A classroom is not somewhere you would expect to find students gathered at 11 p.m. on a Friday night. Unless, of course, that classroom is in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications and it’s their annual CreateAthon, a 24-hour blitz of pro-bono work for local nonprofits looking to improve their relationship with the local community.
One of those organizations this year was Ensemble Eclectica, a new experience created by Suzanna Pavlovsky that combines multiple forms of audio and visual art into one setting. For the students of CreateAthon, it was a blank slate they can help mold and bring to the attention of the local community.
“We have so much room to play that it’s kind of like there’s no direction we can go in that isn’t beneficial,” said Emily Michal Turner, fourth-year advertising major and co-team manager for Ensemble Eclectica. “By giving [Pavlovsky] effective communication materials it’s a lot easier for her to leave CreateAthon and go out into the artistic community and really come out with a bang.”
Turner is part of Karen Mallia’s creative leadership class, which manages much of the event. They not only participate in the main 24 hours of CreateAthon, but also work with the nonprofits throughout the semester to come up with a media plan. Turner says that part is pretty straightforward, the real challenge comes in meeting the creative design team.
"Our biggest fear was that because Ensemble Eclectica is so hard to put into words that when we described it to them they wouldn't be able to grasp the abstract concept,” Turner said. “All of our worries were gone within about the first two hours. I really like our team.”
Aside from brainstorming and creative "jam sessions," the two biggest moments of CreateAthon are the midnight preview and the final presentations at noon. The midnight preview can be quite nerve-wracking since everyone is showing off what they have thus far.
Some groups come out of it with raving reviews, while others may get feedback that sends them running back to the drawing board. Turner's group had their feet back under them within an hour and had each aspect ready for deadline by 8 a.m., leaving three hours to spare to finalize the presentation for the client.
In the end, Pavlovsky was pleased with the results.
"The team did an extremely phenomenal, fantastic job," Pavlovsky said. "I knew we were in good hands."
Ensemble Eclectica left CreateAthon with "a general rebranding."
"We have done a logo, a website, a style guide with the corresponding colors, themes every which way that she can use her logo, a tag line, social media and social media guidebook, PR template, radio spot, billboard ad, three promotional videos, an event flier and a concert program," Turner said.
Other nonprofits selected for this years creative teams were Beginnings SC, Carolina Children’s Garden, Eat Smart Move More SC, South Carolina HIV Task Force, Hospice & Palliative Care Foundation and Kid’s Chance of SC.
USC's CreatAthon is the brainchild of Mallia and fellow SJMC professor Scott Farrand. They started the project in 2013, and it has only grown since then. In its five years at USC, CreateAthon has never had an unsatisfied client, and the success rates are high enough that their work is in demand.
“The hardest part is turning somebody away,” says Mallia. “You can only take so many because of the logistics.” This applies to both nonprofits and students.
The event gives students a chance to get work published that can help their portfolios, especially younger students.
“They should be applying right away,” Mallia says. “I would give freshman advice of go and get experiences, do things, don’t wait to be asked, don’t wait for an assignment.”
This year, with donations from Grace Outdoor, they have obtained use of the digital billboard on Assembly and Gervais. The billboard promoted CreateAthon during its main 24 hours and will also feature the top awarded team and their nonprofit after the event.