Monday, October 28, 2013

#CreateAthon 2013: a postscript

What do you get when a bevy of creative folks unites for a 24-hour pro bono marathon? My friend Cathy Monetti and her colleagues came up with the idea of CreateAthon back in 1998 and now it's an annual event staged in cities and at colleges throughout the country. For the past two years, Cathy has invited me to join Riggs Partners in the fun, zaniness, exhaustion, satisfaction and joy of CreateAthon in Columbia, SC, which I did again last Thursday/Friday. 

The marathon actually begins months prior as non-profit groups apply to receive free services: strategic planning, branding, logo design, website development, brochures, ad campaigns, PR, social media or whatever they need most to keep doing the brave and wonderful work they do, a.k.a. making this world a better place.  

Last year, I was part of a team assigned to a physical therapy center that wanted to purchase a miraculous astronaut-esque contraption called a TheraSuit®, used to strengthen the muscles of children with cerebral palsy. As we updated their branding and created a fundraising piece, I remember feeling overwhelmed - like I couldn't walk an inch in the shoes of the kids, their families or the physical therapists - and that really hurt. But I could do something: I could write a message that just might resonate enough to help get them their suit. That is the gift of CreateAthon.  

Last week, my team worked on a brochure for a transitional program that serves families clawing their way out of homelessness. We needed to provide the board members with a collateral piece that would rekindle their own energy as they set out to reinvigorate their donor base. I also sat in on a project for a center that provides assessment and treatment for abused children - they want to centralize this excruciating process as well as expand critical awareness and prevention efforts. Another team set out to create an ad campaign for yummy peanut butter ice cream, a local orphanage's signature product first made with government subsidy peanut butter during The Great Depression. All in all, more than a dozen unique and inspiring needs were tackled.

CreateAthon takes me all the way back to happy times on the yearbook staff at Plant High School, Tampa, Florida. And to some great collaborative experiences working with creative people in advertising over the past 20 years. There's volumes more to say about the experience, but it's nearly impossible to put into words. Except this: what an honor to be at the table with such special people, doing this kind of work. Makes you glad to be alive. 

{A CreateAthon 2013 timeline}

8 a.m. (Day 1) - Kick-off meeting, pep talk, consumption of dozens of Krispie Kreme doughnuts. Let's do this, people! 

8:30 a.m. - teams scatter to different meeting areas to review creative briefs, get marching orders.

9 a.m. through lunchtime and early evening - busy, productive creative milieu punctuated by a plethora of donated snacks and great meals. Photographers shoot, designers design, writers write, creative directors direct, social media experts tweet, and so on.  

9 p.m. - initial energy has burned off and a dogged determination sets in.  Kind volunteers show up to give massages and offer light yoga work-outs.  A news crew stops in to do a segment. A box of hats, wigs, costumes, props is passed around.  Mascot Little Bit naps in Cathy's office.  

12 a.m. (Day 2) - "Midnight Check-In" with everyone gathering in the common area to present conceptual ideas and work-in-progress.  It's a nerve-wracking time as people are getting punchy, some jobs are not where they need to be and the clock is ticking. 

12:30 a.m. through the wee hours - exhaustion sets in.  Maybe a little concern, too.  Brain synapses just aren't as fast.  Creative Directors make their rounds. A copy machine jams.  5-hour energy drinks are drunk. There is music. Nobody cares what the fox says anymore. 

3 a.m. - a hush descends and there's a sense of the surreal as work continues.  Nobody talks much in order to conserve what little energy remains. Sketched layouts are taped on walls. Small groups cluster around glowing computer screens, examining near-finished work. Everyone Never is a cross or negative word uttered. 

5 a.m. - a pre-dawn burst of energy in the final stretch. We're down to the wire with client presentations beginning in just two hours. Artwork is finished up. Printers hum. Paper is trimmed, folded, stapled. Web pages are finalized.  

6:30 a.m. - it's still dark when two incredible women from one of the non-profits arrive and set up up a ginormous,  delicious breakfast buffet that surely they must have cooked all night long. Tears. How could anyone be so nice? It is just the boost we need to finish strong. Outside, the sun begins to rise. Coffee, more coffee. 

7 - 9:30 a.m. - the magic begins. A dozen or more staggered meetings are held in pockets throughout the building. Creative work is presented. Clients cry. Creatives cry. Everyone is shaky with happiness.  It's all been worth it. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

the art of noticing

Not all of our masterpieces hang in a museum. That was the headline on one of my favorite ads ever, created for the North Carolina Department of Tourism by McKinney Silver & Rockett in Raleigh. Jan Karon was the writer on the project and the awards she won for the campaign enabled her to leave advertising, move to Blowing Rock and begin writing the Mitford books. The visual was a beautiful old quilt hung on the side of a barn. I thought about that message this misty afternoon as I was walking Ruffy and spotted this leaf collage at our feet. North Carolina itself is a masterpiece in autumn. Everywhere you look, a work of art.

Monday, October 7, 2013


Sometimes the most radical ideas are the simplest. And often they're found right under our nose - a dozen or so inches below, where the heart is. That's where it hit emergency room doctor Matthew Sleeth that his frenetic, 24/7 lifestyle was crushing his spirit. So he snatched a day of the week back from the milieu and dedicated it to cultivating a healthy soul. This has became his prescription for a life worth living and he recommends it wholeheartedly. The best thing about sabbath time, Dr. Sleeth says, is that it has a way of feeding and then shaping the rest of our time. It transforms the hustle and bustle into the holy.  

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

October rolls in

October rolls in like pumpkins unloaded from the farmer's truck, a riot of shapes and sizes welcomed with wide open arms. It's time to get your Charlie Brown on and put an autumn vignette on the doorstep. Time for carrot soup with pumpernickel croutons, hard cider, tart apples swirled in caramel. Days are shorter, brighter. Color palette of sky blue, Hermes orange, glittery gold. Grab a sweater and see the neighborhood in a new light. Don't let a single tawny leaf float to the ground without paying homage. Fill the candy bowl! Soon Dracula and Dorothy will come bobbing up the sidewalk, with dozens more to follow. A big white owl watches from high in the oak, the sasanqua tree blossoms, tea olives perfume the air. Everything's alive, astir. Magical October.