March 11, 2016
CreateAthon at VCU provides marketing, advertising help to nine Richmond nonprofits
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Over a 24-hour, caffeine-fueled blitz that wrapped up Friday morning, teams of Virginia Commonwealth University students specializing in writing, graphic design, web development, video production and much more created a variety of advertising, marketing and PR materials for nine Richmond-area nonprofit organizations.
CreateAthon at VCU, held each year during spring break, brings together teams of students and professional mentors who work around the clock for 24 hours to deliver pro bono marketing and communications services to nonprofits that otherwise would not be able to afford them.
CreateAthon is designed to amplify nonprofits by helping them tell their stories.
“CreateAthon is designed to amplify nonprofits by helping them tell their stories, and I hope we’ve helped them build capacity and/or meet their missions better,” said Peyton Rowe, executive director of CreateAthon and an associate professor of advertising in the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “In addition, I believe students who participate in CreateAthon at VCU get hands-on learning experience in their field of study while serving their local community.”
This year’s CreateAthon was the ninth to be held at VCU. In those nine years, the event has served 86 Richmond nonprofits, mobilized 701 student and professional volunteers and produced work valued at more than $1.6 million.
“That’s some amazing impact for the people donating their skills and time and, we hope, for the nonprofit beneficiaries,” Rowe said.
The nonprofits benefiting from CreateAthon at VCU this year include Capital Diaper Bank, Colonial Heights Food Pantry, Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, IT4Causes, Legal Information Network for Cancer, ReEstablish Richmond, Richmond Public Schools, RVA Future Centers andRxPartnership.
Kevin Carroll, a junior creative and strategic advertising major, was team leader of the students working on behalf of Richmond Public Schools. Their team set out to design a new logo and identity package for the school district.
“This campaign is meant to reignite and reinvigorate the teachers of Richmond Public Schools,” he said. “What we’re trying to achieve here is a new communications strategy from teacher-to-teacher, school-to-school, connecting all that with the district, and really that kind of trickles down to how the kids are being taught, and really a reflection of the community at large here.”
On Friday, Carroll’s team presented a new logo to representatives of Richmond Public Schools, as well as a hashtag — #teachforimpact — that could be used on social media. They also proposed a Facebook page for Richmond Public Schools teachers, allowing them to connect with colleagues from across the district.
“We were tasked with rebranding Richmond Public Schools,” Carroll said. “We focused on the faculty because we wanted to create a new identity, a new brand to kind of reignite what it means to be a teacher in Richmond Public Schools.”
Bridget Guckin, a senior creative advertising major, designed the proposed Richmond Public Schools logo, which resembles a shield with waves of the James River crossing over it.
“With our logo, we wanted to capture a few things,” she said. “We wanted to capture the uniqueness of the city of Richmond, we wanted to capture the pride of local teachers and students, and we wanted to represent forward motion and growth.”
The logo is meant to conjure up several different images, Guckin added.
“You may see books, you may see the waves of the river, you may see birds, which show a transitional movement, and you may also see a bridge, which is to bridge the gap of learning,” she said. “So no matter what you’re seeing, it’s going to be representative of Richmond Public Schools.”
Kenita Bowers, director of communications and media relations for Richmond Public Schools, said the CreateAthon team did a great job.
“I think they’re definitely headed in the right direction,” she said. “The team really captured some of the struggles that we’ve been facing within the district. We’re looking at how we can rebrand the district without completely dismissing that historical identity that the school district has, but helping them to really take a look at the future, where we’re supposed to be headed next for our children to reach that global impact that we want the students to make.”
Bowers said that Richmond Public Schools will present the materials from the CreateAthon team to the superintendent as an option as the district engages with its rebranding.
“Once we receive all the materials from the team, we will present that to the superintendent and he will sit down [to discuss it] with his cabinet,” she said. “We also have another side of this that we’re working on from a strategic perspective with another community partner that we have, so we’re kind of trying to mirror them and see if we can marry it all together.”
Maryam Kaymanesh, a senior communication arts major in the School of the Arts, was part of the CreateAthon team that worked on behalf of Capital Diaper Bank, which provides support to families undergoing financial crises or disasters, helping to protect and care for their children.
On Thursday, Kaymanesh listened to teammates brainstorm ideas while she doodled possible logos for the organization.
“I’m the graphic designer/web designer, but basically our focus right now is to work on the mission and the name and then a marketing book for a logo and everything, and if we have enough time we’re going to work on web design and stuff like that,” she said.
Kaymanesh added that she was attracted to CreateAthon because it combines creativity, practical experience and volunteerism.
“It sounded like it’d be a really hands-on experience and that it would actually benefit people so I thought it would be cool,” she said. “I haven’t really done a lot of volunteering in my life so I kind of just decided that it was time to do something like this.”
CreateAthon prepares students for the challenges they will face in their careers, while also “planting the philanthropic seed.”
“If they are 10 years into their careers after graduating from VCU and continue to find ways to use their skills for social impact, I believe this program’s impact will be remarkable,” Rowe said. “And I’ll be thrilled!”
Carroll said he wanted to take part in CreateAthon because it provides valuable professional experience in advertising, while also benefiting the community.
“You’re given the real-world rundown of how an agency works in a very short amount of time,” he said. “Everybody here has a specialty — we’ve got a couple copywriters, graphic designers, illustrators, web designers, video producers. Having all these interdisciplinary people working together to create [marketing materials for Richmond Public Schools] was very attractive to me.”
Everybody here has a specialty — we’ve got a couple copywriters, graphic designers, illustrators, web designers, video producers.
A number of students participated in CreateAthon as part of the production team, which provides support in a variety of areas of communication, including public relations, art direction, copywriting, social media, photography and video.
Will Nelson, a psychology major and a student in the venture creation program of the da Vinci Center, worked as part of the production team to provide photo and video services.
“A bunch of friends of mine had previously taken [part in] CreateAthon either as a class or as a volunteer, and they really talked about how exciting it was to actually make something but have it be more than just a class project or something in theory, but to actually be something out there in the world,” Nelson said. “It’s more tangible than a class project. It’s literally something that a person could use for their nonprofit.”
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