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CreateAthon sparks rebranding, marketing for area nonprofits

Students often stay up late on Friday nights but rarely are they using this time to help a local nonprofit.

For USC’s 2014 CreateAthon, 86 students spent 24 hours doing advertising work for eight Columbia nonprofit organizations and showcasing their talents.

“There is no single goal of CreateAthon because CreateAthon is multifaceted," Karen Mallia,  associate professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communications and leader of the event, said. "The main goal is to give terrific pro-bono work to needy nonprofits but also to give students service learning in a unique and exciting format, which is beyond what they could get from a typical internship."

Nonprofits were narrowed down from a larger group of applicants, and whether their requests were possible to achieve in 24 hours and the challenge the request posed to students influenced the decision. USC also sought to not use the same CreateAthon clients as Riggs Partners, a Columbia creative marketing consultancy group that has been doing CreateAthon since they invented it in 1997.  The nonprofits selected this year were Epworth Children’s Home, SCORE of the Midlands, Ronald McDonald House Columbia, PASOs, Hidden Wounds, 4ward, The Arc and Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Service.

“It’s a great opportunity for nonprofits to get what they need in a way that is unique,” Mallia said. “They probably couldn’t otherwise afford the kind of talent that’s being put against their project.”

Both students and mentors arrived at the event Friday at 1 p.m., and they didn't sleep until after they presented their work to the clients Saturday at 3 p.m.

Mallia knew the adrenaline of doing the projects in such a short time frame keep students awake, but lots of Red Bull and coffee was available in the event of an energy lull.

Derek Walker, mentor for the 4ward group, guided his students using a unique tactic.

“I’m treating them like employees. I expect them to do what they can do, and they can do it,” he said. “It doesn’t do them any good to be treated like students. They’re good at what they do, so you trust them.”

Other mentors said they were trying to guide their students without doing the work themselves, showing them what the real world after graduation was like. The strengths these mentors saw in their students, including openness, creativity and confidence, helped them to overcome the challenges of time and exhaustion.

When it came time to present, groups had a lot to show from their 24 hours of work.

Megan Telencio, president of the American Advertising Federation of the Midlands,   named the group that helped The Ronald McDonald House the winners of this year’s CreateAthon.   

The Columbia chapter of The Ronald McDonald House, which provides families a place to stay close to their hospitalized children, is raising funds to build a bigger house,  students made them a “Build a house where ...” campaign, with everything from billboards to interactive posters.  The Columbia Red Shoe Society, the fundraising arm of The Ronald McDonald House, was also rebranded by the same students.

SCORE, a consulting group for small businesses and entrepreneurs,  had multiple ads developed by students for them to be used as billboards and print ads.

4ward, formerly known as Columbia’s Cooking!, had a group that helped completely rebrand them.  Students created a new logo, tagline, mission statement and website to showcase the company's four pillars of gardening, physical fitness, cooking and stress management.

Students working with Hidden Wounds, a nonprofit dedicated to veterans helping other veterans with PTSD, appealed to things only veterans and their families would understand in the “hidden triggers” campaign. They developed informational business cards a veteran could easily slip into his pocket and wallet so no one would see him or her carrying a big pamphlet on PTSD.

PAALS, a group dedicated to training service dogs, came away with  a new campaign and slogan: “Help turn a puppy into a PAAL.” There were shirts and bone-shaped bumper magnets, as well as a direct mail piece to show previous donors where the money was going.

PASOs is a group that helps local Latinos gain access to resources they don’t know how to get, mainly because of the language barrier.  Students working with PASOs helped take information and make it easy to understand for potential supporters, clients and donors.

The Arc is a group that helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The students representing them helped create a campaign called “See the Sparc” that highlights some of the people they help and what makes them unique.

Epworth Children’s Home is a group that helps children from broken family systems. Students built them the “With You” campaign, which highlights how much volunteers mean in kids’ lives, to emotionally appeal to people and get them to volunteer.

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