Wunderman hosts a savvy group of TORCH teens in after-school program
One Tuesday afternoon in January, a dozen New York-area high school students filed into the conference room at Wunderman's downtown offices. For two hours they met employees from various departments—account management, media, creative, finance, data strategy and human resources—and learned what the next nine weeks would have in store: a project that would involve everything from a new-product concept through a media plan to launch it.
"We'd done a program at an advertising firm before but not with this many employees committing their time," says Debi Deutsch, executive director of TORCH, a program that exposes inner-city kids to the workplace. "The kids were so into it that they stayed late and came in to the office during the week to work on their projects."
TORCH (Together Our Resources Can Help) is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1999 by Peter Drakoulias, a former partner at Deutsch. Students apply to be in the program, which gives them hands-on experience in advertising, journalism and other media industries. "I love advertising," says Drakoulias, "but we've been lame in diversification, outreach, recruitment. This is our way of looking for good, talented young people from real America with a diverse background. It lets them discover if advertising is an industry they might want to get into."
Wunderman became involved through manager of communications Andrew Sexton, who met TORCH's Debi Deutsch when both were volunteering at Ice Hockey In Harlem. "The first day I went in to Wunderman to meet with volunteers, David Sable, who was the CEO at the time, walked in and gave his full support," says Deutsch (no relation to the advertising firm). "The program was so successful because it was sanctioned from the top."
Here's the group's diary of their adventures in advertising. Week 1
TORCH participants arrive at Wunderman and are greeted by employees who are volunteering time on Tuesday afternoons to teach the students the steps of the process. Volunteers from account management, media, creative, finance and data strategy—a lot of them managers, according to Sexton—give a brief description of their positions and discuss their personal career paths. The students tour the shop to become familiar with the surroundings and meet art buyers, comp artists, production managers and designers. Associate creative director Kimberly Smith gives an overview of the assignment the group will be working on for the next nine weeks—creating a product and developing a campaign and media plan to launch it. Account manager Devaris Davis explains direct response marketing. The students then vote on categories they could brainstorm for products. They choose sports and cosmetic/beauty aids. WEEK 2
Students toss around product ideas and come up with pimple creams, wireless MP3-playing headphones and athletic shoes with interchangeable soles before settling on a semipermanent dye that takes effect under the heat of a blow-dryer. Their target market is 15-19-year-olds and parents who might buy the product for their kids. Having decided on the product, the group learns how to write a creative brief. Davis and fellow account manager Maggie O'Brien lead the group in a discussion of their target audience's personalities, aspirations and forms of income; their product's benefits and drawbacks; and key messaging and support points. Media planners Vinni Bala and LaShena Huddleston give an overview of the media planning process and the strengths and weaknesses of various media outlets. Students are asked to begin thinking up product name and logo ideas for the following weeks, as well as possible media outlets.
"I've never done a project like this before," says Aileen Nunez, 16. "You really have to get into it. You get so many ideas."
The group splits into three teams of four to five students. At the end of the project, each team will present their campaign to the volunteers and TORCH staff, as well as senior personnel from Wunderman. With the product established and the assignment given, the teams break off to discuss their ideas for branding and launching. They toss around ideas for names, logos and taglines, occasionally cracking each other up. Group One and Group Three decide to call the product the BlowDyer, while Group Two goes with RainBlo. In addition to branding details, each team has to develop a strategy. One of the key elements is establishing the product's benefits. Group One identifies time and money savings. Group Two cites the approval of the nontoxic semipermanent dyes by the National Cosmetology Association. Group Three highlights the product's multitasking properties. "It's a challenge," says Santiago Melendez, 15. "It teaches you how to work in teams and how tough the working world is." Week 4
Students show up with illustrations, scans and logo ideas to present to their teammates. On a rotating basis, volunteers meet with the groups to give them further details and direction. Media planners Bala and Huddleston develop a template for the media presentation, including a deck and a flowchart, and explain how each functions in a client presentation and how the TORCH students should fill them out. By the end of the session, students are throwing around terms like GRP, CRM and daypart. Jordan Modell helps each group nail down their strategies and then teams up with creative director Kimberly Smith to debate the merits of a tagline.
"We were blown away by their grasp of the database," says Wunderman's Sexton. "We definitely had some future media buyers in the group."
