Student-run PR firm attracts Amazon, Adobe


Charlotte Pearse | Contributing Writer

Juan Bonetti, senior member with a double major in communication and psychology is the president of Panther Relations PR.

By Charlotte Pearse, Staff Writer

When Pitt student Sara Green decided to start a club for public relations on campus, she wasn’t sure how many other people would share her passion.

“I thought I was crazy, especially trying to find people that have so many other things to do and so many other clubs that could devote so much time to the PR firm,” Green said. “That’s been the coolest part is just seeing how much it’s affected people in the club that have really gotten something out of it and really gotten into it, and they’ve made me so proud.”

Green is the founder of Panther Relations, a Pitt club in which students do free PR work for recognizable brands like Amazon, Adobe and Moe’s, including creating events. Now a senior double majoring in communication and public and professional writing, she got the idea for the club after being involved in a project to bring Public Relations Student Society of America to Pitt’s campus as a first-year in 2016. When Pitt was denied a branch, Green began to put together Panther Relations PR.

“I found PRSSA’s student PR firm handbook and took some ideas from that that I liked but also looked at the ways I didn’t really love certain things that they were doing,” Green said. “I wanted to be a little more creative and open and not so much regulated and regimented as they were.”

Green searched top PR firms in Pittsburgh and sent out emails to people there, trying to find a professional adviser for the club — which ended up being Jerry Thompson, the public relations director at the Pittsburgh office of MARC USA, a national PR firm. The student-run PR firm has expanded exponentially, both in members and clients, since Thompson first began advising them.

“We’ve consulted with them along the way,” Thompson said. “It’s been rewarding to be around students who take initiative. They built this thing themselves, which is very entrepreneurial. I think they have created a steady trajectory of growth and accomplishment with Panther PR.”

After Thompson created an advisory board comprised of professionals, and Green found peers who were also interested in PR to form the necessary executive board, they were ready for recruitment in the fall.

“We needed to have at least 10 members to have an active club, and we knew what we were doing wasn’t going to be easy or one of those things where you half be in it, you really need to be committed,” Green said. “And the first meeting is always packed more than any other meeting in the entire year because a bunch of freshmen are like ‘Oh, maybe I’m interested in this.’ You have one chance to sell them on this.”

According to Green, the firm started as a resource for other student organizations such as Pitt Lacrosse, Pitt Pantry and others. However, after working with them for a while, Green felt as if the firm’s abilities weren’t being utilized to its full potential, so she began to consider businesses based in the area as potential clients. She herself was the one to create the club’s partnership with Amazon, since she works at the Pitt Hub location as an associate.

Panther Relations began producing marketing photos for Amazon, as well as assisting them with “locker wrap” contests between different locations, where employees would decorate Amazon lockers and win prizes. They also helped put together a Halloween party last year for Pitt’s Amazon location to celebrate its one-year anniversary.

Jess Piccola, the campus site manager at Amazon, said the store’s partnership with Panther Relations PR began with primarily event planning, and now involves a lot of graphic design aspects as well.

“Since we were a new business on Pitt’s campus we were just trying to figure out ways that we can get in front of students,” Piccola said. “The students are really willing to learn, and they’re willing to do what we have in mind, but they’re also willing to bring us some great fun ideas.”

Juan Bonetti, the firm’s president and former business manager, brought on Adobe as a client. Panther PR is part of Adobe’s creative club network, and the firm does lots of workshops with them to help familiarize students with the software, including a workshop on Valentine’s Day called Adobe X’s and O’s, where students could crop exs out of old photos or photoshop themselves with celebrities.

Bonetti, a senior with a double major in communication and psychology, admitted that juggling the work he did with the PR firm and his classes was the biggest challenge of the club.The organization holds both general body meetings for planning as well as work meetings on Sunday to check in about specific assignments.

“Everybody’s always leaning on each other, nobody’s ever afraid to say ‘I am way too busy this week, can anybody hop up and take that assignment?’” Bonetti said. “We all try and work together to make sure that everybody’s making it through the semester and not that stressed.”

Green said another challenge the organization faces is proving its efforts bring results.

“It’s hard to prove PR works, to prove that something qualitative like brand, or loyalty or emotion drives sales and numbers,” Green said. “Proving PR is rough, but when it’s done right it can have all the difference. Just from my experiences, no one ever thinks they need PR until something goes wrong, but having PR is how you prevent things from going wrong.”

Green added that PR is not for everyone. People doing PR, in her experience, need to be creative, have the ability to meet deadlines and work both individually and as a collaborator.

“With PR you have to be a renaissance man of communication,” Green said. “You have to know a little bit of everything.”

Green expressed her pride for the direction that the organization has gone in, and said that she hopes to be able to return to campus at some point in the future and see how the club has grown.

“I’ll have a legacy at Pitt, this is something that I started that will hopefully be around for decades to come,” Green said. “Maybe someone gets their first internship because they have this experience, or maybe someone gets their dream job or meets a connection for this really great job they’ve wanted. It’s not just for me, but for others like me and the people around me.”