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Advertising competition offers students real world experience

November 14, 2014
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A group of advertising students from Grand Valley State University and Central Michigan University will have the opportunity to see their ideas translated into a real world advertising campaign for Amway Grand Plaza’s The Hotel Kitchen brand, which produces and sells various sauces.

Students from the two schools as well as from Davenport University competed recently in the Yardsticks advertising competition held at the Amway Grand Plaza. Their work was judged by nine of West Michigan’s top creative directors.

The winners of this year’s competition are: Joseph Buckenmeyer and Richard Iseppi (GVSU), Andrew Woycik (GVSU), Kyle Norton (GVSU), and Andrea Shaw and Stephanie Butcher (CMU).

Their work was judged by advertising professionals Clayton Boothe (Boothe Creative Services), Gregg Palazzolo (Palazzolo Design), Rob Jackson (Extra Credit Projects), Daniel Spicer (Stevens Advertising), Cheryl Bell (Fairly Painless Advertising), Susan Johnston Patrick (Do More Good), Zac Boswell and Tom Crimp (AUX Inc.) and Tim Hackney (The Image Group).

Frank Blossom, affiliate professor of advertising and public relations at GVSU, oversees the competition.

“One of my missions is to connect students with professionals and provide an out of the classroom experience that helps them prepare for careers in advertising,” Blossom said.

Blossom enlisted the nine judges from West Michigan advertising agencies to provide critiques of the students’ work and ultimately choose the four finalists who will be offered internships with the Amway Grand Plaza marketing department.

“The kind of feedback students get in the classroom is good and solid, but it’s different from the kind you would get in a real business situation,” Blossom said. “The professionals are not going to hold back; they are going to tell them what is good and what is bad and how to improve things and strengthen them.”

Bill McKendry, chief creative officer of Do More Good, has been a Yardsticks judge for several years and said the competition is invaluable to students.

“I truly wish they had something like this when I was in college. It would have advanced my career knowledge immensely and quickly,” he said.

“No other student competition provides judges an opportunity to interact with student competitors at this level: You get to hear their pitches one-on-one and ask questions; you also get to compare notes with fellow judges and then sit on a panel of judges to explain why you've selected what you've selected.”

The competition is limited to 30 entrants, and students enter individually or in teams. They can come from any college or university in the area, and in the past have come from Calvin College, Central Michigan University, Michigan State University, Western Michigan University, Hope College, Ferris State University, Kendall College of Art & Design, Davenport University and Grand Rapids Community College.

The judges first review all of the entrants’ work during a private reception held earlier in the evening, and then select the top 10 entries that will continue into the second round that evening.

“The 10 finalists represent their work in front of everybody,” Blossom said. “The judges critique it again and give them feedback. The judges then confer and select the four strongest campaigns or ads, and those four are our final winners.

“They will get together after the semester is over and they will work with the marketing staff from The Hotel Kitchen to craft their four ideas into one strong campaign. Then Hotel Kitchen and the Amway Grand Plaza will essentially give them internships and help them produce the work.”

The final campaign will launch in spring 2015 around West Michigan.

Blossom said the competition has helped several students land internships and jobs.

“Last year’s finalists — three of them are working with companies that the creative directors were at the event. Another is working at a nice design studio in New York City.”

He said other students also have landed jobs across the country.

“It really helped them connect and it got them noticed,” he said.

Jackson said his firm has hired several interns whom he met during the competition.

“Sometimes it's not even an entrant, but someone interesting I have met at the event,” Jackson said. “It draws young folks interested in what is good work.”

Rachael Hurst was a previous finalist and said the experience helped launch her career. She currently works as regional social team lead for the Greater Good Network in Seattle.

“Winning was a great résumé booster,” she said. “Not just for the fact that I could say I won, but for all the work with the client we did afterward and the leadership experience I gained from it. I talked about the lifespan of the project in every job interview after graduation — not to mention the work itself is a really solid portfolio piece.”

Lauren Supron, who is currently a student in Blossom’s class at GVSU, agreed the competition is an important networking opportunity.

“Many of the agencies I have and will apply to have representatives at the competition,” Supron said. “Whether they were judges or just there to observe, there was plenty of time to network. The competition is becoming better known, and seeing it on a résumé shows potential employers you aren't afraid of a little hard work and getting your hands dirty.”

She said being able to interact with the judges was particularly helpful in building some of the skills she will need for her career in advertising.

“Getting feedback from professionals was extremely valuable,” she said. “It helped me to build a bit of a thick skin to constructive criticism while at the same time giving me confidence in myself, public speaking and my work.”

Students aren’t the only ones who benefit. Blossom said West Michigan advertising firms use the competition to stake out top talent for recruitment.

“Some companies come with hiring orders,” he said. “They are looking for students who stand out, present well, think well — and why not come see who is doing that rather than wading through a pile of résumés?”

Blossom said for many of the students taking part, it’s their first introduction to the local advertising community and it helps them to realize they don’t have to go to Detroit, Chicago, New York City or somewhere else to land a job after college.

“Some people, their dream is to work in Boston, New York or San Diego — and good for them, this is something that can help them do that. Also, it can help them get connected with local agencies here.”

Blossom said the client, in this case The Hotel Kitchen, also benefits from participating in the competition.

“You’ve got 30 talented students concepting about your product, and you have nine creative directors helping shape that work and providing feedback,” he explained. “If you had to go out and pay for that, that would be tens of thousands of dollars of essentially free critiquing and constructive feedback that you get for free.”

“Frank (Blossom) really needs to be applauded for his efforts on this competition,” McKendry said. “I don't know of anything else like it, and it is truly a visionary concept that has done a lot of good for young creatives in this market.”

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