Manuela Carvajal received her award at PRWeek’s ceremony in March.
FIU senior Manuela Carvajal was awarded one of the public relations industry’s highest student honors: PRWeek magazine’s 2016 Student of the Year.
Students competing nationally for the prestigious award were tasked with designing a public relations campaign for Toyota’s hybrid car, the Prius, which sees particularly poor sales among Hispanic consumers.
Carvajal’s “Hola Prius” campaign submission focused on a total redesign of the car and a plan to educate people about its hybrid technology. Based on extensive interviews and market research, she found that the Prius does not sell in the Hispanic community for two reasons: Many do not find it visually appealing, and many have not yet been fully educated about how hybrid technology works.
Growing up Hispanic herself and living in Miami, a city with a vast and diverse Hispanic population, helped guide Carvajal’s research and campaign design.
“I was able to gather some of my preconceived notions and apply that to my campaign,” she said. “You’re not talking to consumers, or demographics. You’re talking to real people. These are people that live a certain way.
“So what can I do to take that car to them? I want to take that car to their living room, to their kitchen, to their office, anywhere they are.”
A key feature of Carvajal’s campaign utilized Google Cardboard, a new accessory that turns a smartphone into a virtual reality entertainment system. She suggested Toyota send Prius-branded Google Cardboard headsets to people to virtually test-drive the redesigned Prius from the comfort of their own homes.
Another aspect of her campaign that caught judges’ attention was a partnership between Toyota and Uber to offer rides in the Prius in cities with key Hispanic populations. This would be coupled with a contest to win an Uber ride driven by Sofia Vergara.
A press release published by PRWeek said Carvajal’s campaign “display[ed] tactical acumen,” impressing judges “with the numerous smart partnerships she incorporated into her campaign.”
PRWeek isn’t the only place where Carvajal has made an impression. As an intern at Newlink Communications, an internationally recognized public relations firm headquartered in Miami, she’s wowed her supervisors with her initiative and determination.
“Newlink makes great strides to search, train and retain great talent, and Manuela is proof of this,” said Newlink Vice President Jorge Ramirez. “From the very beginning, she has shown great potential and initiative in all tasks and projects assigned, working with top accounts such as Uber, Novartis and Goodyear. We are all very proud of her and to have her on our Newlink team. We know she will go places in the industry.”
Studying public relations in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication gave Carvajal the tools she’s needed to excel in both her internship and PRWeek’s competition. Her training in media relations, visual design and multimedia played a key role in developing her robust Prius campaign.
“I think some of the knowledge gained at FIU was crucial,” she said. “I’ve learned about what people consider touch points—how I can connect. It’s the human side they really emphasize to us.”
But it was the mentorship from her professors, including Hugo Ottolenghi, Lynn Farber, Aileen Izqueirdo and others who helped her throughout the campaign design process and beyond, that really made a difference in her experience at the university.
“I love FIU because of the personal relationship with some of my professors,” Carvajal said.
Maria Elena Villar, chair of the Department of Advertising and Public Relations, said: “Our program strives to bring real world opportunities and experiences through our classes and internship programs, so that our students have an advantage when entering the strategic communication profession. Manuela exemplifies the hard working and creative spirit of our students, who are the next generation of leaders in the industry.”
In the future, Carvajal hopes to do in-house public relations for a tech-based company like Uber or Airbnb, and with an honor like this on her resume, combined with her experience at Newlink, she will be a front-runner in the job market upon graduation.
“It was crazy,” Carvajal said. “Right after I got off the stage from getting my award, employers were already standing up, giving me their business cards, saying email me, text me, add me on LinkedIn. I definitely think this is going to open my opportunities and some doors for me. I’m aiming for the moon to at least get to the stars.”
Posted by Clara-Meretan Kiah × 04/21/2016 at 3:01 pm