Course in brand storytelling prepares students for future client work

Video produced by Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications COMM 482 Brand Storytelling class a project for students, by students

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For students studying film, broadcast journalism and telecommunications, developing and delivering a compelling story is fundamental. A course in brand storytelling takes these fundamentals one step further by challenging students to align their creative visions with that of a client and their brand.

Working with the Penn State Office of Strategic Communications, students in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications COMM 482 Brand Storytelling course had a unique opportunity to apply their creativity in video production, writing and filmmaking to a real-world client scenario. The class taught by Bill Hallman, lecturer in telecommunications and media industries for the Bellisario College, has provided students with many skills beyond technical know-how in video production.

“I think the most important takeaway for students in this class is the opportunity to work as a true production team,” said Hallman, who also brings more than a decade of experience in the television industry to the classroom. “Each student brings their expertise into the classroom but to be successful, they need to learn how to lean on each other and figure out how their skills mesh to create the best possible product.”

“I think the most important takeaway for students in this class is the opportunity to work as a true production team."

— Bill Hallman, lecturer in telecommunications and media industries

Navigating Uncertainty, Showcasing Community

For Hallman’s COMM 482 students, the spring of 2021 presented some unique challenges but also unique opportunities. With Strategic Communications serving as the client, the students were assigned to produce a video reflecting Penn State’s brand while conveying the attributes of the University’s community that allows its members to rise to challenges, like those presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. The students had to come up with a concept that met the requirements of the assignment and a way to navigate production while doing so safely and following appropriate protocols.

“With the restrictions that were in place, it forced us to think more creatively about the best way to combine the vision of the class and the vision of the client,” said telecommunications graduate Brandon Karcewski, who served as one of the main videographers on the project.

With Hallman’s guidance and training in the technical and creative aspects of camera work and filming, the students developed a creative treatment that put the student experience during a time of uncertainty and challenge at the center of the production. By reimagining Penn State’s alma mater, students crafted an anthem that senior Alex Palacios described as "for students, by students." Palacios, executive director of CommAgency majoring in broadcast journalism and political science, took on the role of producer of the project, making sure the production was on schedule while overseeing the editing process, helping other classmates refine their skills.

“Everything was student-involved, from the student-written script, down to the originally written score we used in the final video,” said Palacios.

For Evelyn Fonseca-Beltran, a senior majoring in telecommunications, the video project was an opportunity to highlight the Penn State community’s resiliency in a time of adversity.

“We wanted to show that Penn State can adapt and overcome incredible obstacles, but we can only do it as a community,” said Fonseca-Beltran. “I think that as Penn Staters, we do what we can to help each other out because we are all so intertwined with this place. Whether you're a student, a faculty member or an alumnus, you will seek out opportunities to persevere together and I think that's what makes us so resilient.”

“We wanted to show that Penn State can adapt and overcome incredible obstacles, but we can only do it as a community."

— Evelyn Fonseca-Beltran, telecommunications student

For Karcewski, who was recently hired by NBC as a production assistant at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, his interest in video production began in elementary school. When he came to Penn State, he wanted to get involved in as many video clubs and classes as possible, first at the Berks campus where he started his Penn State career before transitioning to University Park. While his hard work to establish his individual talents served him well as his classmates looked to him for filming and basic editing help, it was the opportunity to work as a full production team that Karcewski said was a big takeaway from the class.

“Your classmates begin to feel less like classmates and more like co-workers," he said. “You're all working towards a vision that everyone genuinely wants to make happen, and not just for a good grade.”

In addition to advanced production workshops, students take part in lectures given by members of the Office of Strategic Communications to learn more about the Penn State brand and messaging, view samples of the unit’s advertising and video portfolio, and have the chance to develop their own Penn State brand advertising pitch. The culminating project challenges students to produce a video from conception to filming to final deliverable — one that is on-brand, appropriate for the client’s target audience, and meets technical specifications given by the client. For most students, the course is their first opportunity to pitch creative ideas, conceptualize creative concepts based on a brand, and film and produce an actual client product.

Palacios spent her summer interning with NBC Universal in New York City as a news marketing intern. She explained that the course was a confidence booster going into production meetings at NBC.

“Professor Hallman’s class gave me the confidence I needed to pitch creative ideas to the marketing department and collaborate with their producers to create on-air video content,” Palacios said.

“Telling stories that will stick with people is something I hope to do,” said Fonseca-Beltran. “I think that with the education Penn State has provided me with thus far I have so many tools to help me succeed. I’ve not only been taught the basics, but I’ve had classes such as these that gave me real experience in what I hope to do in the future.”