Charles Harris and I came up with the idea of a role playing activity several years ago when I was looking for a topic for a class writing assignment and he was looking for a way to promote the college’s scholarship program.
Each fall semester, he is our client for a assignment that requires the students to write a news release, and I am his intern, asking questions and collecting information for the news release.
He and I meet ahead of time to review the key information for the news release and discuss our timing. During the class before he is our guest, I explain the assignment to the students. I encourage them to do the kind of advance preparation that I am planning to do before the interview — reading about the scholarship program on the college website, printing the application form to use for fact checking during the interview, and developing my list of questions.
All of the students have received e-mails from Mr. Harris in his role as director of the Knight Division for Scholarships, Job Services and Multicultural Affairs. But few have met him or have visited the Knight Division office. A bonus of the role playing activity is that the students get to know Mr. Harris — both in his role as coordinator of the scholarship program and as someone who would be easy to talk with — and would be more likely to visit the Knight office.
On the day he visits the class, we set up our scenario with me visiting his office — with handouts, my notepad and pens. He asks me how classes have been that day, including how I’m doing in MMC 2100 (the course he is speaking to), and we move into the news release that he wants me to write. As we talk, I’m able to insert some of what we have discussed in class (and what is in the textbook) about writing news releases, such as, “I’ll want to write a summary lead to emphasize the news value of the news release.”
At times during our conversation, he provides background information about a change in procedures or plans for next year’s scholarship program and then adds, “That will help you understand the program, but we wouldn’t include that in the news release.” The students and I smile as we mark that from our notes and are reminded that in writing a news release for a client we are following his directions, which is a shift from the news writing they were writing a month ago.
It’s an interesting day for all of us. Charles gets to meet the students and puts a face on the Knight Division. I get to make points about writing for public relations but in a different approach than lecturing. The students get to observe the process of collecting information for a news release.
The students also are able to ask questions about the scholarship program, to clarify information for the news release they are writing and for themselves, as we hope many will apply for the program.