5 Things I learned from the National Student Advertising Competition

April 2012

Last week UNR took Second Place in the District for the National Student Advertising Competition. It was a bittersweet achievement for us as a team. But personally, it was a huge win for me.

This time last year, I didn’t even imagine myself on the NSAC team. Though I’ve really come out of my awkward shell in the past few years, I never thought I’d be up for the challenge. I wanted to get through my 4-5 years at UNR as fast as I could, getting by with a mixture of A’s and B’s. The IMC Competition class wasn’t really my thing. I had heard horror stories about being up in the J-School until three in the morning, meeting book deadlines, fighting with teammates… why would I want to subject myself to any of that?

But at the end of last semester, I found myself registered for Journalism 433. After some talks with some of my peers and mentors, I realized that not only could I be a good asset to the team, but I would learn a thing or two in the process. After late nights in the Journalism school and seeing my teammates every single day for the past couple months, I walked away with dozens of lessons on professionalism, communication and confidence. I’ve consolidated them into five main things that I hope my teammates can agree on and give future participants an idea of what to expect.

1. Feedback: Be brave enough to accept it, be kind enough to give it.
Feedback can sometimes mean picking out the imperfections of each idea, or praising the originality of others. During rehearsals, it meant telling your teammate to smile more, telling them to not come off like stern teacher or telling them they need to stop slurring their words. Everything you say or do in that room is subject to the chopping block, but with good reason. Everyone wants to win.

2. No growth takes place inside your comfort zone.
To my surprise I was put on the Paid Media/Budget team. Yes, a Journalism student in charge of the $100MM budget (gasp!). But with the help of a couple dedicated Marketing students from the College of Business, we got through it. Now I am that much more well-rounded. If you’re assigned to a task you’ve spent 2 or more of your college career doing, are you really being challenged?  See, not everyone can be on the research team, not everyone can be on the creative team. Its simple logistics, really. You’re going to be asked to do something you’ve never done before. Do not back out, learn something new.

3. Leave all your prior assumptions at the front door.
Let’s be real here, at the beginning of the semester, there was a clear divide between Business Majors and Journalism Majors (and one student who was double majoring). We all had our assumptions of each other based on what very little knowledge we had and obvious differences in group work styles/habits. Remember, everyone in that room was recommended to be on the team for a reason. They might be a video editing genius or someone who knows how to analyze stacks of data in just a few hours. Some people can surprise you with their skill set. Don’t underestimate anyone in that room. The annoying loudmouth next to you at the beginning of the semester might just be a valuable contact for you in the future.

4. Don’t be an idea hoarder.
Creative ideas come from research, determination, experience and personal thoughts. It is likely, however, that your own ideas may not be the best ones on the table- no matter how amazing you think they are. On the other hand, you might be hiding one of the best ideas in the room, but can’t say it due to a fear of being shut out. If some crazy thought runs through your mind during one of the many heated class discussions, be heard. Do not assume that someone else will say it or that its probably a stupid idea. In a competitive environment, you want to make sure all the stones are turned. All the ideas in that room deserve to be heard, it helps shape what we want, versus what we don’t want in the campaign.

5. The most interesting person in the room is the crazy uncle.
It could come from an individual, it could come from a group- but someone in that room will say something to make you think they are just insane. You might want to ask if this person hit their head before coming to class. You cannot discount them. Ideas come from the competitive spirit of discontent. Don’t settle for the mundane just because you’re behind schedule. Keep working through the roadblocks and come up with that one golden idea. If someone doesn’t agree on it, work through those points. Something that sounds completely off target, just might be the key insight that separates you from the competition.

Now I’ve recently had some Juniors at the J-School ask me if they should join the team next year. One even asked me if I would do it again if I had the chance. Two months ago, while we were up in the Journalism Lab at midnight in the middle of Spring Break with no air conditioning, I would have said, “hell no.” But looking back at the lessons I’ve learned and the friendships I’ve made I told them “Yes. But only if you’re not afraid to work hard, if you’re not afraid of criticism and if you can deliver on your promises, then by all means take the class. You learn so much in such a short amount of time.”