Sterling Communications

Student PR Firm Steers Green Car Advertising for Hertz

Steffy Barrionuevo ‘11, president of Sterling Communications, explains the organization’s work to Trevor Williamson ‘12 during a student activities fair in January.

Sterling Communications, a public relations firm managed and operated by SU students, conducted focus groups this fall to help shape advertising for a “green car” initiative proposed by the Hertz car rental company. The new service provides access to ecofriendly cars for students, faculty and staff.

Much more than a classroom exercise, the focus group sessions provided real-world experience in developing an ambitious corporate advertising campaign that would also advance SU’s green initiatives. The university and Hertz asked Sterling to help determine the student perspective through focus groups. “The university and Hertz put a lot of responsibility in our hands,” says Rachel Dromgoole ’11, Sterling’s vice president.

The firm began by recruiting diverse groups of students and sitting down with them to probe their reactions to a variety of draft advertisements created by University Communications and Hertz. Afterward, Sterling met with the communications office and discussed the feedback, which reflected the students’ desire for hard information on the rental program.

“The bottom line is that students felt the campaign needs to go in stages,” says Sterling president Steffy Barrionuevo ’11. “The campaign can’t dive straight into clever ads without first giving students the specifics.”

Based on Sterling’s work, the communications office and Hertz changed their advertising strategy and began introducing the Hertz program in phases.

Sterling emerged in 1991 as an offshoot of SU’s chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, but with innovative student leadership, it soon moved beyond that role. “Although Sterling was originally conceived to bring speakers to campus and connect SU to the outside world,” says James Sodt, professor of communications and Sterling’s faculty adviser, “it quickly became the hands-on, student-run experiential PR firm.”

Today Sterling serves businesses from the local community as well as on-campus organizations and departments. It has created and implemented PR campaigns for a variety of local companies, including Market Street businesses such as the Campus Candlelight Café, Emma’s Student Government Association and the university’s Office of Information Technology.

“I feel that the best part about Sterling is the sense of accomplishment and being able to say, ‘I did this. This was my work,’” says Barrionuevo. “The pride that comes from that statement is unlike anything else.”


Contributing writers to the People & Places section are Heather Cobun ’10, a communications and political science major from Eldersburg, Md.; Adam Hinshaw, a freelance writer from Lewisburg, Pa.; and Julie Nicolov, a freelance writer from Trevorton, Pa.

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