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Student ‘takes flight,’ first place in PR competition

For most students, advertising is an obnoxious 30 seconds before a YouTube video, but for William & Mary student Ashley Varner ‘14, it was an unexpected opportunity. Varner’s video “Oust the Earmuffs,” a fully animated short that addressed the need for advertisers to reach their consumers more directly, won the Council of Public Relations Firms' “Take Flight with PR” video contest.

She said she had heard about the competition purely by chance: the result of an internship she had with the Fleischmann-Heller Public Relations over the summer. She had gotten an email from the CEO about the competition, which asked applicants to answer the prompt: “A career in PR is an opportunity for me to___________.”

Varner hadn’t intended to enter, at first, but eventually submitted her video “at the last minute.” It was chosen as the “Judge’s Choice” and passed the first round along with nine other semi-finalists, then eventually going on to win the first prize, including $2,500, a trip to New York City to premiere the video at the Council’s Annual Dinner on October 23rd, and the opportunity to meet with Council member firms.

Varner’s video is a short film completely animated through PowerPoint, Microsoft Word and Microsoft Paint. Its goal is to get public relations designers to “effectively engage with people, as opposed to simply bombarding them with messages.” In an age where people are constantly immersed in advertising, connecting with consumers is increasingly important.

Varner said she was inspired by an Australian Metro advertisement entitled “Dumb Ways to Die,” which went viral on the web.

“The thing about it was that it was very entertaining,” she said. “It was very effective through entertainment, and that’s what I think PR should strive for.”

Varner, an art history major with a theatre minor, never had any thoughts about public relations before her internship and the competition. She hadn’t had any background in the subject before making “Oust the Earmuffs.” Now, however, Varner says she is seriously considering a career in public relations.

“If you’re interested in something, even if you’re not 100 percent sure you want to do it, go for it,” Varner said. “You never know what you’ll find.”