Brooke Smith and Steven Pelham take first place in Arthur W. Page Society competition on March 15

By Brooke Smith and Steven Pelham 

“But you must win,” said Christopher Wilson when we asked him to teach us a one-on-one public relations leadership course. Wilson’s advice drove us to take on the competitive Jack Koten Case Study Competition in Corporate Communications as BYU’s first-ever victors. 

Left to Right: Steven Pelham, Brooke Smith and Chris Wilson

Every year, the Arthur W. Page Society—an elite group of PR professionals and scholars—teams up with the Institute for Public Relations to hold a case study competition between students from business and communications schools nationwide.

We chose to research and analyze the infamous forcible removal of Dr. David Dao from United Airlines Flight 3411. We kept our promise to Professor Wilson as we unseated longtime competition winners from DePaul University to become the first grand prize winners from BYU.

To win this competition, we spent the summer months researching prominent crises in PR to determine which would offer the most impactful and relevant insights as we crafted the case study. The more we learned about the United Flight 3411 crisis, the more apparent it became that this case has far-reaching implications for anyone who has had an unpleasant experience, not just with United, but with any brand. Our research shows the shockwaves this ordeal sent out, reaching around the world to earn this incident the title of “the worst PR Crisis of 2017,” according to Forbes.

Photo courtesy of the Arthur W. Page Society

After choosing the United case in the fall, we dove into existing research on the crisis from all angles, including news media reactions, government regulation in the airline industry, the role Chicago Aviation Security played and the changes made across the airline industry as a result of this crisis. We are also the first team to conduct primary research by using tools available to us in the School of Communications to monitor thousands of social media posts about United at the time of the crisis.

Along with the prestigious award, we received a cash prize and a trip to New York to be recognized at the Page Society’s Spring Seminar. Members of the Page Society, the world’s most elite PR professional association, are primarily chief communicators at Fortune 500 corporations, CEOs of prominent PR agencies or distinguished educators from rigorous educational institutions.

We hope that our experience inspires next year’s students to continue the “you must win” mentality, proving that BYU’s graduate program in Mass Communications produces top-quality researchers and professionals.  

To learn more about our experience click here.

Brooke Smith (MA ‘18) & Steven Pelham (MA ‘18) are graduate students in the Mass Communications program at BYU.

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