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SIU students work on $2M advertising campaigns for state agencies

Students and a faculty advisor it at a table to work on a digital project together.
Yenitza Melgoza
University Communications and Marketing
Working hard on projects for the Illinois State Police and Illinois Department of Public Health are, l-r: Ryan Edwards, a senior advertising major from Romeoville; Bridget Lescelius, associate lecturer in the School of Journalism and Advertising and director of Saluki AdLab; Monserrat Munoz, a junior advertising major from Fairmont City; Ryley Bisaillon, a senior advertising major from Carterville; and Jan Thompson, professor and director of the School of Journalism and Advertising.

CARBONDALE, Ill. — It’s not every day that university students get to play an integral part in fulfilling a $2 million contract, but that’s exactly what’s been happening at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Illinois State Police (ISP) needed help creating promotional campaigns, and they sought the expertise of SIU’s School of Journalism and Advertising, which is part of the College of Arts and Media. The result is a two-year, $2 million contract with the two state agencies to create advertising and promotional materials. SIU officials say it’s just the start of great things to come.

“It’s a huge contract for the new college, and it allows our students to work in a real-world environment and gives them tremendous visibility,” said Jan Thompson, professor and director of the School of Journalism and Advertising. “It’s a win-win-win for SIU, the students, the faculty and the clients. SIU is known for its great research, and one reason we were able to do this is our extensive experience and expertise.”

Dozens of Salukis involved
This endeavor, launched in last summer, involves multiple separate projects for the state agencies. The first IDPH campaign aimed to increase awareness of COVID-19 vaccinations and public health protocols, and the second IDPH promotion encouraged use of gun locks, proper gun storage and other gun safety measures to improve public safety. The gun safety campaign, which also involves the governor’s office and Illinois legislature, is due to launch in the near future, Thompson said. ISP wanted to increase recruitment for its police academy, and the SIU campaign has helped that happen, Thompson and Lescelius said.

“These are tough subjects. It takes a lot of thought, time and homework to get it right,” said

Bridget Lescelius, associate lecturer in the School of Journalism and Advertising and director of Saluki AdLab.

She and Thompson noted that the dual advertising initiative is innovative and collaborative and that it came about and is proving successful as the result of both the extensive professional experience they bring to the table as well as their tenacity and hard work.

“SIU has never won a contract like this before,” Lescelius said. “No other university in Illinois has partnered to provide these types of professional services.”

Students and faculty from across campus have participated, including journalism and advertising majors who created slogans and completed ad campaigns. WSIU has been involved with recording narration, and musicians from the region helped create a jingle. The faculty members hope to bring in other units across campus.

“We have so much talent on campus, and this really highlights it,” Thompson said. In conjunction with the campaigns, the group has also worked with the criminal justice programs at other universities in promoting the ISP project.

Ryley Bisaillon, a senior advertising major from Carterville, Illinois, who serves as president of Saluki AdLab, has previously worked with local and national clients on a variety of campaigns. During the course of this contract, she has gotten to take on several roles, everything from developing recruitment messaging for the Illinois State Police social media platforms to working on out-of-home advertising to calling senior citizens’ centers. She’s also helped create print advertisements and launched and helped grow the Illinois State Police recruiting TikTok posts.

“It has been quite an experience, and I’m so grateful for it. Applying what we learn in the classroom and seeing it go into the market is an awesome feeling,” Bisaillon said. “The application of our studies is important because you learn how to pivot and what is effective.”

She said working with real clients has “strengthened my skillset in every area of advertising and given me the confidence to work with any clients. Since we grew up with social media, bringing a new perspective to these prestigious Illinois accounts and making them relevant and relatable to their target audience is what I especially love.”

Bisaillon and the other students and faculty created campaigns that include ads for television, radio, billboards, social media, transit (bus/train) and print, including full-page newspaper advertisements.

She said this experience will help her in the future as she has benefitted not only in the areas of time management, content creation and client relations, but because “we really operate like a real-life ad agency.” Now, she has a portfolio of quality work amassed before graduation – something students at most universities don’t have.

Efforts pay off
Monserrat Munoz, a junior advertising major from Fairmont City, Illinois, has worked on social media plans for the Illinois State Police, diligently staying on brand and keeping ISP’s voice while also relaying the message in a way that interests potential young recruits. She’s created ISP’s TikTok posts and helped the agency grow its platform from very few followers to about 300, with more signing on daily. Her efforts involved research and reaching out to radio stations, determining how best to reach the target audience, which helped her to develop relationship skills.

“Working on this contract let me use skills I learned in the classroom,” Munoz said. “Working on things that aren’t just a project but that have a true impact is something that Saluki AdLab has to offer. It means getting real work experience, building my resume and putting my skills to the test with real client feedback.”

