Project turns into award-winning public service advertisement for recent grad

June 11, 2019

A thoughtful, hands-on class project turned into an award-winning public service advertisement (PSA) for one recent graduate of the Penn State Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications.

Amanda Baird, who graduated in May with degrees in advertising/public relations and political science, took first place in the 2019 Project Yellow Light college radio competition. The contest calls for students to create a TV, radio or billboard PSA to educate their peers about the dangers of distracted driving, including the dangers of smartphone distracted driving.

In addition to winning a $2,000 scholarship, Baird worked with the Ad Council to finalize and produce her PSA, which was announced at a public event in Times Square in New York City on June 7, with her PSA being revealed on a digital billboard. 

“Entering the contest, I never expected anything like that to come out of it,” Baird said. “To have my work displayed in Times Square and for it to be for a good cause was really rewarding.”

Baird surveyed friends and conducted research on why people text and drive and why they think others text and drive. While she was researching, she found an interview with a teen girl who doesn’t text and drive and thinks of the phone notifications she receives when she reaches her destination as a reward. That sparked the idea for her PSA.

“That reminded me of when your flight lands and they say you can turn on your cellphone and everyone is getting all of their notifications from their loved ones,” Baird said. “I wanted to draw a parallel between flight safety and car safety because I feel like everyone is pretty respectful of guidelines on a flight. You wouldn’t really think to go against safety guidelines when you’re flying, whereas driving, it’s not really the same thing.”

The PSA, titled “Stow Your Phone,” features a flight attendant telling passengers on an airplane that they may now use their cellular devices, followed by notification sounds going off. The spot then goes on to say, “You know that feeling when you get to turn your phone on after the plane lands? You can have that feeling every time you drive. Make sure your cellphone is stowed away every time you’re behind the wheel.”

The project was completed as a “final exam” for a capstone public relations course taught by Assistant Teaching Professor Tara Wyckoff, who required students to submit an entry for the contest. 

“The senior capstone course is a chance for students to pull together everything they’ve learned and exercise their strategic judgment and creativity,” Wyckoff said. “This year my capstone students participated in the Project Yellow Light PSA contest, and it didn’t surprise me that Amanda Baird was chosen as the national winner. She is such an insightful thinker and great communicator.”

Baird, who is set to attend law school at Boston University, spent the summer after her sophomore year as media advocacy intern at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. There, she was introduced to the field of health care law, which is the career she eventually wants to pursue. This project overlapped with her career goals.

“I was really excited that in Tara’s class our client work was for Mount Nittany Health and the Mental Health Community Committee, and then when we did this assignment, it was to prevent accidents resulting from distracted driving,” Baird said. “I was glad that in both of those assignments I got to work on public health projects.”

Last Updated June 12, 2019