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Forty advertising and marketing professionals and students filled the rooms of Virginia Western Community College carrying various notebooks, Bic pens, 5-hour energy drinks, coffee and pizza while discussing how they planned to further their designs for the annual 24-hour marketing and public service campaign known as CreateAthon on September 8.
“Its fun, it’s crazy, it’s exhausting, it’s emotional, it’s rewarding,” said Stefanie Brown, co-chair of the CreateAthon. “There’s a lot of things you can say about it, but it’s definitely worth doing.”
For four years, The American Advertising Federation (AFF), Roanoke Chapter, has been holding the CreateAthon for professionals and students to donate their time, knowledge and experience to help the local community. This year volunteers worked on advertising and design projects for 15 nonprofits, like Blue Ridge Literacy, Old Southwest Inc, The Square Society, Opera Roanoke and Habitat for Humanity.
“We really try to give [the nonprofits] professional looking materials that make them look good and in turn helps them do more for the community,” Brown said.
Brown said they receive applications from the nonprofits and then try to match the talents of the volunteers to what the companies are looking for. This year they received 23 applications but were only able to accept 15.
For those 15 nonprofits, this is the closest thing they have to an advertising committee. They often rely on friends and co-workers to help them design, plan and market any advertising they do. The CreateAthon helped them. Those nonprofits now have professionals and students that worked for 24 hours to create the best designs and advertising campaigns possible so the nonprofits can use those designs.
Although many volunteers just want to help the community, the 24-hour event also helps the Radford University students prepare for the future. They get to experience advertising and design in a professional setting.
“It gives them a little bit of the taste of the real world,” Brown said. “A short turn around balancing a predicted deadline, with the clients expectations—there are lots of real world factors that come into play, and this in a very compressed amount of time gives them a very eye-opening experience. “
For members of Rad Ad, RU’s student advertising club, the CreateAthon filled in gaps from their schoolwork. Senior and Rad Ad president Hunter Thompson said this is the kind of work he will do after college and the event was the perfect way to add to his portfolio, while experience working with real clients and giving back to the community.
“It was a wake up call because everything we learn in class just doesn’t quite prepare you for the deadlines and the hands-on experience,” Thompson said.
“You hear people talk about it, but people who didn’t come will have no idea what they’ve missed out.”
Thompson also said it helped that he had prior experience working with the programs and actually creating advertisements before, but for Rad Ad members Rachel Vance and Anna Henderson, it was an entirely different experience.
“It’s been stressful. I was not prepared,” Vance said. “I’ve learned a lot of stuff, like to take more graphic design classes and to actually ask for help when I need it. But it’s been awesome.”
“It seems like a daunting task, but it’s been worth it,” Henderson said. “I’ve learned a lot more actually helping out.”
Leigh Anne Kelley, RU professor and AFF member, encouraged students to get involved.
“Students get to see ad campaigns from the planning stages, to the brainstorming stages, to the execution stages,” Kelley said. “It’s neat for students to actually get to watch professionals in action.”
This year is her third year involved in CreateAthon and she said the turnout of RU students was much higher than last year.
“I’m really excited about how many Radford students are a part of it this year,” Kelley said. “It’s such a great service to the community and it’s such a great experience for the students. I’m amazed by the creativity that students have to share.”
As for the 24-hour period volunteers had to complete their designs and present it to the clients, Kelley said it’s not exactly like that in the professional world.
“It’s not necessarily realistic, but the work gets done and that’s really the only way to make something like this happen,” Kelley said. “And there’s a lot you can do in 24 hours. It works. It gets done and it allows people who are working as professionals to donate their time.”
But Kelley does admit it might be a rough night.
“Students may be used to pulling all-nighters but I’m not,” she said laughing.
At the end of the 24-hour period, volunteers managed to provide the 15 nonprofits with finished designs while gaining new knowledge of the marketing communication trade.
“The experience of seeing what it would be like when I graduate is what convinced me to attend,” said Kasey Stuphin, Radford’s student AIGA president.
“And the best part was in the morning when all of the nonprofits came to see everything we collectively did in 24 hours.”
Although the turnout was good this year, there aren’t always enough volunteers to accept all applications from the nonprofits. This year Rad Ad will be working with members of AIGA to help out the remaining nonprofits with their ad campaign needs.