During the spring 2017 semester, students in a strategic communications course at the West Virginia University Reed College of Media are using virtual reality and 360° video to create empathy for flood victims and inspire action to help them.

The project is being led by the College of Media’s first Harrison/Omnicom Innovator-in-Residence, Ben Roffee. Roffee is digital director at RYOT, an immersive storytelling affiliate of The Huffington Post.

“VR is a great way to immerse people within your story, even if the context is far from their own reality,” said Roffee. “Immersive storytelling gives strategic communicators the ability to leave an emotional impact that may not have been achieved through other storytelling means.”

Students in the course are focusing on assignments to promote donations and volunteer efforts in communities still affected by the floods. They are helping produce the virtual reality stories and integrating them into their strategic communications campaigns to target audiences.

“I was really drawn to the advocacy aspect of the course,” said Hollie Greene, strategic communications junior. “I love that we’re going to have the opportunity to experiment with innovative forms of storytelling while also helping flood victims.”

Assistant Professor Geah Pressgrove is the on-site professor assigned to the class. She says that content creation and storytelling have become essential tools for strategic communications professionals.

“At the College of Media, it is our responsibility to teach foundational principles and apply them in an area where change is constant,” said Pressgrove. “In strategic communications, storytelling is an important way to engage audiences and build affinity for a product, brand or cause.”

Advertising CEO Dr. Tom Harrison founded the Harrison/Omnicom Professorship, which will now fund the visiting innovator program. Harrison says he is excited about this new direction.

“The Innovator-in-Residence program will draw uniquely talented and creative collaborators to the College to develop cutting-edge curricula and prepare students to own and embrace the world,” Harrison said. “I am thrilled that the Harrison/Omnicom Professorship can underpin this brilliant effort.”