The UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication has become a regular host to hackathons – events that gather students from across campus to solve particular communication problems over the course of a weekend.
The trend continued Nov. 7-8 with “Crash Campaign” — a 24-hour student-created and student-led competition that brought together more than 70 students from across various campus majors to help four local businesses solve their marketing dilemmas.
Joanna Sanfilippo, a senior journalism and mass communication major specializing in advertising and a Hispanic Studies double major, and Matthew Hurley, also a senior specializing in advertising and double majoring in business administration, have invested countless hours over the course of a year in planning the Crash Campaign — all in hopes of getting students relevant marketing experience and helping them build a portfolio to land internships and jobs.
The event did just that, putting students in a high-pressure, quick turnaround environment — one parallel to that of a creative communications agency — to create near professional level work.
The students — broken into 12 teams — received their briefs from clients Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. and promptly set out researching their businesses and target markets, sending out surveys, holding focus groups and interviewing people on the street.
By the wee hours of the next day, students were in full-on panic mode, crafting strategic marketing plans which included professional level graphic identities and social media campaigns.
“The most amazing part about this for Matt and me was at 3, 4, 5 a.m. we were consoling all of the panicked groups, not knowing where they were going to be in the end,” Sanfilippo said. “And then they do a complete 180 in the presentations. I was so impressed by the final products.”
Seven judges — advertising, public relations and marketing creatives — trotted out adjectives like “cohesive,” “seamless,” “professional,” “dynamic,” “magical” and “genius” after the students presented their marketing campaigns on Sunday, Nov. 9.
“You gave [clients] something they could implement overnight,” McKinney senior art director Jordan Eakin said to students. “That’s a very difficult thing to do even if you have two weeks.”
‘Planned like clockwork’
The idea for Crash Campaign came together during the summer of 2013. Sanfilippo was interning at a local advertising agency, gaining professional experience and putting together a portfolio to position herself for the job market after graduation.
When a portfolio of a fellow intern caught her eye, she asked about his work and found out that some of it was created during a short-term, intense advertising competition.
That same summer, Sanfilippo met Hurley for the first time through a mutual friend and after talking about the need for a portfolio-building event, Crash Campaign was born — sort of.
“When someone tells you an idea, you say ‘oh cool’ or ‘that sounds great’ and you move on, but she was very passionate about it,” Hurley said. “We were on the same page about it, agreeing that it was necessary and we needed to do it.”
The following fall, they both went abroad – Sanfilippo to Spain, Hurley to the Netherlands – and emailed ideas back and forth, preparing to hit the ground running when they returned to campus in January.
They emailed every advertising and public relations faculty member about advising the project, getting a sympathetic and enthusiastic ear in associate professor and public relations specialization leader Lois Boynton.
“We had never met her before,” Hurley said. “She’s a powerhouse of a personality. I think she was 10 times more excited [about Crash Campaign] than we were.”
Providing a marketing experience for fellow students was a marketing and branding exercise in itself for Sanfilippo, Hurley and their leadership team. And according to Boynton, they had the project mapped out before they ever came to her.
“Matt and Joanna had this thing planned like clockwork,” Boynton said. “They had it nailed. What they needed was access to the school and guidance.”
A mention of the project from Boynton to Dulcie Straughan, James Howard and Hallie McLean Parker Distinguished Professor, and Crash Campaign had a sponsor. Straughan had been looking for a meaningful, outside-the-classroom project to support.
“You can’t keep an idea to yourself if you want to make it happen,” Hurley said.
No one was keeping Crash Campaign a secret and for good reason.
‘A big resume builder’
“It took us 20 minutes to get over the whole ‘we don’t know each other’ thing,” said Shand Thomas, a senior majoring in advertising and a member of the winning team that created a campaign for Rumors, a thrift clothing boutique in Chapel Hill.
There was no time for icebreakers, but judges lauded the team’s natural chemistry.
Thomas and her five team members donned clothing from the shop while pitching their final recommendations. They received a $500 prize and a yearlong membership to the American Marketing Association.
Other clients included A Ban Against Neglect (ABAN), a Chapel Hill-based nonprofit dedicated to empowering young mothers in Ghana by selling handmade products from recycled materials; Hillsborough Yoga & Healing Arts; and Native Beverage Company, a local, sustainable pecan milk company founded by Rachel Atkinson, a city and regional planning major and entrepreneurship minor expecting to graduate in May 2015.
“I was looking for a new graphic identity,” said Atkinson, who plans to launch her business in earnest after graduating. “I’ve been really impressed by what I’ve seen. Everyone was excited about my product.”
Crash Campaign students gave her a new logo, packaging ideas, marketing strategies and a potential slogan for Native Beverage Company. Professor of the practice and judge Dana McMahan, who is also chief marketing officer for TOPO Brands, said she would “put that bumper sticker on [her] car right now,” referring to the slogan.
“You’ve created a big resume builder here,” judge and McKinney copywriter David Sloan said to students. “You’re on a great road, a great path to do great things.”
That’s exactly why Sanfilippo and Hurley had worked so hard.
By Morgan Ellis, School of Journalism and Mass Communication
Published November 12, 2014