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First-Year Student Leads Team to Victory in International PR Competition

It was about two hours before Christopher Henderson-West ’20 and two teammates were set to present their global awareness campaign for vision care to a room of roughly 160 students, faculty, and professionals in Bangalore, India.

He was supposed to talk about public relations and marketing tactics, while his teammates handled other aspects of the presentation. Then one of them fell ill. Then one of them decided he couldn’t speak in front of so many people.

Then it was just Henderson-West.

And then, Henderson-West led his team to first place in the 15th annual Global Communications Project (GlobCom) June 4–7.

“I was freaking out, but at the same time I was like, ‘I can do it,’” Henderson-West said. “I wasn’t worried about it.”

GlobCom is an international collaboration between more than a dozen colleges and universities, with Emerson College representing the United States. This year, the project was part of Communication Studies Senior Affiliated Faculty David Gerzof Richard's class. Each year, multinational teams compete to build communications campaigns for real-world “clients.”

This year, German lens manufacturer Zeiss tasked the teams to come up with global and local awareness campaigns around vision care, which in some parts of the world is stigmatized, Henderson-West said.

Working remotely online, the teams spend months crafting their campaign, and then converge in the host country in late spring to present to the client and each other.

Henderson-West said his team had come up with about 12 different tactics to promote vision care in the U.S., as well as India, China, and Nigeria. They included numerous hashtag campaigns, including one to raise money for glasses in the developing world, and putting books that test kids’ vision into schools and hospitals around the world. One tactic involved putting “big black boxes” in shopping malls where shoppers would watch a video that started out blurry, then resolved to show stats and information about vision care—“Just to create a little buzz about it,” he said.

Henderson-West said even though he had just two hours to completely rewrite his presentation and had to deliver it on his own, he felt prepared. As a first-year student, he had just taken Argument and Advocacy with Heather May.

“There’s a whole storytelling section [in the class],” Henderson-West said. “Not that I had a story about vision impairment ready, but I knew that was something I had to include there.

“Aside from that, I had a lot of speech and debate experience in high school, things like that. I was used to speaking, and I was used to speaking in front of people,” he said.

Henderson-West was the second Emerson student to make GlobCom history. In 2016, in Abu Dhabi, Nupur Amin ’19 became the first freshman to present in the final round of the competition (her team came in second).

“This has been another exceptional year for Emerson at GlobCom,” Communication Studies Chair Greg Payne said, “where, once again, we’ve demonstrated excellence in communication with a freshman being the sole presenter in finals. This is a real-world experience, and we’re very proud to be the U.S. representative.”

Amin and Communication Studies senior lecturer Keri Thompson joined Henderson-West in India last month.

Henderson-West said while GlobCom was a “neat experience,” he wants to eventually manage political campaigns or do crisis communications.

When he showed up for the information meeting about GlobCom earlier this year, he said, he was told he was welcome to apply, but that it would be a lot of work for a freshman.

“I like a good challenge,” he said.

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