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Penn State Senior, Joshua Maust, Named Top 5 Finalist for PRWeek Climate Change Prompt

PRWeek, a trade magazine in the public relations industry, is in the midst of qualifying rounds for its annual Outstanding Student Competition and Penn State’s own Joshua Maust (senior, Advertising/Public Relations and Psychology) was named a top 5 finalists.  

This national competition has a varying topic and leading question each year, but the premise is the same: based on the prompt, students are asked to research and create a campaign that addresses the (sometimes unnamed) client’s needs.  

This year’s prompt fell into that category of unnamed clients, and students were therefore put in a research heavy position. Left with this stark statistic from a Pew Research study, “almost half (46%) of Americans do not deem climate change as a major threat to the country’s well-being", participants were asked to address the broad need of bridging the gap between climate change believers and deniers while increasing awareness and involvement in the climate fight on behalf of their chosen client.  

Maust’s research originally led his interest in the direction of Patagonia as a chosen client, with the knowledge that the company was in the eyes of outdoorsy consumers. However, after consulting with Tara Wyckoff – his PR Campaigns professor who uses the PRWeek competition as a comprehensive, hands-on experience in launching a campaign as part of the capstone course – he decided to pivot toward a client that is associated with the outdoor lifestyle but not actively known in the climate change sphere.  

This process led Maust to Bass Pro Shops, a company with consumers in the hunting and fishing industry and that historically proved to be right leaning and conservative. 

“Through research, I found conservatives are less likely to believe climate change is an important issue,” Maust remarked. “With them being hunters and fishers, they obviously have a connection to the environment in some way. I knew that by targeting that group, not only would I connect with people who may not view climate change as an important issue but also, they are going to be more enticed to support the cause because they have that attachment to the environment.” 

From there, Maust’s research deepened. He was first exposed to a formal climate change education while taking a science literacy and policy course as an underclassman. Using that previous knowledge in conjunction with the newfound overwhelming statistics of climate change’s impact on the environment, Maust ensured he was utilizing this knowledge to target people who typically wouldn’t view climate change as a pressing issue.  

His campaign began to take form, utilizing Bass Pro Shop’s established pillars – connecting new audiences to the outdoors, conserving wildlife and habitat, and advocating for sportsmen’s rights – to maintain a common language with the company’s official communication tactics.  

One component of the campaign included a newly established “Conservation Club” that would incentivize members with various sale benefits and exclusive newsletters detailing conservation projects affiliated with the company. The caveat: To join, you must make a minimum $1/month donation funded toward climate change initiatives. Members were also spurred on with the ability to post to the hashtag #ConservationClub to showcase their favorite outdoor activities or involvement in environmental remediation. 

The other major part of the campaign addressed the portion of the competition that encouraged use of AI. Maust used the Microsoft Bing Image Creator to generate images of fishing areas impacted by climate change. 

He then attached the slogan, “There’s nothing fishy about climate change,” with the purpose of spreading the image on Bass Pro Shop’s website, socials, and billboards.  

The campaign included specific metrics and objectives leaning toward heightened impressions, increased membership rates, and increased engagement with social channels, all with the end goal of spreading climate change education and involvement. 

The PRWeek prompt and Maust’s associated campaign are examples of the critical overlap that environmental concerns make in all areas of life. As we continue to work toward a future filled with climate change implications, it’s essential to acknowledge the social responsibility of companies to engage with their consumers on this discourse. 


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