society President Roger Bolton (left), Elon University senior Heather Harder and and Frank Ovaitt, president of the Institute for Public Relations.

Elon University senior strategic communications major Heather Harder was awarded the grand prize in the Arthur W. Page Society case study competition at an awards ceremony April 3 in New York.

Her faculty adviser on the case study, Assistant Professor Lucinda Austin in the School of Communications, was also recognized at the ceremony.

The competition calls for case study entries to “compellingly explore a case wherein corporate communications is undertaken effectively as a critical management function.” Harder’s winning case study, “Are All Calories Created Equal? An Analysis of the Coca-Cola Company’s Communication in the Fight Against Obesity,” examines Coca-Cola’s conflict between being socially responsible and promoting products many claim contribute to obesity.

“As Americans become increasingly health conscious, soft drink companies are under attack,” Harder’s case study abstract reads. “One major accusation against soft drinks is that they contribute to obesity rates, which have nearly doubled since the 1960s. In efforts to support anti-obesity initiatives and defend its brands, the Coca-Cola Company launched communications campaign Coming Together in January 2013. With health experts claiming regular and diet soft drinks can lead to obesity, Coca-Cola is challenged to communicate the message that its products can fit into healthy lifestyles.”

Harder presented her case study in live-interview format with Arthur W. Page Society President Roger Bolton to about 275 corporate communications professionals in attendance at the Page Society Spring Seminar conference. Harder was awarded $5,000 as the grand prize winner, and Austin was awarded $1,500.

“After completing this case study and receiving a warm welcome from Page Society members, I have a renewed passion for communications,” Harder said. “Dr. Austin played a significant role in this achievement by encouraging me to continue with the case while balancing a national leadership position and a full course load, and I could not have completed it without her support.”

Harder competed against graduate and undergraduate students in communications and business schools globally. Her case study was selected unanimously by a panel of "blind" reviewers who represent corporate, agency and academic sectors in corporate communication. Entries are judged based on their relevance and timeliness, significance of the problem investigated, and incorporation of the Page Principles of public relations management.

“Our mission as an organization is to advance the leadership role of the COO within the enterprise, and that happens largely by fostering the understanding of the critical importance of communications to an organization’s success,” said Bolton about the award. “With that in mind, Heather’s case stood out to our judges, who had to choose from nearly 40 excellent entries. I congratulate Heather and all the other prize winners.”

“Heather,” Austin added, “is one of the most organized and dedicated students I have had the pleasure of working with. Heather developed an extensive reading list, case study plan and timeline and spent a lot of time analyzing this case. Her finished product showcases her profound professional insight and intellectual maturity.”

Runner-up award winners included students representing the University of Notre Dame, DePaul University and Quinnipiac University. Full case studies for all of the winning entries can be found on the Page Society’s website. The Page Society’s Annual Case Study Competition is in its 13th year. Additional details about Harder’s award can be found in the Page Society’s press release for the event.

Harder was recently elected as the incoming national Public Relations Student Society of America president and currently serves as the organization’s vice president of member services. She is also former president of Elon’s PRSSA chapter. Harder is a Communications Fellow, serves on the Dean’s Student Advisory Board and has represented the School of Communications on the Student Government Association this past year.

- Information provided by Lucinda Austin in the School of Communications

Colin Donohue,
Staff
4/4/2014 9:45 AM