CreateAthon Craziness

One Monday morning, I got an email.

It was from the director of UA PRSSA’s publications committee, Drew Pendleton. He was asking if anyone wanted to write a blog about CreateAthon — a 24-hour event where agencies do pro bono work for nonprofit clients — coming up on the following Friday.

For the past few weeks, I had been wondering if I needed to be more involved within PRSSA. So I emailed him back.

“I would love to take a stab at it!” I wrote.

At this point, I had the expectation that I would be there at the beginning, maybe the middle and definitely at the end of the 24-hour period. I would get the info I needed and go home. Easy.

Fast forward to the next Tuesday night at a Capstone Agency PR department meeting. One of my fellow members pleaded desperately for one of us to take her spot at the CreateAthon, as she was no longer able to attend.

Feeling for her, I said that I might be able to. One thing led to another, and I was signed up to participate in the CreateAthon in three days.

Well, alright, I thought. This is happening.

On Wednesday, I got another email: “CreateAthon Kickoff — Are You Ready?!

Mm, not exactly. I mean, I was ready to dive into the unknown, and I was definitely excited. But was I fully prepared for what those 24 hours might bring? Not so much.

Fast forward again to Friday at noon. I was sitting in a classroom in Reese Phifer, eating Chick-fil-A nuggets and looking around the room. It was filled with the best of the best of our agency, of PRSSA and of the college as a whole.

What was I doing there?? I was way over my head! I haven’t done anything of this caliber before. I just write the blogs...

Anyways, I get to meet my team, and it turns out I already knew two of them — Colleen Dolan and Drew Pendleton himself. Along with our other teammates, Alexa Campbell and Katie Huff, we sat down and got to work.

But it didn’t exactly feel like work.

It was a ton of fun! Our client was the Tuscaloosa Metro Animal Shelter, so all we did was talk about cats and dogs. (I do that most of the time, anyways.)

The goal was to get pet owners to spay and neuter their dogs and/or cats. Awkward topic. But here’s the real kicker: We didn’t focus on digital media. I know, that’s unheard of! But our client’s target audience was the more rural part of Tuscaloosa County. In these areas, there’s not nearly as much connection to the digital side of promotion. So we had to go back to the basics, back in time, to traditional print media.

It was really neat to be able to take this simple task and make it more creative. Our brainstorming process was filled with “what ifs” and “oh mys” and way too many references to our own dogs and cats. Scratch that … there can never be too many.

There was a whole lot of laughter and way more smiles than I expected. I liked these people. Our group dynamic was powerful, and the shelter’s cause was so important. Did you know that two dogs that aren’t “fixed” can turn into thousands in just five years?? I didn’t.

But both the people I was with and the cause we were working for pushed us forward the whole way. After a visit from our client and their two dogs (<3), hours of work and a lot of coffee, we came up with our final product: “The Ruff Truth: A Tuscaloosa County Tail.”

Our campaign relied on targeting places where people cannot avoid going to — gas stations, supermarkets, schools, post offices, etc. We suggested strategically placing fliers and handouts on bulletin boards and in shoppers’ grocery bags at checkout.

It was textbook guerrilla marketing: Have a targeted message for middle schoolers, high schoolers, college students and the greater adult community. Make it so that a parent who makes most of the familial decisions sees the message everywhere. The expected result is that the parent will ultimately take the family pets to get spayed or neutered.

The campaign received very good feedback from our clients. They said that it was exactly what they needed. Katie had made several different graphics for our client (she’s a rockstar), and they said that they were going to use one of the fliers for when they visited a middle school the following week.

Wow. I just helped develop a full campaign in 24 hours. And the client loved it.

Maybe I shouldn’t have limited myself based on who I saw around me. I was capable simply because of the support of those very same people. I learned a lot from them, and I learned a lot about what I can actually do.

The CreateAthon gave me valuable relationships (both old and new), developed my skills and allowed me to participate in charity work that was worthwhile. I had no idea just how much more confident I would be as a public relations professional, and as a contributor to the community.

Earlier that morning on a coffee run, we came across a half-marathon taking place on Bryant Drive. That’s a lot like what CreateAthon felt like — it’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you go into it with an excited attitude and surround yourself with good running mates, you can make it through to the finish line. (The finish line being my pillow.)

By Hope Todd

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