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Titan Communicators Help Small Businesses Announce ‘We’re Open’

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Getting a doughnut fix was the unlikely source of inspiration for a new community outreach effort from Cal State Fullerton’s Public Relations Student Society of America and the College of Communications.

In an offhand conversation with the shop owner, Ken Hagihara realized that many mom-and-pop businesses struggling in the face of COVID-19 weren’t communicating well or didn’t know how to let the public know they were open for business.

He knew that Titans could help. 

PR Help for Struggling Businesses
Hagihara organized the “Tuff It Out” initiative that has freshly minted Cal State Fullerton communications graduates and upper-level communications students working with public relations professionals on communication campaigns for small businesses struggling to survive amid the pandemic.

The lecturer in communications and faculty adviser for CSUF’s PRSSA oversees the 50-person volunteer program. 

“Tuff It Out” businesses were chosen through team outreach and suggestions from the city of Fullerton. They only had capacity to help nine businesses this summer, but the college’s PRactical ADvantage Communications student-run agency took on two additional clients in spring 2020.

“Our students and graduates are getting great training in what it’s like to work at a public relations agency,” explained Hagihara. “These are not student-level projects. This is a professional-level experience where they are creating programs and strategies for the businesses, executing them and then evaluating their success.”

Celebrity Support
The teams are also getting support and encouragement from some surprising sources. A longtime fan of Food Network’s “Restaurant Impossible” — which features celebrity chef Robert Irvine turning around failing restaurants — Hagihara reached out to Irvine and told him what Titans were doing. Irvine was so impressed that he arranged an hour-long Zoom meeting with the teams, where he coached each of them on strategies for their specific restaurant client. 

Jennifer Sierra and her team working with La Ranchera, a La Habra-based Mexican restaurant, took Irvine’s advice — building customer trust and assuring them they would be safe eating there — to heart. 

“We’re pushing the safety measures that they are taking with cleaning and masks on social media,” explained Sierra. “Overall we’re focusing on a more consistent social media schedule for them and also have suggested loyalty cards for them to give something back to customers.

“The owner is very invested in what we’re doing. And as we are learning, we’re teaching her, so she can continue.” 

Sierra says the experience has been amazing and it feels great to be helping. She has one semester of school left, but can tell that CSUF has prepared her well for the “real world.”  

Happy and Hopeful Business Owners
The response from business owners has been overwhelmingly positive too. 

“For 18 years we have been a part of this community serving the best authentic Mexican food here in La Habra,” explained Rosa Sanchez, owner and founder of La Ranchera Mexican Food. “Due to the impact of COVID-19, we have suffered a tremendous blow to our business. Little by little, as the country opens back up, we are hopeful we will rebound from this. 

“We’re very happy to have the opportunity to work with this fantastic and talented team from Cal State Fullerton, as they work to help drive awareness of our business so we can continue to offer delicious food to our great community.”

“Tuff It Out” began in May and is expected to run through July. 

“The volunteers are providing hundreds of hours on their summer break for this. They are not receiving pay or class credit,” said Hagihara. “It’s a testament to the character of our Titans — they just want to give back.”

Contact: Karen Lindell,