Santa Rosa Junior College students win Sonoma Humane Society advertising campaign

A three-student team from Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) was selected for having the winning promotional campaign for the Sonoma Humane Society during the second annual 2016 Createathon.

The contest attracted 80 students from two North Bay universities and SRJC. They worked with 16 small businesses in the region. The winner receives a $25,000 print advertising prize from the North Bay Business Journal. This is the second year the prize has gone to a team from SRJC.

Albert Yu, team coordinator and SRJC business instructor and Hospitality Program director, worked with students Philip Bruno, Nohely Macias and Marisa Mays since last October as they developed the advertising campaign.

“These young people in our advertising class impressed me with their style of delivery, poise, calm demeanor and especially how they systematically identified the Humane Society’s target market, supported the nonprofit’s brand and laid out a viable, targeted advertising strategy with deliverables,” Yu said.

“Other forms of higher education typically approach learning through theory and textbooks. This competition introduces a practical exercise into the mix showing how to craft a program that can produce results a business is looking for – in this case, by seeking to raise awareness of the Humane Society, its low-cost spay and neuter services, as well as veterinary hospital, while also helping to increase animal adoptions, highlight the pet re-homing program and gain community buy-in, volunteer and donation support.”

Proposal writing, PowerPoint graphic design and nearly a month of rehearsals to prepare for the opportunity to sell their campaign strategy to judges at the Sonoma Mountain Village Events Center on Dec. 6 followed the fact-finding phase.

Ranking each team’s campaign on a scale from 1 to 10 in seven categories, judges looked for how prominent and consistent the client’s branding was portrayed; how visually arresting are the ad(s); how well did the design guide the reader through the ad; how well did the campaign meet the client’s business goals; along with their assessment of each team’s overall campaign and the entire presentation.

Some 31 nominations were received and 20 were chosen. Sixteen teams, each focusing on one of 16 participating North Bay firms, pitched their campaign proposals to a panel. Judges included: Chris Denny, president, The Engine is Red; Lisa Mattson, director of Marketing and Communications, Jordan Vineyard and Winery; Nancy Cech, vice president of Agency Relations Management, Wells Fargo Bank; and Brad Bollinger, publisher, The North Bay Business Journal.

“I was shocked when we won,” said Bruno, who spent a lot of time with their client gathering background information on the Sonoma Humane Society and was a key proposal writer.

“This was an exciting, true-life experience enhanced by excellent communication and teamwork. We held true to our clients brand, image and goals and developed tag lines and visually-appealing photos that carried compelling, call-to-action messages.”

The winning team used experiences with their own pets in developing ad concepts. These pets ultimately became the stars – and models – for each creative approach and design treatment showcased in mockup ads during the presentation to judges.

Messages included in a caption under a lovable photo of Tobbie, the husky, saying “Help me, help you.”

Another showed a man sitting on a couch munching on potato chips with his arm around a cat with a bag of pet treats saying, “Found my human.” There is a picture of a cute, wide-eyed dachshund sitting in a chair at a dinner table in front of a bowl of kibble with the caption, “Date night,” as well as an adorable, small bulldog on a blanket under the headline, “Got puppy fever? We have a cure.”

Mascias said participating in this project gave her the confidence she needed to deliver a presentation.

“I kept saying, you can do this, but it’s always nice to be part of a group. Taking part in this competition convinced me that business is the right path for me. We’re all animal lovers and our emotional campaign really pull at reader’s heart strings.”

According to Mays, the team’s photographer, graphic designer and budgeting go-to person, “I had been wondering if I should pursue a marketing career and this contest tipped the scales in that direction. I have a jewelry business where photography is essential for marketing and a key element of customer sales success. I now appreciate all of the pieces that have to come together in creating an effective, award-winning ad campaign.”

The Createathon was first established in January 2015 through a North Bay Business Journal and Wells Fargo Bank partnership.

The goal of this competition is to offer small businesses, headquartered in Marin, Napa and Sonoma counties with fewer than 500 employees, another resource for developing an advertising campaign, while also giving students a chance to express their ideas and innovative thinking through a hands-on, real-world practical experience. The winning SRJC team members will also share a $500 cash prize.

SRJC President Frank Chong congratulated the team for its achievement. “I’m proud that we have so many talented students with life skills who can bring fresh ideas to local organizations, such as the Sonoma Humane Society. This competition not only enables our students to showcase and prove what they can deliver for themselves and others, it also helps to break the traditional stereotype of a community college by placing SRJC on a par with other institutions of higher learning.”

When Dr. Chong first took a call from Bollinger about a chance to compete with SSU and Dominican University in the Createathon more than two years ago, he quickly contacted SRJC’s Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, Mary Kay Rudolph, and Josh Adams, dean of Business and Professional Studies, with the challenge to “Make it happen.”

“This competition brings students much closer to the world of business, builds self worth and esteem while enabling them to see their potential and immediate value for employers. It also gives them a tangible case study to add to their portfolios,” Rudolph observed.

Dean Adams quickly reached out to Albert Yu and his advertising class, who were eager to become involved. The rest is history.

The SRJC-produced ad campaign also received high marks from Wendy Welling, director of community relations and marketing at the Sonoma Humane Society, and also from Melissa Ehret, graphic designer with the organization.

“This B2B campaign focused on the business community is a perfect blend of cute (animal) faces and cause marketing. We’re thrilled to have a print advertising budget for outreach to the commercial sector – something we have never been able to do before,” Welling said. “I’ve heard that some 87% of consumers would rather support, and do business with, a brand they believe in, and one that gives back.”

She said the Createathon process produces side benefits in the form of new relationships with other small business participants. Sonoma USA, a recycler of durable textile materials into attractive shoulder bags, duffles and personal cases for computers, etc., is one of the firms competing this year. It is now partnering with the Sonoma Humane Society.

For every product purchased made from Sonoma Humane Society banners and graphic materials, 5% of Sonoma USA sales proceeds go back to support the nonprofit dedicated to providing a donor-supported safe haven for homeless animals, including rescuing, rehabilitating and placing thousands into loving homes each year since 1931.

For additional information about the Sonoma Humane Society and the many services it provides, go to

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