She said that working with actual clients has also given her a sense of importance.

“It shows that what we do goes beyond classroom projects and that the things I learn in the classroom can be put toward something great,” she said. “I believe this will enhance my resume because I am working with real state clients while some of my other peers are just doing classwork. By getting real work experience at a young age, it gives me time to grow and develop my skills before entering the work force.”

The agencies have already seen the results of the campaigns in tangible ways.

“For both IDPH and ISP we have data that shows our campaigns have been successful,” Thompson said. “Before the IDPH campaign, vaccination rates were in the single digits to low double-digits in our target counties. After our 12-week campaign, the data showed an increase of between 15 and 20 points in the vaccination rates. For ISP, the academy applications rose and exceeded their goal of 200 applications for the June class. They continued the campaign for academy applicants and continue to see positive results.”

In addition to boosting ISP social media followers, the cadet recruitment campaign exceeded its summer goals, and SIU is continuing its efforts to bolster interest.

The region and beyond have benefitted from this contract as well. Thompson noted that just recently, thousands of dollars were spent on COVID awareness ads that ran in area newspapers and on radio stations.

Learning from experts
Ryan Edwards, a senior advertising major from Romeoville, Illinois, jumped at the chance to be creative and work with actual clients, using the knowledge he had gained at SIU and getting experience with business practices. As vice president of Saluki AdLab, he has been working alongside his peers, creating content and coverage for small businesses, from media planning to content creation. Working on this contract enabled him to take his experience to the next level. He said he has gained connections and enhanced his skills as well as learned tips and tricks from professionals, including Thompson and Lescelius.

Both are seasoned experts in their fields, which they say definitely played a role in SIU receiving the promotional contract.

An SIU alumna, Lescelius has been involved in the industry for some 30 years, working in Fortune 500 businesses in Boston, Washington D.C. and Phoenix as well as smaller companies. Thompson is three-time Emmy award-winning filmmaker and composer with extensive experience working on documentaries.

Making it sing
The IDPH COVID-19 awareness vaccination campaign the Salukis created took a “good news” approach, encouraging people to look out for each other, especially by getting vaccinated and boosted. The campaign had multiple facets, including making ads and creating a jingle and videos. Students and faculty worked together to make it happen.

“It felt good to write and sing something for a cause I believe in,” said Jenny Pape, associate professor of practice in audio arts and jingle creator. “We had a great time collaborating with Jan and my group of local musicians.”

When she’s not teaching students the business of producing music, podcasts and sound art, Pape writes and performs original Americana-style music as part of the group Miss Jenny and The Howdy Boys. The group, which performed the COVID-19 campaign song, features several SIU alumni: Kyle Triplett of Carbondale (a Bunker, Missouri, native) on guitar; Chad Shaffer of Cobden, Illinois, on drums; Dakota Holder of Nashville, Tennessee (formerly of Carbondale), on pedal steel; and Nate Graham of Murphysboro, Illinois (originally of Cape Girardeau, Missouri), on bass.

Oleksandr Jockusch, a computer science student from Champaign, Illinois, handled the audio engineering for the music and called the project, “a very fun and educational experience.”

Drake Martin, a junior radio, television and digital media major from Carbondale, documented the process and edited the behind-the-scenes videos.

“It was great to see so many different departments come together and make something special,” he said. “In my edits, I wanted to show how the work of each group moved on to the next, with everyone putting their best foot forward.”

More to come
Lescelius said this contract for services is “evolving and growing. We’re working incrementally on this.”

“The $2 million contract is our launch pad. There are more campaigns,” Thompson said, noting that a fourth campaign will be coming in the next few months. “The opportunity for our students to work with clients and with professionals is tremendous. We are trying to get as many students involved and employed as possible to give them as much exposure as possible.”

They and Hong Cheng, dean of the College of Arts and Media, are thrilled about the opportunities this project has already provided and will continue to offer to students and faculty as well as the potential for increasing enrollment.

“I’m so grateful to Professors Thompson and Lescelius, who have offered our students such amazing experiential learning and community engagement experience,” Cheng said. “I’m so proud of our AdLab students, who have produced impressive, research-based, creative campaigns for their clients.

“The impact of these projects on the public and our students will be tremendous. I encourage our prospective students to take these rare learning opportunities at SIU into consideration when they choose an advertising program.”


Christi Mathis — student affairs; diversity, equity and inclusion; business and analytics; education; health and human sciences; psychological and behavioral sciences; innovation and economic development; international education.

SIU News is produced by University Communications and Marketing - 618-453-2589. Twitter: @SIUCNews
SIU News is produced by University Communications and Marketing - 618-453-2589. Twitter: @SIUCNews
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