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Working for more than a good grade

July 13, 2006

Photo of students after presenting their ad campaign in City HallBenjamin Mullins described Marketing 440/Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts 647 as "the most amazing class I have ever taken." As a student in this cross-listed community service learning course, he not only created a professional-level ad campaign for a real client, he also felt good knowing that he was helping a community in need.

During the spring semester Mullins and his classmates were tasked with developing public service announcements for Project Homeless Connect. The initiative, created by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom in collaboration with the Department of Health, the Human Service Agency and various nonprofit organizations, recruits volunteers to help homeless San Franciscans receive much-needed health and emergency services.

At the beginning of the semester, Newsom's staff explained the assignment to students, who worked in three competing teams. Each team comprised students majoring in radio and television, marketing, and design and industry.

The students learned that Project Homeless Connect's volunteer forces had dwindled in recent years because service takes place on weekdays. Therefore, students' ad campaigns had to convince the public that Project Homeless Connect is a cause worth volunteering for -- even it means taking time off work or finding a sitter for the kids.

The students took the assignment and ran. Marketing majors conducted research and developed a creative brief. Radio and television majors shot and edited videotape and recorded radio announcements. Design and industry students worked to create a corresponding print ad campaign.

In late May, after a semester of hard work, the three student teams presented their ad concepts to Newsom and Alex Tourk, his deputy chief of staff, inside a packed room at City Hall. Then they kept their fingers crossed as they awaited news of the winning ad campaign, which will hit airwaves, billboards and buses in the city later this year.

Team A's concept focused on the good feeling one receives when helping others. The team's concept featured a glowing orb that passed from one volunteer to another. The tagline: "Get more when you give."

Team B's radio and television spots pointed out what could be accomplished during a single day of volunteer work for Project Homeless Connect: providing shelter and meals for 1,000 homeless people. In the ads a volunteer reminded the audience, "It's so easy to look the other way, I never thought it was so easy to help."

Team C's public service announcements urged viewers to, "Make a difference in your community and see the difference in yourself." For proof of the transformative effect of volunteer work, students interviewed a former homeless person who had not only received the help he needed to get off the streets but was now a volunteer himself.

In the end, the students' client was impressed. "This is one of the proudest things I have ever been involved in," Tourk said.

Mayor Newsom agreed. "You guys captured the spirit of what we were after … in a very meaningful and touching way," he said. "We're honored and thankful." But Newsom said he's learned one thing from politics: "Never get involved in making decisions like this." He left that part to Tourk and his staff.

Associate Professor of Marketing Kathy O'Donnell, who taught the course with instructor Michelle Brown, pointed out that students rarely have the opportunity to take advertising concepts from infancy to completion and on to pitching to an actual client.

"These students get to see the entire process from beginning to end. … It's something compelling to tell an employer," she said.

For Mullins, the experience may very well have given him an edge when he started job interviews. He was selected as a paid intern by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences before he graduated in May with a degree in radio and television. "It definitely gave me something to talk about," Mullins said.

He received even more good news recently. His team's ads (Team B) were selected as the winner. The other members of the winning team are Hana Robleh, Athena Karantzalis, Jeffrey Jakosalem, Noelle Carrera, Sara Sornet, Mirka Savic, Adia Bradley, Adam Schmidt, Shane Fuentes, Ruben Santana, Gabe Stern, Mike Burden, James Sakkis, Karla Gonzales, Bettina Reiter and Alex Gorbachevskiy.

O' Donnell and Brown are proud of each member of every team. "All students receive 20 hours of community service learning credits as well as their grades, but I know they put in much more than 20 hours outside of class for these projects," Brown said. "Many have become volunteers themselves."

-- Adrianne Bee
Photo: Gino de Grandis


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Last modified July 13, 2006 by University Communications