By Stephanie Cohen
Soon after I found out I had the honor of serving as Capstone Agency’s pro bono director last March, schools went virtual left and right. Still, I was over the moon, because I was officially spearheading my favorite CA event of the year: CreateAthon.* My naive self had no doubt things would be back to normal by the time CreateAthon 2021 came around. There’s no way that this pandemic would last until February 2021, right? Oh, I was so very, very wrong. Ten months later, Capstone Agency hosted its first-ever virtual CreateAthon. Planning it was no easy feat, but we pulled it off. Here are five things I learned along the way:
Recruit help as early as possible.
Just because you are “in charge” of planning an event does not mean you have to do it alone; in fact, you shouldn’t. My eight-person leadership team was a Godsend throughout the entire planning process, as were the team leads and CA firm leadership. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It allows you to get a wide variety of perspectives and ideas, which is imperative in order to plan a successful event for a large group of people.
Break it up, and engage often.
Two words: Zoom fatigue. It’s hard to stay focused during a 50-minute virtual class, let alone a 24-hour marketing marathon. We broke the event into two 12-hour days (that’s still a long time, I know), with breaks for meals and interactive activities. We made sure that our activities got people up and out of their chairs and fostered fun interactions among team members, despite the virtual setting. We did TikTok competitions, WFH scavenger hunts and morning yoga.
Expect bumps in the road.
Even in an in-person event, not everything is going to go exactly as planned. I spent so much time the week before CreateAthon perfecting and testing all of the logistics of the event, from breakout rooms to sharing my screen and sound. When it was finally my time to shine, none of the breakout rooms worked (shoutout Kathleen McManus, Phil Bruni and Caden Harris, who did not hesitate to step in and save the day––again, ask for help!). I wish I spent less time leading up to the event stressing about making it perfect, because technical difficulties were inevitable.
Start and end the event as a group.
Breakout rooms are a must for a large-scale virtual event, but everyone came together as a big group to start and end each day. This helped everybody get on the same page before splitting up for the day and gave members the opportunity to recognize their peers in front of the whole group. We concluded each day with a “Shoutout Sesh,” where members took turns giving props to each other. This was a great way for us to end each day on a positive note.
Express gratitude every chance you get.
It takes a village to plan and execute any virtual event. Make sure to thank everyone involved, profusely. It’s important to recognize that everybody — from those on the leadership team to those participating as general members to faculty mentors — has an essential role in the success of an event. A thank you goes a long way!
*Note: CreateAthon is a 24-hour pro bono marketing palooza that agency members participate in each year, usually in late January or early February. During the event, we work tirelessly to provide Alabama nonprofits with strategic communications and marketing materials free of charge, so they can allocate their time, energy and financial resources toward the important services they provide their communities.
Stephanie Cohen is a junior at The University of Alabama studying marketing, public relations and Spanish. She is currently enrolled in the University’s Accelerated Master’s Program for marketing. Stephanie is the pro bono director and a senior media coordinator for Capstone Agency, the #1 student-run communications firm in the country. In her free time, you can find her enjoying the (usually) nice Alabama weather, whether it’s taking advantage of a restaurant’s outdoor seating, going for a walk by the river or studying on the Pi Phi patio. To learn more, check out her LinkedIn.