Kay Beckermann and innovation in the Advertising & Public Relations industry

Minnesota State University Moorhead’s Flypaper Creative Services “edu-preneur” Kay Beckermann, PhD., is making waves in the Advertising and Public Relations industry. Her passion is guiding students as they cultivate top-notch creative campaigns within Fargo-Moorhead’s only student-run ad agency. Beckermann aims to coax each student’s authentic creativity as they develop their individual style. Enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion within the industry is essential in her mind. She connects students with mentors in a snazzy new custom creative space, which was funded as a part of the Dille Grant to support innovative instructional systems.

Kay Beckermann, an assistant professor in the School of Communication & Journalism at MSUM, focuses on advertising and public relations and digital media, copywriting, social media campaigns and event planning. She recently reinvigorated the student-run agency MSUM Flypaper Creative Services in August of 2021.

“How the resurrection began,” she says COVID-19 instigated “as sort of a virtual horror story.”

“The resurrection began with COVID-19 as a sort of virtual horror story,” she says.

She laments the pandemic Zoom days, virtual national student ad competition, and people tired of working entirely online. Virtual modality made sharing files and information difficult. In a Zoom meeting, reading people can be challenging. The overall context became difficult for both students and teachers.

Creative Collaborations

While reviewing the curriculum looking for more opportunities, more clients, and a variety of experiences to benefit students, Beckermann chose to pitch reviving the student-run agency.

“No doubt in my mind that [Flypaper] was what we were going to do,” Beckermann says. She put out the request and leadership approved a trial run. Beckermann knew it would be a hit.

She didn’t anticipate Flypaper receiving a substantial grant. The support for programming and a new classroom came together rather quickly. In November last year, Beckermann applied for the Dille Grant and received the award of $17,000 toward innovative instructional systems. The monies will be used to renovate a classroom into a fully functional, innovative multimedia space. In addition to donations and other funding, the grant will cover software programs for campaign planning, which include training certification such as Sprout Social and versatile furniture to meet the eclectic needs of an agency. Planning is well underway, with the space coming together for August 2022.

Without risk, it would never happen. Beckermann says, “One of my grad professors, Dave Westerman, used to say ‘fail big’. It was the first time I heard that it was ok to fail.”

Communication studies professor Jason Anderson says Beckermann joined the School of Communication & Journalism during rapidly changing times. “We are so lucky to have benefitted from her energy and enthusiasm to re-imagine and modernize our curriculum and create opportunities for our students while at MSUM and when they are ready to leave.  Her efforts have led me to make changes to my own classes so that the curriculum has a more unified feel for students.”

Copywriting and social media classes, in addition to Flypaper, challenge students to practice authentic creativity. Without such creativity, the audience may find the advertisement or campaign boring. Content must be original but not over the top. Build on it and make good ideas even better. Through experiential learning, Beckermann challenges students to think differently, to be ‘other’ than what’s been done already. Students have the opportunity to create unique graphics, short video clips, and creative messages as well as consider how audiences will react throughout ‘hands-on’ activities.

Pre-Social Media

Beckermann started her career in advertising and recalls the early days. In 1996 or so, she says how “it’s crazy, I was at the tail end of the old way of doing things.” At the same time, she had experience with the internet and creating web pages through coding.

In 1999, Beckermann created promotional campaigns and grant writing for the Lake Agassiz Library System, consisting of 13 regional libraries. She describes cutting and pasting (physically!) brochures during the time before social media took off. Funds from grants helped draw in the community with professional storytellers and summer reading programs.

Beckerman recalls, with eyes slightly unfocused and a smile at the corners of her lips, “It was a fun place. Websites were even new here. I can still smell the rubber cement.”

Beckermann saw a job at NDSU in the Division of Performing Arts open, and in 2004, she accepted the Promotions Director position. Beckermann initiated significant changes in her role by incorporating social media, which required a hard sell; early on, few people understood how it worked.

Beckermann says, “I was right at the beginning of social media, using it for marketing, and that was a risk. It paid off. [Before social media analytics,] we used to record the impact of a Sunday newspaper ad by how many phone calls we got on Monday morning.”

After nearly a decade, Beckermann looked for other PR jobs as a repetitious routine turned into boredom. However, nothing interested her. Her background had become so specialized with a performing arts focus that nothing was enticing enough to elicit change. NDSU offered free tuition to employees, so Beckermann took advantage of the communication master’s degree program. She spent time studying and teaching an advertising class and was eventually asked to do adjunct teaching in 2012. Burnt out with in-house promotions, “NDSU had offered me a good PR graduate assistantship opportunity to pursue my Ph.D.,” Beckermann says. She graduated in 2019 with her doctoral degree in Communication.

What the Future Holds

Beckermann hopes to organize actionable steps to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in advertising and public relations at MSUM, or in the overall industry, and to close socio-economic gaps. Beckermann supports the MN Public Relations Society of America Ad Council’s current work toward involving more diverse students and connecting them with professionals in the field that can serve as their mentors. She also wants to collect more stories from current students and professionals around the state.

Integrated advertising and public relations major Emmanuel Aneke, a senior from Guinea Bissau, says this about his adviser, “Kay helped me change my viewpoint about the professional world. [She] told me that I learn as I go on, and making mistakes is the only way forward. Because of her, I am more than willing to go for white-collar jobs and believe I can get it. Before her, I did only labor jobs. She is an angel.”

Beckermann aspires to create an “ad camp” in the summers with high school students who would get to live in the dorms and work on projects. Then, she would continue the project and have monthly ‘hangouts’ with high school students after the summer camps to keep connections and grow the Ad and PR pipeline.

When speculating about the future of Ad and PR and so many new changes, Beckermann says, “I have no idea. The one thing that has not changed: you need to have relationships with all of the media you work with. You still need a good face-to-face relationship. Still.”

The new Flypaper space in Flora Frick 258 opens October 2022 with a celebration and ribbon cutting ceremony during Homecoming (1 p.m. Oct. 7).

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