Parkland Students Are Asking Advertising’s Brightest Minds to Help Grow the Gun Control Movement

An emotional pitch at the 4A’s

Parkland students Kai Koerber, Brandon Dasent and Mei-Ling Ho-Shing address advertisers at 4A's Accelerate. The Female Quotient

The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School know the news cycle is fast and furious. Momentous stories that once would have dominated the news for weeks now only hold the nation’s attention for days or even hours.
Survivors of the shooting that left 17 people dead in Parkland, Fla., on Valentine’s Day attended the 4A’s Accelerate conference in Miami with one goal in mind: keep the movement growing.
“Keeping it in the media. Keeping it on TV. We don’t want to lose this momentum,” Parkland student Julia Cordover said about what she wants out of the advertising industry.
The Female Quotient, a group committed to advancing equality in the workplace, invited the students to the conference. It was one of the first times that anyone in the advertising industry had reached out to them, though the Gun Safety Alliance, which includes business leaders in tech, media, entertainment and marketing helped support March for Our Lives and its follow-up efforts.

The students (L. to R.) Kai Koerber, Brandon Dasent, Mei-Ling Ho-Shing, Dylan Kraemer, Sam Zeif, Jared Helman, Jayden Beir, Eden Hebron, Madison Leal, Julia Cordover, Female Quotient CEO Shelley Zalis, filmmaker Jeff Vespa and Young & Rubicam CEO David Sable address advertisers at the 4A's.
The Female Quotient

Initially, the students planned to meet with a small group from the Female Quotient in a lounge at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel. But as word spread about their invitation, the group and the 4A’s worked to give the students a larger space to address some of the ad industry’s most influential members. When the students made their appearance, they received a standing-room only reception.

Pitching the ad industry

The talk featured 11 Stoneman Douglas students, filmmaker Jeff Vespa and Female Quotient CEO Shelley Zalis. For the most part, the panelists were not the students making headlines on TV and Twitter. Many, however, were in their classrooms when the shooter entered their school. One girl explained how she watched three of her classmates and friends die in front of her. The discussion left the audience in awe, in tears and inspired, ready to ask these students how they can help their movement.

Parkland student Eden Hebron addresses the 4A's at the Accelerate conference.
The Female Quotient

The students articulated a number of goals with a pitch that targeted the ad industry’s strengths. They were looking for funding to advance their cause, but they also wanted help amplifying their message through media buys and national PSAs.
One student described the need for tech partners to help them build an app that records the views of every political candidate at the federal, state and local level. Another explained that they were in the market for more creative ways to send stronger, clearer messages with T-shirts that support their movement.
“What I want to see is for brilliant creative people such as yourselves to sit down and come up with new ways to shed light on all the different angles of the issue,” said student Brandon Dasent. “Because in the media you see people focusing on voting, gun control and that’s pretty much it. I want to hear more solutions … new ideas, such as conflict resolution.”
The students asked the room to hold hands in the final moments of the panel as a show of unity.
The Female Quotient

Vespa, who has been interviewing Parkland students for a video series called #WhatIf, said there was no better way for the students to build on their movement and amplify their message than to address a room of people who will spend approximately $600 billion on paid media placement this year.
He was right.
“We talk about authenticity all the time. This isn’t authenticity. This is real."
—Young & Rubicam CEO David Sable

Following their discussion, Marla Kaplowitz, president of the 4A’s, recognized the opportunity at hand. “We are a tool to help people tell and amplify their stories. For the industry to be seen as a partner in cause-related storytelling is a powerful reminder that our industry is at its best when the creative muscle is used to impact and influence culture,” she said.
“Seeing them in person and hearing their words, there are no words for it. It’s pretty moving and makes you want to do whatever you can,” said Jordan Gilbertson, associate director of communications planning at Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, who wants to use her connections in the industry to help the students secure ad space and airtime.

@ErikDOster Erik Oster is an agencies reporter for Adweek.
@kitten_mouse Lindsay Rittenhouse is a staff writer at Adweek, where she specializes in covering the world of agencies and their clients.