Thursday, July 8, 2021
When advertising internships disappeared last year because of the pandemic, Virginia Commonwealth University students came up with a virtual advertising summer camp — Camp ADventure — to gain new skills and network with advertising professionals.
The camp continued this summer, but the societal shifts of the past year in which industries, including advertising, are taking a harder look at diversity and inclusion practices spurred Camp ADventure organizers to concentrate on that topic and deliberately focus on equitable access to the program.
“Last year's need for Camp ADventure definitely came from the world closing down and internships being lost,” said Jessica Collins, an assistant professor of strategic advertising in the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences and director of Camp ADventure. “[This year] we wanted to be able to create a community where all kinds of students would have access to educational and professional opportunities.”
More than 160 students and recent graduates, many far from Richmond (all Zooming into sessions some from as far away as the Philippines and Australia), are participating in the free six-week program that started June 1 and runs through July 16.
“We scouted students and reached out to historically Black colleges and universities and community colleges,” Collins said. “We reached out to schools with smaller advertising programs because we wanted to raise awareness that these students could have an opportunity afforded to them like this. It was also about creating a space at camp that is about diversity and inclusion.”
One of the first professional speakers to address students this summer was Teagan Rabuano from The One Club for Creativity in New York who focused on their journey into advertising as a transgender woman. Nichelle Jones, business manager at the advertising firm Arts & Letters, gave a talk called “Designing While Black” focused on her experience as a Black woman art director. Camp will close with Linda Lee, chief marketing officer with Campbell Soup Co., speaking about her perspective as an Asian American in advertising
“We've really tried to focus our big speakers to talk about themes of diversity, their own journey into advertising and their struggles, in order to inspire these students as they enter the workforce,” Collins said. “This year has become even more of an educational camp than just an opportunity camp.”
VCU mass communications student Logan Cooper said the emphasis on diversity and inclusion is meaningful and powerful to her.
“It's always been something that I've been very nervous about, especially in a corporate setting,” Cooper said. “I wear natural hair. I love my braids. I love my Afro, but I don't think that's something that I would've been able to pop into a corporate meeting with on my head, maybe about 20 or even 10 years ago. So to be able to show up as authentically myself, in a space where that wasn't really meant to be, it means a lot.”
She likes Camp ADventure’s exploration of bias.
“I'm glad that people are now seeing the power of bias and the power of acknowledging your bias before you do research, because your own views affect the type of work you do for a brand.”
Different content sessions during Camp ADventure walk participants through the paces of creating an advertising campaign — similar to that of an ad agency. They have client briefings. Sessions also instruct campers on research and development, creative brief development, creative concepting, creative execution of an advertising campaign and communications planning. The camp will end with a final presentation, judging and an awards ceremony.
The participants are divided into teams (called “bunks” to play on the summer camp theme) that are working on ways to help the Atlanta, Georgia-based nonprofit Buy from a Black Woman raise funds and publicize a specific awareness month. Buy from a Black Woman supports members in business through educational programs, an online directory and funding.
“Each bunk has their own student strategists, art director, graphic designer and account manager. We try to balance as much as possible when assigning these roles,” said Natalie Baxter, a senior strategic advertising student at VCU who is part of a class that is functioning as the Camp ADventure organizing team.
Scott Marcus, a strategic marketing adviser at the Austin, Texas-based Vital Farms food company, said he told campers that being good stewards for more than just short-term financial gains can be a successful business model and starts with being inclusive of the wants and needs of all stakeholders.
“I’m a huge fan of immersive experiences. Being part of Camp ADventure during the summer sets the stage for meaningful careers in an industry the campers are passionate about,” Marcus said. “Interacting with experienced speakers and then taking on a live case study provides tons of insights and real-world experience that is tremendously valuable later. The industry will benefit from future generations of strong, well-rounded professionals that know the craft but also respect the people and world around them.”
We've really tried to focus our big speakers to talk about themes of diversity, their own journey into advertising and their struggles, in order to inspire these students as they enter the workforce.
Networking and advancing
Networking with advertising industry professionals who freely give campers insight about their craft is an important draw for Cooper.
“Camp ADventure gets you connected with people who used to be you. So that's very powerful and helpful,” said Cooper, who is currently conducting research on the Buy from a Black Woman brand and is exploring the role of a user experience designer. “It's a very tiny version of what I would be experiencing with work in the real world. And that's exciting.”
Many of the counselors at Camp ADventure are students who participated last summer. Other 2020 participants used the connections forged with participating professionals to land jobs in the advertising field.
“Something like this is very valuable to students,” said Nikki Porcher, founder of Buy from a Black Woman. “They are getting to know more about who they are but also how to work in a team environment with strangers. For us as an organization, we are connecting with a younger group of students and learning from those fresh voices.”
Shawn Blake, a VCU senior and creative advertising student who is also part of the class that is functioning as the Camp ADventure organizing team, said with internships still scarce, Camp ADventure gives a wide range of students a chance to immerse themselves in the field, providing opportunities and important experiences.
“We have that field open for everybody,” Blake said.
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