Having brainstormed ideas for commercials, print ads and direct mail pieces, the students take to the computers to bring them to digital life using Photoshop, Quark and Illustrator. Creative director Smith explains how to use the different tools and effects that various programs offer. While some of the students have learned how to use graphics programs in school, many have not, and the sessions are essential to making sure everyone develops basic graphic design skills. Later in the week, the students come to the TORCH offices to work on their presentations. "The kids were so creative and full of energy," says Smith. "The BlowDyer is a great idea, fresh and fun."
Account manager Katherine Starsinic discusses presentation strategies, stressing organization and relevancy with a little "faking it till you make it." The students learn how good presentations are opportunities to solidify and enhance client relationships. Some of the students are nervous about the presentations, so hearing the fundamentals helps them gain confidence. They break into their groups to work on their presentations.
"This experience has definitely changed me. Now when I walk down the street and see advertisements, I think, Wow, they must have a high response rate!" says Cassie Guzman, 15.Week 7
With the help of art directors Kim Smith, Indrajeet Chandrachud and Matt Tarulli, the creative teams fine-tune their presentations and acquire more Photoshop, Illustrator and Quark skills. Media planner Bala helps them finalize their strategies and complete the flowcharts. The students' own teenage life experience informs their choices. Group One decides to concentrate media efforts within back-to-school and holiday time periods. They plan to place spots on the WB network and MTV. A 30-second spot offers consumers a 10 percent savings toward purchase if they call an 800 number. Group Two places spots on WNBC, the WB, MTV and the Disney Channel and targets Delia's catalog buyers for a direct mail campaign. Group Three aims to reach the target audience with TV spots and insertions in Cosmo Girl, Teen People and Rolling Stone. "They weren't just doing the classic 30-30-30-10," says Sexton. "They were selective."
By this point, the groups have grown confident in their ideas and are comfortable working with each other. The students work on postcards, storyboards and print ads. A PowerPoint deck has been put together to help the students outline presenting their strategies, media decisions and creative, and the students fill them in, adding graphic choices to communicate their branding vision. Just like a real agency environment, everyone is feeling the pressure and excitement of the impending presentations. "There are conflicts of opinion, but I am learning to accept criticism and the ideas of other people," says Isbel T. Vargas, 15. "I'm learning to work better with my team."
Bala helps the media planners calculate the final GRPs and complete the flowcharts. He even meets with the students on Sunday for last-minute project tweaking. Editorial services manager Andy Aschen, who has worked on stage and TV, gives the students a final pep talk on presentation preparation. He goes over eye contact, energy, hand motions, voice projection, dress and gracing the audience with natural charm. The No. 1 thing he wants the students to remember? Enjoy yourselves!
The three teams present their campaigns to the Wunderman volunteers and TORCH founder Drakoulias. Group One's TV spot emphasizes the product's universal appeal by asking, "What in the world did we do before BlowDyer?" Their TV spot's voiceover promises a 10 percent discount by visiting the Web site. Group Two presents a Brady Bunch box with pictures of six boys, all named Bob. The only way to distinguish themselves is to use the dye, which Group Two calls RainBlo. Their tagline: "For color that's outside the box." Group Three's presentation uses Kelly Osbourne as the spokesperson for BlowDyer. "Liberate your hair," the ad reads. "A new multipurpose hair dyer that helps you to accentuate your hair to express your own individuality." Wunderman CEO and president Barry Kessel and chief creative officer Joel Sobelson stop by to present the students with a Golden Arrow certificate, Wunderman's internal achievement award. Group Three's Kelly Osbourne presentation is cited as the overall winner.
TORCH's Debi Deutsch says the students came away with an appreciation for the hard work that goes into advertising. "Several said they want to pursue a career in advertising after finishing the project," she says.
For Peter Drakoulias, that's the whole point of the project—exposing kids to the possibilities of advertising. "When I was a 19-year-old kid from Long Island, I didn't know anything about the industry," he says. "These kids don't know this is a business you can go into. They never knew you could like what you do and get paid for it."
But the pleasure wasn't one-sided. The Wunderman employees enjoyed the experience so much that the agency plans to host another group of students in September. "The kids were so enthusiastic and energetic, they fired up our folks," says Sexton. "They didn't realize how much they knew until they began to teach. It was an opportunity to give back. And it reminded them how much they love the business."