Twenty-four hours. Forty-four students. Six professional mentors. Three West Virginia nonprofits. Twelve cases of energy drinks. Thirteen corporate sponsors. One fearless leader.
Friends of the Cheat
Friends of the Cheat is a nonprofit watershed group working to restore a river
damaged by a legacy of irresponsible land use practices; to preserve the health
and integrity of the watershed against future degradation; to promote the watershed
as a haven for beauty and recreation; and to educate the community about the
economic, cultural and aesthetic value of clean water.
Libera was founded in October 2014 to provide a wholistic approach for women
and teens in West Virginia to address their barriers to finding freedom: emotionally,
relationally, intellectually, spiritually, financially and physically. They
provide vital connections through groups, mentoring, resources, workshops and
WVU Extension Service
WVU Extension Service aims to improve the lives of citizens across the state
and country through 4-H youth development; family and health programs; community,
workforce and economic development initiatives; agriculture and natural resource
education; and programs at WVU Jackson’s Mill.
That’s what it takes to execute CreateAthon at the West Virginia University Reed College of Media.
CreateAthon@WVU is a 24-hour creative blitz where groups of students work with professional mentors to produce pro bono marketing and communications campaigns for participating nonprofit organizations. But, CreateAthon is even bigger than WVU.
Teresa Coles and Cathy Monetti of Riggs Partners in Columbia, South Carolina, came up with the CreateAthon concept in 1998 as a way for their agency to give back to the community. Since then, CreateAthon has transformed into an international movement with huge social impacts. No longer just for agencies, CreateAthon has grown to include universities, corporations and creative groups of all kinds.
Assistant Professor Geah Pressgrove (the aforementioned fearless leader) introduced CreateAthon to WVU in 2016, and with her guidance, WVU became a national CreateAthon partner. Pressgrove followed the national model to recruit, support and connect area professionals with WVU students to serve West Virginia nonprofits through this creative marathon.
The 2018 edition of CreateAthon@WVUstarted at 3 p.m. on April 20 and culminated with student presentations that wrapped up just after 3 p.m. on April 21. Anyone wandering through the WVU Media Innovation Center around midnight thatFriday would have found students walking the halls in slippers, toothbrushes in hand, refreshed and ready for the late-late-night leg of the tour.
Once the students have survived and thrived at a CreateAthon, they know they can accomplish anything with enough hard work and persistence. Geah Pressgrove, assistant professor
“There are a ton of advantages to this 24-hour format,” Pressgrove said. “Once the students have survived and thrived at a CreateAthon, they know they can accomplish anything with enough hard work and persistence. For example, a lot of our students are anxious about presenting. Once they’ve presented their work after staying awake for 24 hours, no other presentation should seem difficult.”
This year’s CreateAthon was part of Pressgrove’s strategic communications capstone course in which students prepare campaigns for real-world clients. Students in the course were divided into teams to work for three nonprofits: Friends of Cheat, Libera and WVU Extension Services. They spent the spring semester doing client research, identifying target audiences and creating measurable objectives to meet the needs of each organization. The capstone teams then prepared creative briefs to share with their larger teams at the start of CreateAthon.
Those teams consisted of student volunteers ranging from freshmen to seniors and hailing from disciplines across campus including the College of Creative Arts, the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design and the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.
Justin Clem, who graduated in May with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design, helped create a brand guide and website design for Libera during CreateAthon.
“One of my favorite things was the sense of being part of something bigger than yourself. I built relationships with my teammates. We learned about each other’s struggles, strengths, triumphs and we shared knowledge,” Clem said. “We all came away understanding what it’s like to work within a team of people with different skill sets.”
During CreateAthon, the teams used their research as a launchpad to design, produce and plan out a variety of marketing communications. The work included a rebranding strategy, promotional videos, website design, social media content and a myriad of print collateral materials –all within 24 hours that culminated with presentations to the clients.
“As a younger nonprofit, it was huge for Libera to get so much marketing material for free. It will allow us to have a much greater platform around the state of West Virginia,” said Karen Haring, founder and executive director of Libera. “The students did more than I could have dreamt of.”
The CreateAthon@WVU teams of students were guided by area marketing and communications professionals including Tara Curtis, director of communications and marketing for WVU Extension Service, who has volunteered for CreateAthon all three years at WVU. This year, Curtis had the unique position of mentoring a team creating materials for her own organization.
“I was able to be a go-to resource for them during those critical 24 hours. While a lot of leg work was done beforehand, when you start pulling everything together you run into roadblocks. The biggest challenge was notdoing the work for them. Part of this process is about making mistakes, solving problems and working as a team. It was hard, at times, not to step in and tell them what to do.”
For Pressgrove’s capstone students, this project extended well beyond the 24-hour creative marathon, and the investment was about much more than a course grade or resume builder. They established relationships with the nonprofit organization leaders and developed compassion for their causes.
“I was shooting 360-degree video, standing in a bright, orange creek polluted by acid mine drainage. That’s when I realized the importance of Friends of the Cheat,” said Bree McCullough, a senior in Pressgrove’s capstone course and creative lead for the Friends of the Cheat team. “After that, I was determined to help educate the public on Friends of the Cheat’s work. They make it possible for the community to enjoy outdoor activities and hobbies on the river.”
Facts About National Createathon:
Served more than
in pro bono
Goal of $100 million by
advertising agencies, professional organizations, corporate marketing departments and universities throughout North America participate in CreateAthon annually.
Each year, after the 24-hour stint, Pressgrove reflects on the event as her head hits the pillow. Will she tackle this creative marathon again next year? Was it all worth it? She weighs the pros and cons, the excitement and the exhaustion, the input and output. And after some internal deliberation, it becomes clear that CreateAthon has to continue.
“One of the most rewarding parts is seeing my capstone seniors mentor and work alongside freshman who are just finding their way in the field,” Pressgrove said. “Seeing how much these students’ skills and confidence grows in 24 hours will never get old.”