Effective Storytelling: Online Education

How do you appeal to a demographic with a wide age range, various backgrounds and tons of options literally available at their fingertips? Provide value.

Potential students – particularly those searching to obtain a degree online who wouldn't otherwise have access to a brick-and-mortar physical campus – want to see themselves and imagine their own future. And the power of good storytelling can sell the value of earning a degree on one's own terms.

This example from Southern New Hampshire University does a great job at capturing this in just 30 seconds. It's a beautiful story of a seemingly single dad who spends every moment he can – lunch breaks, late nights – studying to improve the quality of life for himself and his young son. The convenience of online classes makes this possible.

Earlier this year University of Phoenix produced a 60-second animated spot – shared with me by a colleague – tugged at my emotional heartstrings. It's a similar concept as the one above – this time a seemingly single mother who goes from laid-off factory worker to graduate in information technology after putting in the hard work to complete her degree online. She turns her devastation into great achievement, preparing herself for a technologically focused future.

Both spots tell stories about ambitious individuals – who overcame adversity using online education – in a way that many people will be able to connect with. I found these stories to be powerful in conveying the value, convenience and benefit of a non-traditional educational experience.

How I Became "the General"

It was my first job out of college. I landed a gig as a graphic artist at an ad agency whose biggest client was Kmart Corporation. (I'll never forget my very first interview when I showed my design portfolio full of college projects, which included a newspaper layout with a story about how Kmart had filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy... The hiring manager noticed the story in my portfolio and said, "Kmart. They're our client." Talk about embarrassing. Yet they hired me anyway.)

I was thrilled to receive the job offer yet nervous to start. I joined the offshore account on a team of 14: a creative director, art director, production manager, traffic coordinator, editor, two account executives and seven graphic artists (including myself). I learned the processes and workflow of an agency setting and thrived in its fast-paced environment. We had ads due every week for four offshore markets: Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

We'd receive our job bag at the start of a project, complete with assigned pages and hand-drawn mockups. We would build the pages based on the mockups and client-provided content. We would hang the pages in a conference room and do what we called "Walk the Wall" – a chance for the entire team to look at every page and mark up mistakes. We would update pages and they would go through an editing process and a few rounds of client reviews. Once pages were approved, they would be sent to print (or in the case of the Puerto Rico ads, they would be translated to Spanish before going to print).

I observed other roles on the team and learned how to look for mistakes ahead of time to reduce markups from the editor. I learned what needed to be perfect versus what needed to be let go in order to meet a deadline. I gathered a good understanding of everyone's role on the team even though I did not perform those functions myself – and it came in handy.

Little by little, team members were laid off. Our team got smaller and smaller until we were just a team of three. Three graphic artists. No more creative director, art director, production manager, traffic coordinator, editor or account executives. Just three graphic artists. Yet somehow those missing roles still had to be filled.

The three of us would often rotate some of these functions, each week taking on different responsibilities: sketching page layouts, assigning pages, assembling job bags. We continued to do our Walk the Walls with the help of creative directors from other teams in the agency. Then even more people were let go.

I eventually found myself doing a lot of this work on my own, as well as communicating directly with the translator and sometimes even the client. I began sitting in on meetings with directors and managers to give updates on the offshore account. I wanted our projects to be just as successful as when we had a team of 14, and to continue to meet deadlines without skipping a beat. I became known as the point of contact for the team, and was eventually dubbed "the General" by one of the agency's senior copywriters. It stuck. Multiple people started calling me by this nickname and I was honored.

"At Meridian she became the point person on our Offshore Account in a relatively short time span. Versed in both writing and design, Nikki quickly established herself on the account as one of the best and was looked to as the primary contact."
– Robert P.

The day then came where those of us who were left were called to a meeting where we were told that the agency would be closing and that – unless we were able to move to Chicago – we would be losing our jobs. Kmart would be merging with Sears, moving to Chicago where Sears was headquartered, and our work would move to Sears' agency, Ambrosi Advertising. I was devastated, but I kept pounding until my very last day.

New employees were hired to take over the account at Ambrosi and were brought in to cross-train with those of us who were left – and by that time, I was the last [wo]man standing on the offshore team. I trained three graphic artists (and even the new production manager!) for six weeks, traveling to Chicago for part of that time during the transition. 

As a newlywed at the time, relocating to Chicago was not an option for me. Plus, I decided it would be in my best interest to go someplace new and develop new skills. (More on that – and how I was called "hawk-eye" – later.)

And that, my friends, is how I became known as "the General."

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So long, Chicago

This photo was taken as I left Ambrosi Advertising on my very last day on the Kmart account. Bittersweet!

Big Day Tomorrow

Why it is that everyone has had that dream where you're back in school, you're late to class, it's exam day, and you haven't attended all semester?

I've also experienced nights like the one in this commercial by Vicks, either dreaming about or waking up thinking about work. I'm sure almost anyone can relate to this in some way or another, making this a humorous, relatable, effective ad.

Featured on Rustic Wedding Chic

Back in October, Faith Teasley (of Faith Teasley Photography) reached out and asked if I'd like to design some invitations and be part of a wedding photo shoot along with her and some other local vendors.

The theme was a cotton-inspired wedding, and I knew I wanted to create invitations with sweet words and a neutral color palette. I designed an elegant tree, and above the tree it read: "Join us as our new life together takes root."

It was such a fun project, and it just got even better: our collective work was featured on Rustic Wedding Chic!

People and Business

One of my favorite past times is learning about business, branding, marketing and relationships. Someone recently suggested the book Start With Why by Simon Sinek, so I started following Simon on Facebook (as well as the Why Movement). I enjoy the inspirational things that I see in the feeds, and last week this video was posted. It's not exactly new, but it was new to me. I loved it so much, I wanted to share it here. 

 
 

I have already watched this video several times, and I am hooked on Simon and his message. I hope to read his book soon (after I finish a few others I have going). There are several other video talks out there, too, that I will probably be sharing in the future. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!