Professors say new PR lab will serve more students, but digital transition Y creates controversy

Adam Durfee, Director of Y Digital, helps his students work on digital marketing projects in the Y Digital lab in 2018. (BYU Photo / Gabriel Mayberry)

Dozens of BYU communications students and alumni have expressed concern and disagreement over the School of Communications’ recent decision to turn Y Digital’s social media and digital marketing lab into a new one. Public Relations Intelligence Lab from fall 2021.

The new laboratory is considered as an “evolution” of the Y Digital agency and of the Carroll Digital and Social Media Studio which is associated with it, according to a press release. The School of Communications emailed all Communication students on May 26 with a brief description of the transition from Digital Lab Y to Public Relations Intelligence Lab.

Y Digital was started in 2017 by BYU alumnus Adam Durfee and has been a successful digital marketing agency ever since, placing students in a wide variety of public relations and marketing roles after graduation. The lab teaches students digital marketing and social media skills while providing them with hands-on experience completing projects for clients.

An application process is required to be admitted into Y Digital with between 30 and 40 students involved in the program each semester.

The new director of the new Intelligence Lab is Assistant Professor of Communication Devin Knighton. He said the communications faculty had been involved in conversations over the past few months about how to expand Y Digital to serve more students in the PR streak. He hopes this new lab will achieve this by being open to more than 200 students accepted into the public relations program.

All public relations students will be involved in the new lab

All students currently accepted into Y Digital, regardless of the communication sequence they are in, will transfer to the PR Intelligence Lab.

But in the future, only public relations students will be involved in the lab. Knighton said if other communication students are interested in participating, they can meet with him to discuss the situation and seek approval from their sequence coordinator to work in the lab.

Knighton said the PR Intelligence Lab will build on Y Digital’s success by hosting more data intelligence-focused projects instead of just focusing on digital marketing and social media research.

This will include the use of more sources of information in addition to digital and social media such as news media and social science data. The lab experience will help students learn lessons, create communication strategies across all channels, and perform data analysis for various companies and businesses, Knighton said.

But many of those who have been or are currently involved with Y Digital are upset by the change.

Some students and alumni unhappy with the change

Public relations manager Ellie Hughes said her graduation plans were now turned upside down as she had planned her graduation and classes around her work at Y Digital. She said Y Digital has been a blessing to her and, from her perspective, expanding it to include more people is not the problem.

She said that she and her classmates are frustrated that everything communicated to them is so vague and has created so much uncertainty that students do not understand what the new lab will look like and how it will work for her and them. other students with a certain Y Digital. live.

Paxton Gray, BYU alumnus and CEO of 97th Floor digital marketing department, posted on LinkedIn saying that BYU “is shutting down Y Digital Agency, one of the most advanced and in-demand programs on campus. Industry is collapsing to hire these kids… Why shut down such an incredible program?”

His post received over 270 comments and 273 reactions. Many BYU alumni, Y Digital alumni, digital marketers and current students discussed their frustration, confusion and disapproval of the change in the comments section of LinkedIn.

Gray has worked with Y Digital on several projects over the past two years and has hired over a dozen Y Digital graduates. From his recruiting perspective, Gray doesn’t think the new lab will be able to provide the kind of real-world experience with technical and soft skills that students learn in Y Digital.

More focused on studies and research?

“From what I understand from this new lab it looks more academic and research-based and I don’t see the broad industry application or the opportunity for students to acquire applicable and sought-after skills. “Gray said.

Gray fully supports the increase in the number of students involved in Y Digital, but believes this approach is the wrong solution.

“If expansion and fairness are the real goal, it appears that a larger investment to expand the doors of Y Digital is needed, not a dilution and complete refocusing of the lab,” Gray said.

Ty Mullen, a recent BYU and Y Digital graduate, was particularly vocal on Gray’s post. His post said the change is a conversion from an “independent charter laboratory” to an “entirely different laboratory”. He was concerned that the new lab could benefit from the reputation and brand recognition that Y Digital has created for itself.

The Digital Y Lab has accepted students from all communication sequences and Mullen said he believes this new change will be detrimental to students interested in digital marketing who are not in the PR sequence.

The school of communication ‘ Press release on the change, “the lab’s refocusing on data intelligence anchors it in the public relations program.” The lab is expected to execute client projects through existing public relations courses and extracurricular opportunities.

Charity Monroe, PR and Account Manager Y Digital, said the general idea of ​​making Y Digital accessible to everyone is great. However, she felt the way the change was communicated was hurtful.

Monroe said the initial email was shocking and she felt like she and her classmates had been let go and left with virtually no response. She said if the faculty had worked with Y Digital students on how to expand it, she and the other Y Digital students would likely be more enthusiastic and open to this transition.

“The idea of ​​a new lab is great, but it’s a shame to cancel Y Digital to make that happen,” said Monroe.

Jessica Awerkamp, ​​a student at Y Digital, said that while the new lab was based on the efforts of student volunteers, she was concerned that they might not be able to create real results and products for their clients.

The laboratory changes were greeted with enthusiasm by some

Knighton said that after the announcement, while some students responded negatively, many others responded enthusiastically for the new lab.

Public relations manager Eleanor Woon said she believes the new lab will create more hands-on learning experiences for the entire program and sees an advantage in having a lab supported by core classes. .

“I think it will be good to have classroom lessons paired with a real-life experience,” Woon said.

Woon said she understands why many are upset with the change and why many see the Y Digital change as a loss to the PR program. She said she hopes the students will put effort into the new lab so that it can be successful like Y Digital has been.

School of Communications principal Mark Callister said giving these experiences to more students allows more students to graduate from the program with better skills and experience of ” apply what they have learned in the classroom so that they are better prepared for a changing industry.

“The new structure will build on the strengths of Y Digital and amplify them in terms of creating more opportunities for public relations students and bring projects that will tap into a broader set of skills reflecting the field of public relations. . “said Callister.

Potential for new partnership opportunities

Callister said he also hopes the PR Intelligence lab will provide opportunities for more social engagement projects such as partnering with the Church or the Ballard Center.

Knighton said the PR professors also plan to involve three communications professionals in the lab, while Y Digital only has one.

Knighton said he is sorry that many are hurt and afraid of what the change will entail, but all students are welcome to speak with him about what the new lab will look like to them.

“I hope that if they open their minds they will see that many of the great results that Y Digital has achieved can still happen, but in a different way. This new lab will always have a real customer experience. This new laboratory will still have leadership opportunities. This new lab will always have a connection with the professionals, in fact it will have more, ”said Knighton.

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