In 2016, a group of students in Bruce Moorhouse’s COJO 234 class recognized there was a need on campus for communications and journalism majors to gain hands-on, real-world communication agency experience. The end result was the formation of Tommie Communications, nicknamed TommComm, a full-service communications firm.
More than a club for those interested in the field, Tommie Communications is a student-run agency with real clients that currently employs 18 students in paid positions. These include a variety of roles, from writers and graphic designers to videographers and account managers. However, Tommie Communications employees aren’t limited to one area of expertise – they have the opportunity to gain experience in each of the agency’s different functions.
“You have your certain areas, but sometimes if that person is busy we just say, ‘Hey, who can do this?’ and someone raises their hand and we let them take a shot at it,” said Megan Karnuth ’21, incoming director of Tommie Communications.
In addition to working in different roles within the organization, student workers at Tommie Communications regularly invite professionals from the field of public relations to come in and speak, including both faculty at St. Thomas and individuals working at local agencies.
“I think we’ve done a great job by engaging with professionals in the field, and I think that somebody at just about every agency in the Twin Cities has heard of us, so that’s kind of nice, to kind of work into the scene a little bit,” director Aaron Cornelius ’19 said.
A full team
Cornelius joined the organization this year after working with a group to develop a campaign for the Ria Patel Foundation in COJO 234. When the foundation chose to continue with the campaign, both Cornelius and classmate Kelly Swanson ’19 joined Tommie Communications to help the full team continue implementing the project.
In addition to the organization’s work with the Ria Patel Foundation – which was founded in memory of St. Thomas student Ria Patel to prevent distracted and impaired driving by young people – Tommie Communications has a number of other clients, including Target Center, OneTrophy and Wheelhouse Communications. Tommie Communications’ latest project is EmTech, an initiative within the Opus College of Business.
“It’s a series of events aimed at teaching students about the intersection of business, technology and society,” Cornelius said. “It’s a really cool event that has kind of everything from VR technology that St. Thomas students are developing to help Alzheimer’s patients, to discussions on the ethics of artificial intelligence.”
When a client first reaches out, the team at Tommie Communications develops an outline to define big picture goals, benchmark objectives, the intended audience and any key issues the client might face. This outline informs key messages the brand should emphasize. Next, a timeline and budget for the campaign are developed; once both have been approved, the focus is creating and implementing an organized workflow for the campaign’s activities. As work for the campaign is completed, it is approved by leaders within Tommie Communications (as well as by the faculty advisers) before ultimately being passed along to the client for final approval.
“I’ve had a tremendous experience working with Tommie Communications,” said Aaron Zaslofsky of Wheelhouse Communications. “The ambition, expertise and client-service mindset were on full display each time I worked with the team. More importantly, the three videos they produced for my business were high quality and highly effective, as well,”
Juggling work and student life
Managing assignments, schedules and deadlines can prove to be a challenging task, especially as a full-time student – however, the workers at Tommie Communications are a dedicated bunch. “If we only have one videographer and he can’t get [the project] done when we need it by, somebody’s got to get it done,” Cornelius saud. “I think the most important thing is just being nimble … kind of a jack-of-all trades type of thing.”
“It’s really great that we’re a full-service communications agency – they’ll be people in videography, people in design, people in public relations, and you can learn from each one of these different sectors and build off of your peers,” Karnuth said.
In addition to learning about the industry, both Karnuth and Cornelius highlight the leadership skills they have learned from being involved in the organization.
“I would say that it’s important to be a good communicator on both ends, when you’re working with clients, and when you’re working with your own staff members,” Cornelius said. “Working with students, and I’m sure working with professionals in the field too, you just have to work on being a good manager, and keeping track of projects and owning your mistakes … working ethically to provide value is super important as well.”
“Leadership for sure has been one of the greatest things that I can take away from Tommie Communications,” Karnuth added.
A future path
Karnuth was chosen as Cornelius’ successor after joining Tommie Communications as a first-year student at St. Thomas – the only first-year student the organization has hired since its inception. As incoming director, Karnuth hopes Tommie Communications will continue to play an influential role helping students determine their career paths.
“I really want it to be a strong learning environment for other students. I hope people can take as much away from this that I’ve been able to take away from it, so as director I want to make sure that everybody is getting that experience that I was able to get and figuring out their passions within the organization,” Karnuth said. “I also want to work on projects that we can be proud of and see their outcome … to see it actually help [clients] grow their business.”
Tommie Communications currently has 12 positions they are looking to fill due to turnover from graduating seniors, in areas such as account management, graphic design, web design, videography, public relations, social media, digital marketing and business management.
“And also,” Cornelius added, “job openings don’t just come at the end of semesters. When we get a new client, we have to staff for the project … so there’s always a need if people are interested.”
More information on Tommie Communications is available on Instagram (@tommiecommunications) or its website.