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CreateAthon@USC 2016: A 24-hour creative marketing blitz

Posted November 17, 2016
By Desirae Gostlin, first-year Master of Mass Communications student


From brochures to website building to logos to bumper stickers, 54 students from across campus and 18 mentors from across the country collaborated to strategize future communications for eight deserving nonprofits.

CreateAthon@USC is supposed to be a 24-hour pro bono blitz of service learning for students,” says Denetra Walker, event project manager.  “But this year, students were so enthusiastic about their nonprofit assignments that they spent more than the required time on the projects.” 

CreateAthon@USC is a collaborative event and would not be possible without the efforts of student volunteers, faculty and staff contributors, mentors and nonprofit representatives. Their efforts are supported with event management provided by Dr. Haylee Mercado and her Sport and Entertainment Management class. All told, an estimated $175,000 in marketing communications was generated for deserving nonprofits.

CreateAthon@USC faculty advisor, creative mastermind and executive director for CreateAthon, Karen Mallia said, “These nonprofits could never afford this caliber of strategic and creative talent. Alumni, staff, faculty, community professionals and students come together with so much energy and so much genuine passion, and generate so much amazing work. Ultimately, by furthering the mission of each nonprofit, students are impacting the lives and well-being of thousands of people.”

Students from a variety of majors such as journalism, business and visual communications — even biochemistry — worked tirelessly though the night in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications on October 21-22.

“The students participating are immensely talented and it really just shows what the programs here at USC are training the students to do,” says Walker.

In addition to showcasing their talents and doing good in the community, students can use this experience to enhance their portfolios. Much of the student work produced at CreateAthon will also be submitted to advertising and marketing competitions. Students will have the opportunity to be judged alongside professional work. 

“CreateAthon is an incredible opportunity for our students on so many levels — to test their mettle working in an intense creative atmosphere, to learn from mentors and peers, to build a portfolio — and to do genuine good — all at the same time,” responded Mallia.

Students enrolled in the Journalism Creative Leadership class served as team leaders. Two team leaders were assigned to each nonprofit and charged with capturing the true brand essence and voice for their nonprofit. Group leaders paid special attention to the language and rhetoric that fit with the ideals of each particular organization.

“It was so much fun. I wish we could do it every week.”

David Ligon, senior advertising major.

During the 24-hour event, students fought fatigue with pizza party breaks, a live musician, a comedic act and a midnight judging of the best work in progress by the American Advertising Federation. Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services, or PAALS, also brought their puppies in training to help alleviate stress. PAALS is a service dog training organization dedicated to helping people with disabilities, PTSD and other needs and one of this year’s nonprofit clients.

Michelle Zhu worked as part of the House Team, documenting the event and creating three short videos to showcase CreateAthon. The House Team is also responsible for the overall CreateAthon@USC branding message, social media updates, and promotional campaigns for the event itself. Zhu returned this year for her second CreateAthon and relied heavily on her training as a broadcast student.

“I've been trained in all aspects of visual storytelling - from finding a story, to interviewing subjects, to filming with intention, and editing to the final product,” Zhu says.

Every one of the nonprofits served were pleased with the outcomes of the volunteer work. Jen Thompson, executive director of Lighthouse for Life, raved about the new promotional materials her organization will now be able to employ, all because of the dedication of the student volunteers. Lifehouse for Life is a sex trafficking awareness group dedicated to helping survivors as well as educating the public about its prevalence in modern day.

“We learned our logo is a very close copy of one available for sale on line and that it needed an update to be uniquely ours. We love our reconfigured mission statement. It’s shorter yet more comprehensive. We desperately needed the volunteer handbook they put together. It will be a great tool, as we get asked about how folks can help all the time,” responded Thompson.

Many students, such as public relations major Chardonnay Ismail, are enthusiastic to participate in CreateAthon again in the future, even after graduation.

“I absolutely loved CreateAthon. I learned that I can work well under a strict deadline, and I would absolutely do it again. I'd like to come back as a mentor after I graduate, if possible,” says Ismail. She is not alone. After more than 30 working hours, two mentors and alumnae, Jennifer Hammond of agency David&Goliath and Lisa Fischer of Up!TV, left with offers to come back again for 2017.

CreateAthon@USC is also earning rave reviews on Twitter.

“It was so much fun. I wish we could do it every week,” tweeted David Ligon, senior advertising major.


Desirae Gostlin

Desirae Gostlin

Desirae Gostlin is a first-year Master of Mass Communications student. Her reporting has been featured in The Waterfront and Lexington Life Magazine.