RWU Students Claim First Place in Advertising Competition

Compelled to reimagine their strategy due to coronavirus restrictions, the interdisciplinary team learned to overcome challenges and created a stronger, winning campaign

By Jill Rodrigues '05
Students working outside
Seen here collaborating in person on RWU's waterfront campus last fall, the student team adapted to the challenges of social distancing measures to create an advertising campaign that claimed first place in a national student competition.

When their project plans were dashed by the coronavirus crisis, a team of RWU students rose to the challenge, regrouping and creating new strategies to build an even stronger proposal that won them a first-place victory in a highly competitive student advertising competition.

A first in school history, the interdisciplinary team of 25 students – comprised of majors in Marketing, Graphic Design, Media Communication, and Web Development – won the regional round of the American Advertising Federation’s 2020 National Student Advertising Competition. The team came out on top following a strong hustle to reimagine and execute their plans remotely from different locations in the final weeks before competition, developing an advertising campaign for a real client, which they pitched to a panel of advertising professionals and client representatives.

“Our team was focused on delivering a cohesive message in a really impactful way, and they did it under incredibly difficult circumstances this year,” said Professor of Marketing Geraldo Matos, who teaches the Advertising Campaigns Practicum course through which students participate in the competition. “The judges were very laudatory of the campaign elements as well as just how compelling the presentation was.”

Students pose for a group shot
Team members pose for a group shot with a student's father during project work last fall.

This year’s corporate sponsor, Adobe, issued the challenge of increasing awareness of its advertising platform among marketing professionals. While most students were familiar with Adobe’s Creative Suite, none had knowledge of the software for which they were tasked with creating a 20-page plans book, multimedia advertising and a detailed budget. And unlike the challenges in previous years for brands like Ocean Spray and Wienerschnitzel, the students couldn’t just go to a store to purchase and experience the product for themselves.

“At first we were really excited to have Adobe as the client, but it got more complicated when we found out it was a B2B [business-to-business] case, and it was a product none of us had heard of before and works directly with advertising,” said Haley Watt, a senior marketing major and graphic design minor from Babylon, N.Y. “Essentially, we were advertising an advertising solution to advertisers. It was quite the riddle.”

Then, as if the competition weren’t challenging enough, COVID-19 threw the students a curveball. Ready to begin the production work, including the key storytelling piece of their campaign (the video ad), when they returned to campus from spring break, they learned instead that they would need to remain home for the rest of the semester. In the weeks that followed, some students also dealt with the emotional hardships of losing family and friends to the virus. But all were committed and passionate about completing the competition.

So they scrapped their original plans and worked with a team member to write and produce an entirely different advertisement from his home in Westford, Mass. Nick Stanglewicz, a senior double majoring in graphic design and video/web media communication (an individualized program of study), became a one-man actor and production crew. To jury-rig a filming location, he taped a green screen purchased from Amazon to his basement wall, set up borrowed spotlights and a boom mic strapped to a chair, and propped a single camera facing the “stage” with his iPhone nearby displaying the script. “I really just MacGuyvered this,” he said. Over the course of several hours, he shot short takes and then ran to check the playback on his camera to make sure he was getting what was needed.

Student posing for film footage
Nick Stanglewicz produced and acted in the team's main advertisement in his home basement.

The team’s innovative campaign and professional presentation won the judges over, advancing them to the semi-finals where they faced stiff competition against the nation’s top teams but ultimately did not advance to the final round. While it was satisfying to claim the school’s first regional win, learning how to overcome challenges in a professional setting was just as rewarding to Stanglewicz and the rest of the team.

“I think it’s important to realize these challenges we’re having now are indicative of challenges we’ll have in the future, no matter what careers we go into. Life throws all kinds of personal and professional challenges at you, and it’s a great experience to have them now while we’re working as students,” Stanglewicz said. “Roger Williams provides amazing educational experiences to us through classes, internships, and CPC [Center for Community Partnerships] projects that show us what working in the real world is going to be like. Having an experience like this and being able to adapt helps us prepare not only for the best, but for the worst as well.”

For the students that participate in the course, the immersive learning opportunity recreates the experience of working at an advertising agency, providing them with professional outcomes to demonstrate to potential employers. Already, four students from the team have landed outstanding jobs as marketing professionals before they’ve graduated. Watt credits the course and competition experience with getting hired as associate art director with New York City-based TBWA\Health Collective, part of Omnicom which is one of the four largest ad agencies in the world.

“The course developed me into a talented professional who has the capability of conceptualizing, brainstorming, and executing a fully integrated ad campaign. Professor Matos played an integral role in all of those components throughout my four years at RWU, and he was the first person I called about my job offer, after my mom, of course,” she said. “I heard from TBWA about two hours after the competition ended and it was such an amazing feeling. It felt like despite not making it to finals, all of our hard work paid off and that in itself was so rewarding during this hectic time. Being able to begin my career before I even graduate college is a unique opportunity I am so fortunate to have, and I am just very eager to get started!”

The RWU student team members included:
Rachel Bruno, Karissa Chandler, Kerry Clark, Ryan Dorowski, Kristi Dolan, Bailey Eckersley, Jacob Faretra, Riley Flowers, Lauren Gonthier, Joseph Gulino, Katherine Johnson, Alexandria Kindle, Samantha Leone, Bella Malvinni, Tyler Marchioni, Sorangel Peguero, Jospeh Pleva, Haley Pozzuto, Rachel Ramos, Kristina Renaud, Tatiana Rios-Castro, Nicole Russo, Nicholas Stanglewicz, Hanae Wada, Megan Ward and Haley Watt.