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October 21-22, 2016


Imagine having only 24 hours to create an entire advertising campaign, and it hits. Writer’s block. The deadline is looming and you just can’t come up with a good idea. You’ve spent hours thinking and have nothing. Aaaackk! That’s exactly what happened to one team during CreateAthon@USC 2015. They were charged with creating a new, more modern image for Richland County First Steps to School Readiness. At some point between a midnight snack and sunrise (roughly 2 a.m.), they struck creative gold and finally had a breakthrough. Perseverance, dedication and pride took these student volunteers through the final hours to deliver a powerful campaign. What started with a request for a simple logo design snowballed into business cards, brochures, a completely redesigned website, billboard concepts, and a reimagined social media campaign. When the team made their client presentation, the entire room was in tears. There were tears of relief from the creative team and tears of joy when the representatives saw their new materials campaign for the first time. The logo that started it all is already up on Richland County First Steps’ website. This is but one of many moving stories from CreateAthon@USC 2015.

For the first time since its inception in 2013, CreateAthon@USC took over the brand-new School of Journalism and Mass Communications building, instead of the dark, concrete, dungeon-esque Carolina Coliseum. What a difference that made! Each team had the latest technology at the ready. They had windows. (Windows!) That meant sunlight—and a time cue to keep everyone on task. Lastly, they had heat. For those that haven’t spent autumn night in the Coliseum, just imagine being in the basement of a solid concrete building built in 1968 when the heat cuts off, and you get the idea.

CreateAthon@USC 2015 also brought some new leadership. With Mastermind Karen Mallia on sabbatical, the valiant Dr. Shirley Carter jumped in, along with her Public Relations Management class, who served as team leaders for each nonprofit client. Like all participants, Dr. Carter believed she knew what she was in for, but oh, was she in for a surprise. She described her experience saying, “On the day of the event, I had a general idea of what to expect, and as the day and evening unfolded, it was an amazing adventure from the team’s first brainstorming sessions, through the late night and wee morning hours of ennui, to the early morning exhilaration as the strategic plan and creative aspects converged into client deliverables. I have never witnessed anything quite like that before, as my class is usually involved in the strategizing rather than the creative and implementation process.” 

Dr. Carter joined Co-Conspirator Scott Farrand, instructor Jeff Ranta and assistant professor, Dr. Halylee Mercado to pull off another successful marketing communications marathon benefiting South Carolina nonprofits. Ranta’s summer Integrated Communications Campaigns class prepared initial did strategic communications planning for each client. He also served as a mentor to the FIDO team. In describing his mentoring experience, Ranta shared his approach to encourage AND challenge students to exceed their own expectations, repeating his mantra, “Practice the phrase: “That’s good but what if…”

Dr. Mercado’s sport and entertainment management class handled all prepping and behind-the-scenes work needed to ensure that the event a logistic success. She tells her class on the first day that they will be required to participate in the 24-hour event—and finds that rather than being scared off, they look forward to the opportunity. Her class was tasked with finding sponsors, making sure there was sufficient food and snacks, designing room layout, scheduling, pricing vendors to get the best deals, ordering t-shirts and so much more. “Working with CreateAthon has been one of the most meaningful projects. It has allowed me to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility and to strengthen our community in the course of one semester.  Our students have had the unique opportunity to work with faculty, staff, and students across campus as well as developed relationships with vendors, community businesses, and nonprofit organizations.” Mercado said.

A number of repeat volunteers truly understand the joy of trading zzz’s for a good cause. Like visual communication major Casey Ksau, who has participated all three years. Ksau has a passion for volunteerism and sees the big picture of CreateAthon@USC, which is what keeps him coming back again and again. This year Ksau worked with Ezekial Ministries, which needed an entire website face-lift. For Ksau, was already an expert in the field having done a doing a complete website overhaul overnight was no big deal—he’d done it before, during the 2013 event. Ksau and his teammates completely redesigned their Ezekial’s online presence to reflect a consistent brand and to drive donations. When the client saw they final product, they personally shook hands with each of the team members and left excited to get 2016 started.

Ksau wants everyone to share his passion for CreateAthon. “When you are volunteering do pro bono creative, you feel more motivated to do good work. You push yourself much harder than you ever thought you could, and take as much ownership and pride in the final product as the nonprofit does.”  Ksau gave this advice for students, “You have to do it to really know what you are capable of. You will be forced to work in a business environment where communication is key, you have to build relationships almost immediately and learn to get along. But the biggest surprise is the realization of how much work actually gets done in the end, and it’s your work you get to walk away with.”

Drive down Interstate 126, and you’ll see more than familiar landmarks approaching Gamecock country. You’ll see a huge demonstration of the work of CreateAthon@USC: a rotation of several outdoor boards created by the 2014 team for SCORE, a nonprofit that helps entrepreneurs and small businesses. That’s one huge, digital display of the complete rebranding campaign they developed for SCORE—and driving past their work is a thrill for mentors and student volunteers, one that never gets old.

Sometimes the work of CreateAthon@USC takes time to be implemented, but every nonprofit is given the ideas and tools they need to create a meaningful connection with their audiences and constituents. You can see all the work produced in one night on Sumter Street in our 2015 Showcase.

CreateAthon@USC offers so much for the community and the students. Nonprofits walk away with a new path forged from the creative work of skilled students, volunteers and mentors. Students walk away with real world experience, friendships and tangible portfolio pieces. Our challenge is for each CreateAthon@USC to be even more impactful than the last. Applications for will be available in the spring and volunteer applications will be accepted starting the fallIf you want to make a difference in the community, test your skills and endurance—and have a blast at the same time, DO .

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CreateAthon@USC can’t happen without funding for essentials like team T-shirts and food to keep the troops fueled for over 24 hours.



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Three 2014 student teams win Silver ADDYs for CreateAthon@USC integrated campaigns

The AAF of the Midlands 2014 Best Campaign Award for CreateAthon@USC went to the team creating not one, but two campaigns for RMHC.

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