Campus: San Francisco State University -- June 21, 2004

Curtain Rises On Student-Made Ads For Theatre Mag

Since 1996, students at SFSU have functioned as "mini-ad agencies," creating professional ad campaigns, complete with TV, radio and Web ads and posters for Bay Area nonprofit organizations.

"This is the class that lets you know if you're really ready to be in the advertising industry," said senior Matt Wong, who worked as producer of a spring semester campaign. "Words can't convey how crazy and deadline-oriented the process is. I mean, I saw my director more than I saw my parents."

Hamid Khani, associate professor of broadcast and electronic communication arts and Kathleen O'Donnell, associate professor of marketing, designed the interdisciplinary course and worked together to recruit clients and coach students through the harrowing production process.

"We are creating a real-world situation for our students," Khani said. "Students feel the pressure and tension, they have real clients and they have to come up with a tangible, quality product."

Khani estimates that it would cost between $180,000 and $300,000 to hire an ad agency to produce the quality and quantity of advertisements that the students in the program produce. "It is a very good deal for the nonprofits we work with," he said.

During the spring semester the client was Theatre Bay Area Magazine. Pete Ratajczak, business and operations manager at the magazine, and Karen McKevitt, the magazine's editor in chief, had to find ways to market and advertise the publication with very little money.

"We're a nonprofit organization," Ratajczak said. "So marketing and advertising dollars are really hard to find."

Both SFSU alumni, McKevitt and Ratajczak called the general information line at the University to see if there was anything like Khani's and O'Donnell's course that could help Theatre Bay Area magazine with its advertising needs.

For Khani, O'Donnell and the 45 students, this is when the work began.

"I would compare the class to a full-time job," said Petra Denkert, who worked as producer on one of the campaigns. "Even though we were working in student groups in a student environment, we had a responsibility to a real client."

First, students from O'Donnell's Marketing 440 class began the market research, devising focus groups to determine the target audience and developing a creative brief. The brief was passed on to BECA students who wrote scripts, drew story boards, hired talent, and shot and edited the campaigns over the next six weeks. Design and industry students designed the Web ads and posters.

By the end of the semester, the students produced nine distinct TV ads featuring Bay Area actors and businesses.

To add to the pressure, Khani and O'Donnell divided the 45 students into three groups that competed for the account. Each group functioned as an individual advertising agency and did not see each other's work until the last day of class. At the end of the semester, the client was presented with all of the ads and chose which best suited them.

"That competition pushes the students a little bit more because students want to make sure their ads get picked up by the clients, and they want to get exposure," Khani said.

The pay-off in the end makes the hard work worthwhile; all of the producers said they would recommend the class to fellow students.

"We did hours and hours of shooting and editing," said grad student and producer Vanessa Pinherio. "A lot of the shooting had to be done in the middle of the night because we were filming inside businesses. It was very, very demanding, but I'm really glad I did it."

The staff of Theatre Bay Area Magazine is considering which ads to use.

Ratajczak said the staff is very pleased with the campaigns and plans to run the selected television ads on E! and Bravo in the fall, and will begin using the posters and radio ads sooner.

"I highly recommend this experience to any other Bay Area nonprofit," Ratajczak said.

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