Six SOC students partner with the Washington Ballet to promote shows

The group works to make ballet a financially accessible art form for students

Six SOC students partner with the Washington Ballet to promote shows

Cast of the Washington Ballet's "The Nutcracker."

This story has been updated with a spelling correction.

A group of six senior public relations students in Professor Gemma Puglisi’s fall Public Relations Portfolio course partnered with the Washington Ballet this semester to promote two of the company’s shows: NEXTsteps, which closed Oct. 27, and The Nutcracker, which is running from now to Dec. 30. 

Public Relations Portfolio is an upper-level communications course that focuses on community-based learning. Depending on which section of the course a student takes, the class is paired with one or multiple real-world clients. For Ma'at Sargeant, Monique Turner, Luke Daskas, Emily Hall, Nana Gongadze and Robert Heilberg, the course included partnering with the Washington Ballet and two other clients.

“What we do with the Ballet is work to not only promote their performances but help them reach our generation — college-aged students and young professionals,” Heilberg said. “We have worked with them throughout the semester to figure out how, as students and as student communicators, we can best assist them to reach their goals and to better help them spread their message.”

The group began working with the Washington Ballet in September. They focused on wishlist items the ballet gave to them while also curating their own short-term and long-term ideas and projects they would pitch to the client. They conducted a survey, designed posters and crafted social media posts and hashtag campaigns, among other projects. 

“We had a natural timeline that coincided with the different show premieres,” Gongadze said. “All the work that we had to do to promote the first show had to happen before the show went up, which was in mid-October.”

Before the premiere of NEXTsteps, a three-act contemporary ballet, the Washington Ballet asked the group to conduct a survey to learn how to better encourage college students to attend the ballet. The group created and shared the survey with various communities on Facebook and other forums to determine how students find out about events in D.C. and the barriers they experience when trying to attend them.

“One of the things students, albeit unsurprisingly, indicated to us was that price is a primary barrier to accessing and attending not just the ballet or the theater, but even concerts with more popular and mainstream artists,” Heilberg said.

The Washington Ballet has preexisting packages for discounted tickets and a student rush ticketing process. They don’t own their box offices, however, so making the student discount accessible is a challenge, according to Gongadze. Hall explained that the student rush process requires students to get to the box office 90 minutes before showtime, and only then can they receive a 50 percent discount on their tickets if they have a valid student ID. According to Gongadze, the group wanted to promote this program because it was rather unknown to students.

The group decided to hang posters about the student rush program on college campuses throughout the city to create traction for NEXTsteps. The student rush process ended up selling a few dozen tickets, according to Gongadze.

When considering the financial accessibility of the ballet company, the group did not stop at the student rush posters. They worked together to create an outline for a long-term student ticketing plan that they modeled after other theaters that already have plans. They pitched this plan and a series of others to the ballet during their final presentation on Dec. 4.

Alongside accomplishments like the student rush posters, there were hardships of differing opinions and communication challenges the group claimed to face throughout the semester. According to Heilberg, these challenges did not come without life lessons.

“Any professional workplace or project is going to require you to be adaptable, to be flexible and to keep calm under pressure, that [at] the end of the day you can make those adjustments, but you can also deliver exceptional results,” he said.

Many of these seniors are preparing to graduate, and Hall believes her opportunity to partner with the Washington Ballet has taught her something important about her future endeavors. 

“I’ve had some awesome internships, I’ve worked with clients in other classes, and this one specifically has reminded me how important it is to work for clients that you’re passionate about,” Hall said. “I am really passionate about the arts. It makes everything easier and more exciting to find clients you can connect with personally and stories that you want to share.”

The Nutcracker has performances on Nov. 30 - Dec. 29 at the Warner Theater.

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