For the second time in less than a year, events that faculty, staff and students helped plan, publicize and produce as part of Western Carolina University’s partnership with the town of Dillsboro have won awards from the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals.
In the association’s recent international Hermes Creative Awards competition, the Dillsboro Mobile Web App Launch Party held in March 2012 landed one of eight gold awards in the special events category. Meanwhile in November, another WCU project team won an AMCP Communitas Award for helping significantly increase attendance during a Dillsboro holiday event the previous year.
Both events stemmed from the Dillsboro-WCU Partnership, a university-wide effort initiated in 2009 at the request of Dillsboro community members to match WCU expertise and resources with Dillsboro’s challenges and opportunities.
“The partnership’s projects have brought together a wide variety of people for a common purpose, and it’s nice to know that others recognize this as special, too,” said Betty Farmer, professor of communication and special assistant to the chancellor for Dillsboro. “Dozens of faculty, staff and students from across the university contributed hundreds of hours on just these two events. We were successful because of their expertise, commitment and willingness to make a difference in our community.”
Hermes Creative Awards honor creative professionals, and most entries come from corporate marketing and communication departments, advertising agencies, public relations firms, graphic design shops, production companies, web and digital creators and freelancers.
The Dillsboro Mobile Web App Launch Party that won a Hermes Creative Award was planned and produced during the 2011-12 academic year by a group of senior-level public relations students working with Farmer. The students were charged with helping publicize the release of a prototype of a mobile phone application developed by WCU computer information systems students.
Under the direction of Dan Clapper, associate professor of computer information systems within the College of Business, students worked with Dillsboro business owners and community members to create mobile.dillsboroplaces.org. The app directly connects smartphone users to the town’s businesses and attractions, and features business and town information, turn-by-turn directions, social media links, promotions, special events and weather.
The public relations students planned a publicity campaign that included a launch party, which served as one of the installation activities celebrating WCU’s new chancellor, David O. Belcher. The move helped increase publicity and highlight the project as an exemplary community partnership project, one in which students and faculty applied their expertise and what they are learning in a way that responded to a community need.
At the event, a timer at Dillsboro’s historic Jarrett House counted down the minutes and seconds to the launch. Computer information systems students presented how the app was developed, how it worked, its features and the next steps in its development. Public relations students shared how they developed event promotional materials including a press release, a banner and signs for high-traffic areas and venues, a social media campaign and a drawing for an “Experience Dillsboro” giveaway package worth more than $600.
To launch the app, the team unveiled the Dillsboro Mobile Man, an 8-foot-tall character donning an original costume designed and created by faculty and staff in WCU’s School of Stage and Screen. Escorted at the event by Paws, WCU’s mascot, the character wore a QR code enabling smartphone users to scan to be immediately directed to the mobile website.
“The two huge characters made quite the entry – especially as they had to duck under the antique chandeliers in the Jarrett House,” said Farmer. “The juxtaposition of the two characters launching this new technology in a building on the National Register of Historic Places was not lost on audience members.”
Chancellor David O. Belcher and his wife, Susan, launched the app prototype by being the first to officially visit the mobile website.
Attendance at the event was strong, Farmer said, and included state, county and town governmental leaders as well as university and community supporters. Attendees enjoyed “APPetizers” and Purple Pride Punch, which is one of WCU’s colors, and the town merchants decorated the town in purple.
In addition to the Hermes Creative Award, another Dillsboro project won recognition from AMCP by garnering a Communitas Award for significantly increasing attendance during the 2011 Dillsboro Lights & Luminaries festival. Communitas Awards recognize exceptional businesses, organizations and individuals that are unselfishly giving of themselves and their resources, and those that are changing how they do business to benefit their communities. Communitas is a Latin word that means people coming together for the good of a community, and the AMCP judges found that the Dillsboro 2011 luminaries event “clearly exhibits communitas.”
To promote the 28th annual luminaries event, Farmer and her students designated the festival’s opening evening as WCU Night and planned special activities and prizes just for faculty, staff and students.
Alisha Lambert, who recently completed the bachelor’s degree program in communication at WCU with a concentration in public relations and journalism, said she learned a lot from promoting the Dillsboro Lights and Luminaries festival.
“I learned the basic process that is applied to any public relations campaign: research, objectives, programming and evaluation, and I learned that planning an event takes a lot of hard work and focus, but all of the hard work and focus will pay off if you give it everything you have,” said Lambert, who is originally from Bryson City.
Merchants not only reported increased sales and visitors, but also said they had customers return after the event. In addition, merchants donated $550, a portion of their proceeds from WCU Night, to a charitable organization in support of the WCU Poverty Project.
As a result of the success of the 2011 event, WCU students, faculty and staff again worked with Dillsboro community members to promote the 2012 luminaries festival. In addition to increased attendance, many Dillsboro merchants reported that their sales doubled from the previous year, said Farmer.
Carol Burton, WCU associate provost for undergraduate studies, said receiving external awards underscores the validity and value of the Dillsboro-WCU Partnership.
“One of the most important quality indicators of WCU is the alignment between our academic curriculum and our institutional mission,” said Burton. “The Dillsboro-WCU Partnership represents our drive to provide highly significant, relevant and civic opportunities for student learning as well as our desire to engage with our community in a reciprocal and meaningful way.”
Susan Leveille, co-owner of longtime Dillsboro business Oaks Gallery, said Dillsboro is proud to be have been chosen to partner with WCU.
“The partnership has been great for all of us,” said Leveille. “We have learned so very much from each other and about each other, and have developed a relationship that I hope will continue.”