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Eight Things I Learned from a 24-hour Pro Bono Marketing Marathon

Updated: Feb 27, 2019

When was the last time you pulled an all-nighter? Did you stay up studying for an exam? Maybe you were nervous about a big interview, and you simply couldn’t fall asleep no matter how hard you tried.

Before CreateAthon, the last time I had stayed awake through the night was in eighth grade, when I decided it was a good idea to watch every single Harry Potter movie back to back. Seven Mountain Dews, a few butterbeers and 19 hours later, we emerged victorious, and confident we could recite each spell by heart.

On Feb. 1, 92 college students came together to pull an all-nighter for a decidedly more worthy cause: charity. For the third year in a row, The University of Alabama’s student-run, integrated communications firm, Capstone Agency, partnered with local nonprofits to conceptualize and develop innovative solutions for the challenges facing the participating organizations. From creating consistent brand identities to designing annual reports and generating publicity plans, our members collaborated to contribute over 2,208 hours.

Here are eight things I learned from participating in, and being on the leadership team for, CreateAthon 2019.

1. It takes a village.

Pulling off a 24-hour event involving over 90 students, 15 nonprofits and numerous faculty members is no small task. For several months, the leadership team worked diligently to ensure all the moving parts of CreateAthon flowed seamlessly on the day of, not to mention the hours of work put toward selecting the nonprofits and securing event sponsors. Without the dedication and commitment to collaboration each member on the leadership team displayed, CreateAthon would not have been anywhere near as successful as it was.

2. Coffee is your friend.

But only after 12 a.m. The one thing you definitely don’t need to have when you’re staying up for 24-plus hours is a caffeine crash. If and when you decide to pour yourself a cup of joe, don’t forget to alternate with cups of water — dehydration is not a good look.

3. Discovering Hidden Treasures

Before CreateAthon, I never knew how many incredible, diverse nonprofits existed in Alabama, each working diligently toward bettering the community. While we received a total of 25 requests for proposals, we were only able to accept 15, so as to best serve each nonprofit and deliver top-notch work. Getting an inside look at some of these organizations really opened my eyes to the compassionate, caring heart of the Tuscaloosa community.

4. No basic pitches.

It’s a tale as old as time: the symbiotic relationship between PR practitioners and journalists can become complicated when journalists receive mass pitch after mass pitch. No one likes excessive repetition, and journalists can tell when you send out mass pitches. Even if you don’t rewrite your entire pitch for each journalist, you should at least try to make your pitch as relevant as possible to the journalist’s audience. For CreateAthon, the PR and marketing directors placed a special focus on tailoring each pitch to the journalist we were pitching to and serving the nonprofits by aligning our pitch with their brands.

5. Your colleagues are, like, really cool.

No, but really, they are. Between balancing agency work, extracurriculars and a full course load, making the effort to develop personal connections with the people you work with can slip through the cracks. CreateAthon gave me the opportunity to see the people I interact with on a daily basis in a different light. The person always invested in her work in the office has a silly side, and the “agency-clown” has a deep-rooted passion for aiding nonprofits. Above all, I saw the hearts of 92 college students who relinquished their weekend to better the Tuscaloosa community.

6. We’re bringing walkie’s back.

Yes, you heard me right. The 90s are back!. The leadership team utilized these old-school transceivers to stay in communication when running around from team to team. Not only were they a fun way to keep up with what was happening, but they also prevented us from being on our phones and getting sidetracked from the task at hand. During an event like CreateAthon, focus is key.

7. Believe it or not, there is a strategy behind social media.

No, social media coordinators don’t just post fun things on Instagram whenever they feel like it. Behind every post, there is a data-driven, methodical strategy. What type of posts perform well? Who are the key publics we are trying to engage? What is the message we are trying to convey? These are some of the questions that fuel social media decision-making. The CreateAthon PR and marketing directors took these questions and more into consideration when formulating and implementing the social media content for CreateAthon. Making the content fun, engaging and relevant is all part of the process!

8. Collaboration is key.

Contrary to history books, no great idea was ever born of one mind. With an event like CreateAthon, the collaboration between members of the leadership team was crucial for a successful execution. Our best ideas often stemmed from brainstorming sessions; each member was integral in bringing unique insights and perspectives to the table. A team is only as strong as its weakest link, and of weak links, there were none.

A 24-hour, non-stop marketing marathon is no small feat, but take a group of talented, driven students, and the going gets a little bit easier. From serving as the assistant director of PR & marketing to seeing the reactions of clients to the work our members produced, I can truly say it was one of the most rewarding opportunities I have had the chance to be a part of.

By Hannah Taylor, publications committee member


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