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Pitching in lockdown leads to competition success for innovative students

Published 22nd Jun 2020 by Emma Sinfield

Two talented teams from Leeds Beckett University are celebrating after receiving joint first place in the Grayling Prize - an annual partnership between the university and global PR agency, Grayling, in unusual circumstances.

For the first time in its 23-year history, students pitched remotely over video call, in a move that imitated real life more closely than any previous Grayling Prize year. The Grayling Prize aims to give students the chance to put their course skills to the test and take part in a real-life pitch scenario.

This year’s students were not only put to the task with the usual brief, preparation and pitch format, but had to react quickly to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic as their pitch date loomed during the week the world changed forever.

Despite this year’s challenging and unprecedented circumstances, the highly anticipated annual competition went ahead as planned with participants using video conferencing to deliver their business pitch virtually due to lockdown.

Two final stage teams, who are all studying Ba (Hons) Public Relations at the university’s Leeds Business School, were judged by Katie Eborall (Head of Grayling Leeds) and Sarah Gough (Associate Director) on various criteria from research and creativity to presentation skills and business awareness.


The winning members were Katie Martin, Ella Hardy and Lydia Pickering (Evolve) and Joely Cook, , Emma Woolley, Rosie Heaton and Milly Symons (Goya PR).

As a result of national and international lockdown, PR agencies have had to adapt quickly to video conferencing to conduct client pitches and this year’s Grayling Prize reproduced that very unusual experience.

Katie Eborall, Director and Head of Grayling Leeds, said: “This year under the most difficult circumstances, both competing student teams set an outstandingly high bar. Their strategic research and campaign creativity was matched with their resilience and pragmatic professionalism.

“Their virtual pitch presentation was as skilled as many agencies and the students are a credit to the PR subject group and the university.

“The students had to adapt extremely quickly to a totally different way to present their pitch and to find the right technology to bring their proposals to life - which they did with real virtual style.

“GOYA PR and EVOLVE PR will therefore share the prize this year as an acknowledgement of their commitment to their learning and resolve.”

Student Katie Martin said: “This module is completely set aside from the others we have completed over the last few years.

“It has given us first-hand practice of collating everyone’s individual skills learnt from the course and through our 12-month placements, to work with a real client.

“That in itself made it a great module, but to have to react so quickly in a way that we would in the real world also made it a valuable learning experience.

“Now, more than ever – as final year students ready to launch ourselves into the PR industry, opportunities such as this are greatly appreciated and enjoyed by all to know our hard work has been recognised.”

Professor Dr George Lodorfos, the Dean of Leeds Business School, said: “It’s been another successful year working with Grayling, who we sincerely thank for the support they continue to give.

“I am so proud of our PR students and we at Leeds Business School appreciate the hard work involved in building these business relationships that benefit our graduates’ employability.”

Shirley Beresford, Senior Lecturer, added: “The students’ adaptability was absolutely amazing.We were all blown away by their maturity and flexibility. They have great careers ahead of them.”

Grayling provides Leeds Beckett University’s Public Relations students with the opportunity to create a campaign from a real life industry brief and they are charged with setting up a student agency to devise and deliver an engaging PR pitch for business.

This year, the students were tasked to produce a campaign aimed at engaging more young people and families with public transport.

The students worked hard over the spring semester to bring their ideas to life using an integrated mix of digital and traditional PR tools and techniques. They were then asked to pitch under the real conditions of virtual pitching.


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