TriSight gives PR students gift of experience
Posted December 22, 2009
By Jonathan Arkin
When a group of industrious students began an in-house public relations firm at USC Annenberg more than 30 years ago, little did they realize they were creating a sensation that would be helping others decades later as the re-envisioned and re-named TriSight Communications.
Now working exclusively with non-profit and small business clients to plan and implement the usual lineup of PR necessities – branding and logos, outreach and marketing, plus meeting other media relations needs – TriSight prepares to enter its eighth year serving its clients and offering undergraduate and graduate students alike the chance to do real public relations work.
“Over the past several years, we have gained a city-wide and university-wide reputation for doing effective work,” said Public Relations professor Jennifer Floto (pictured), who advises the 50-strong student staff. “The students on these accounts learn everything from event planning to media relations. In addition, they have an opportunity to work up to a leadership role, learning valuable management skills such as project planning, budgeting, hiring and firing as well.”
One of this year’s co-presidents, Chaiti Sen (M.A. Strategic Public Relations ’10), said the most rewarding aspect of the work was that it allowed her to get involved with real-time clients and cases while in school, working with a broad range of clients, students and faculty.
“The Strategic PR faculty, especially Jenn Floto, provides a strong support structure for TriSight,” said Sen, who is currently doing PR work in India. “The faculty is our bridge to the external world – they spread the word about our work and our successes to their professional networks and within the Annenberg community…she provides counsel in areas in which the students or the E-Board lack expertise and is the common link between the E-Boards that change every year, hence her guidance is invaluable in maintaining continuity.”
Floto, who is well known for her work in promoting such iconic brands as Verizon, Barbie and Lipitor, is also well positioned to assist the present and future leadership and staff of TriSight, she said, but she also had high praise for the current E-Board.
“Marissa Borjon (M.A. Strategic Public Relations ’10) and Chaiti Sen have elevated TriSight to new levels,” Floto said. “Their superior creative and management skills have allowed participating students to work on renaming an organization; gaining targeted media coverage for a celebrity client; helping USC initiatives such as the Intersections/South Los Angeles Reporting Project (and) increased visibility among important target audiences. And, they’ve created a new sense of esprit de corps, ensuring that students enjoy the work as well.”
One of these students, Daniel Harju (Strategic Public Relations ’11), came to Annenberg and TriSight by way of his native Sweden, where he worked as a professional journalist.
“I am hoping next year to work with a non-profit or a community organization based here in Los Angeles,” said Harju, who also expressed his desire to run for a position on next year’s executive board and to advocate teaching not only journalism to high school students – which the TriSight-named, multimedia-based client Intersections does – but public relations as well. “When you think about it, at USC we’re kind of privileged, but we’re surrounded by poverty. It’s good to give something back. And public relations is such a wide field. We could also be teaching PR…in after-school programs for disenfranchised kids (through an organization). Those are the kind of clients which for me would be a great experience to work with.”
Harju also suggested that some of TriSight’s future focus includes more external communications – in other words, practicing ‘pitching’ – in addition to attracting more community-based projects such as Intersections, Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and Annenberg’s own News21.
Sen said that, in the case of an organization needing some PR for a nominal fee – or even pro bono – the E-Board would contact the client directly, ascertain the scope and viability of the collaboration, and organize a client team. Currently, there are several potential clients knocking on TriSight’s door, but Floto said that the firm is swamped and only three or four clients per year are allowed.
“Truth be told, we’re now turning down work because the students simply can’t take on the number of clients who seek our help,” Floto said, echoing a happy “embarrassment of riches” also recognized by Sen and Harju. “They hold intensive meetings in which they evaluate which clients will give them the widest range of experience. We wish we could help everyone who comes to us!”
But as TriSight’s board gathered this past week for a PR “boot camp” of workshops to discuss the upcoming year’s strategies and which clients to pick, it appeared that another semester, another year, and perhaps another decade of successful PR was forthcoming – even for those moving on with their newly acquired skills to other fields.
“I take a consultative approach to all problems and try to understand the core of the problem before leading to the solutions,” Sen said. “All of these are invaluable skill sets in any industry or profession.”
Borjon, Sen's co-president, worked with PR "guru" Howard Bragman and also mentioned specific help from the faculty as instrumental in her development as a PR professional while at USC.Enter USC Annenberg News Archive »back to top
"The advice from Jennifer Floto and Jerry Swerling is incredibly invaluable," Borjon said. "Jenn is constantly challenging me, and my peers, to do my best on every assignment, project and task in TriSight...she serves as an excellent advisor. TriSight has impacted my career in PR because I am able to apply what I learn in my courses and apply it to real-world PR projects. We like to think of TriSight as the real-world application to some of the course material that professors teach at Annenberg."