Gerald “Andy” Black,a general studies major from Spearfish, pictured far left, learns strategies on how to use the social media site Facebook to enhance his business, from fellow classmates, Kristen Hallstrom, a communication arts major from Rapid City;Ashley Grable, a corporate communications major from Rapid City; and Drakkar Thompson, a mass communications major from Rapid City. The students created a tutorial on Facebook for the South Dakota Center for Enterprise Opportunity (SDCEO.)

Once viewed as “spin doctors,” public relations specialists sometimes had a history of less-than-stellar practices. PR professionals, however, are shedding that stereotype and a group of Black Hills State University communication students are demonstrating what public relations can do for a company or organization.

Students in Dr. Mary Caton-Rosser’s public relations class have been integrating their classroom learning with strategies to help community and University groups.

“We are working to ‘educate’ the public about what the profession of public relations is,” said Caton-Rosser, BHSU assistant professor of mass communications. “Not just tacticians or 'spin doctors' producing some communication materials and performing media stunts, but professionals managing values-oriented relationships between organizations and publics conducting the processes of research, analysis, planning and evaluation, prior to putting out any kind of a message or media piece."

The students recently completed projects for a variety of businesses and organizations throughout the community including SD Center for Enterprise Opportunity (SD CEO), the Spearfish Downtown Business Association, Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, and the Canyon Hills Center.

Caton-Rosser said the students cultivated some great relationships with community members throughout the semester.

Michael Miller and Grace McMillin, both who graduated in December with degrees in mass communications, are members of the BHSU PR Club and have been working with the Spearfish Downtown Business Association.

“We are discussing with them the wants and needs for local businesses,” Miller said. “We feel we, the students and the school, have a lot of resources we can draw from to help the businesses.”

Miller said the students at BHSU have a lot of knowledge in social media and can show businesses how to use it to their advantage. “We figure we can help point them in the right direction (in utilizing social media) and in doing that create some opportunities for students,” Miller said noting internship possibilities for BHSU students.

Miller, who interned with Good Earth Natural Food Store, and McMillin, who interned with Bay Leaf Cafe, said both businesses knew of the social media out there; however, did not know how to best incorporate it into their business strategy. Bay Leaf Café has a great Facebook page but did not have a lot of people going to its page, McMillin said.

The partnership between the Spearfish Downtown Business Association and BHSU provides a mutually beneficial relationship, she said. Several businesses have difficulty reaching out to the college audience. “We can use our resources to help them gain a larger customer base,” she said.

Two other BHSU students used their creativity to help supply food for the animals at the Spirit the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, a haven for unwanted, neglected and abused animals.

Tony Cain, a recent graduate in corporate communications, and Justin Regan, a corporate communications major from Sturgis, created and distributed flyers at locations where hunters frequent including barber shops and wherever ammunition is sold.

The flyers encourage hunters to donate the animals they hunted to the Wildlife Sanctuary. The flyers included a coupon for a free general admission tour for every animal brought in.

Their goal is to help feed theSanctuary animals throughout the winter.

“The animals eat a lot more in the winter and the sanctuary is not making any money because they are closed forthe season,” Regan said.

Cain added that a lot of hunters enjoy hunting for the sport of it but don’t want the meat. This provides a win-win situation for both the hunters and the sanctuary, he said.

Through his group's project, Drakkar Thompson, a mass communications major from Rapid City, hoped to increase awareness of Canyon Hills Center, a psychiatric residential treatment serving boys and girls ages 10 to 17 who have emotional, behavioral and educational challenges.

Thompson, who once worked at the Spearfish treatment center, said the majority of people don’t know about the center, and if they do they don’t know the benefits the center provides struggling youth.

“Our big goal was to raise awareness to them and what they are doing in Spearfish,” Thompson said. “They do a great job at the center, helping youth with their problems and helping them become functioning citizens of the community.”

To help raise awareness, Thompson, who has a campus radio show, brought a representative on to discuss Canyon Hills, what they do at the center, and how the community can help with donations. Thompson also set up a tour of the facility for his group.

Thompson, who graduates this spring, said he plans to keep in touch with his former colleagues at Canyon Hills Center to see if the students’ efforts worked at raising awareness of the treatment center.

Throughout the semester, several students also created social media tutorials for the SD CEO. The tutorials, which cover the main social networking sites including Facebook, YouTube, and Pinterest, will be used as a guideline for businesses.

“We went through and showed how to use the sites, the benefits of the mediums and how businesses can use it to their advantage,” said Jenna Carda, a corporate communication and mass communication major from Miles City, Mont.

In all the projects, students said they developed great relationships with the organizations and businesses they worked with - demonstrating the fundamental goal of public relations in establishing mutually beneficial relationships.