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Business and Financial Affairs

CWU Students Work with Ellensburg Downtown Association to Promote Local Business

ELLENSBURG, Wash. — Central Washington University’s student-led Central Communication Agency (CCA) is now working with the Ellensburg Downtown Association (EDA) to help further connect university students with downtown businesses.

“If our students knew what the downtown corridor truly had to offer, they would understand the uniqueness of downtown businesses versus what the campus has to offer,” says Liz Kerns, CWU public relations and non-profit organization management professor, who is the CCA advisor. “They are a wonderful complement to one another.”

These new efforts are based upon results of a marketing survey of downtown business leaders and 1,006 CWU students conducted last year, covering a wide range of issues, from perceptions of the downtown to the availability of transportation. The end result was a 53-page report, which led to development of several public relations proposals for the EDA.

Throughout fall quarter, the CCA is helping implement the best of those proposals.

“Business leaders told us they want to learn more about students and what student life is like today, such as where do students get their money, and how are they functioning,” Kerns points out. “So, we’re going to record a student-life seminar, put it on a CD-ROM and deliver it to every single [EDA] business.”

In addition, businesses will receive what Kerns described as a social media toolkit—a handbook addressing what the current student generation expects through social media, along with best practices that businesses may implement.

During winter quarter, CCA will release a student discount card that can be used for a variety of promotional offers, which will be developed after the first of the year for the EDA.

“Businesses will offer specific deals or discounts to help encourage students to go downtown,” Kerns adds. “We have to keep the businesses in mind, too, because they walk a very fine [financial] line everyday.”

Next year, CCA will conduct another survey to determine the success of these marketing efforts. 

“We’ll benchmark against our original survey,” Kerns explained. “For example, we’ll look and see how many students have a favorable perception of the downtown.” 

Carolyn Honeycutt, EDA director, says, “Being able to work with the agency on this project has given our non-profit [organization] greater clarity on the situation, and the results of working directly with the students has benefited both the EDA and students.”

CWU senior Ann Reynolds, from Portland, Oregon, is the CCA account executive for EDA and is in charge of overseeing client relations, proposals, and a team of six other students. She says the work is providing her with invaluable professional experience.

“A lot of the PR [public relations] jobs that you get after college say that experience is needed,” Reynolds says. “I’m going to graduate with a year-and-a-half of PR agency experience and working with clients.”   

CWU is the only school in Washington that offers such a service learning experience through the student-run CCA.  Though the experience offers students class credit, it is run like a business, offering clients a full-service communication firm—including advertising, event planning, graphic design, market research, photography, and social media services—free of charge.

“This is a one-of-a-kind program,” says Kerns, who came to CWU after working with the Illinois Chamber of Commerce for seven years and set up the CCA in 2011. “I’ve looked at different agencies across the country, taken the best elements I’ve found, and implemented them here, while taking into consideration other student media that currently exist. Agency is meant to compliment pre-existing programs and allow PR, advertising, marketing, and other majors an opportunity to practice their profession.”   

This quarter, 43 students are enrolled in the CCA. “We’ve had 178 students cycle through agency, in every capacity, since fall 2012,” Kerns notes. “They’re the ones who make this run and are doing all this amazing work.” 

Other CCA members are now involved with six additional clients, including conducting focus groups involving parents, teachers, administrators, and community members pertaining to the perception of the Ellensburg School District’s overall communication efforts. 

Media contact: Robert Lowery, CWU Public Affairs, 509-963-1487, loweryr@cwu.edu

November 4, 2013