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It's amazing what 106 sleep-starved people can do in the Coliseum in 24 hours.

Sleep deprivation has serious side effects: giddiness, weeping, hallucinations, logos, brochures, social media plans — even complete brand campaigns. We saw it all in CreateAthon@USC, year two. Student and professional volunteers generated more than $170,000 worth of advertising and marketing communications work for nonprofits — along with some comic relief. The quality and quantity that was produced in one night stunned casual observers. Those who had experienced CreateAthon™ previously understood this particular kind of pro bono magic, and expected nothing less. Super-human achievements are just how we roll.

CreateAthon@USC has a simple recipe for magical results: Find great South Carolina nonprofits that do great things, but lack the resources to get out their message. Recruit talented students and professional mentors. Team up these 84 perfect strangers, and hand each group a challenging communication problem. (This year, we added in troops from in SPTE 444 to orchestrate safety, food and logistics.) Lock everybody in the Carolina Coliseum to work 24 straight hours. Sprinkle in some entertainment and encouragement. Stir. Add food, encouragement and an insane deadline, and cross fingers. Stop and show the nonprofit clients (and the world) the results.

CreateAthon@USC was launched in 2013, to create an exciting forum for students, faculty, staff, alumni and other willing professionals to provide skilled pro bono service to South Carolina nonprofits and the people they serve. It is the brainchild of associate professor Karen Mallia, who worked with her fall Creative Leadership class doing advance communications planning and student volunteer recruitment. Visual Communications instructor Scott Farrand served as co-conspirator and right-hand man. For 2014, they expanded their net, drafting Dr. Haylee Mercado and her SPTE 444 class for help with event planning, coordination and logistics.

“As trite as it sounds, ‘it takes a village.’ It’s staggering how many hundreds of hours it consumed to pull off a 24-hour marathon,” Mallia said with a smile. “There are people who think we’re crazy for doing something of this magnitude. But we can make a difference in so many lives—each of the nonprofits we help in turn help tens of thousands of people in this state.”

Farrand is equally passionate about CreateAthon: “You can’t imagine how it feels when the students present their work, and the jaws drop on every mouth in the room. The students look around; they’re exhausted—and they’re surprised at what they and the other volunteers have accomplished. The clients are just flabbergasted.” Mallia added, “I spent more than 25 years in the advertising industry, and this is the only place I’ve had clients so grateful for your efforts they cried. It feels so good to do good,” Mallia said.

Clients for CreateAthon@USC 2014 were Hidden Wounds, Ronald McDonald House Charities, Epworth Children’s Home, PAALs, the Arc, PASOS, Score, and the brand formerly known as Columbia’s Cooking! The work produced covered every manner of communications, from social media strategies to bumper stickers, website designs to billboards and brochures. Some clients got complete brand identity packages. From strategic thinking to logo design, every element was professional quality at a level few of these clients could ever afford. In addition to the eight client teams, one additional group (The CAT House Team) was dedicated to developing and disseminating event communications via numerous media platforms.

There’s a lot of talk these days about beyond-the-classroom experiences. Few rival CreateAthon. “It’s a unique opportunity for students. They get a taste of real-world experience in a pressure-cooker creative environment," Mallia said. Those in the Creative Leadership class, who spent the entire semester working with the nonprofits, became immersed in their missions and issues. The event-planning students learned that creative students eat way more than they anticipated in 26 hours, and that without micro-managing what donors food are going to provide, you’ll have your people carb-loading and binging on junk.

In the end, 106 talented human beings came together in one impressive demonstration of the power of skills-based volunteering and the wisdom of ages. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Some atribute that adage to Aristotle. Others consider it the definition of synergy. Or call it Gestalt theory. We just call it CreateAthon@USC.

Year two: double yeah.

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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 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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