Student-Run Agencies Offer Experience Beyond Classroom

I’m a recent graduate of Elon University in North Carolina, with a major in Communication Design. While I was attending Elon I had the chance to be involved in a unique part of our School of Communications education, Live Oak Communications. Live Oak is Elon’s on-campus, student run communications agency. A couple important things to note: we are different than an ad club and we work with actual clients.

A quick breakdown of how Live Oak works:

  • Live Oak is divided into two parts, the accounts and creative. On the account teams, students are divided up into groups and are assigned to work with a local or regional client. The creative team is not assigned to specific clients, but instead works through team members volunteering for projects.
  • Clients and projects are based on a semester-by-semester basis, after which students have the option of leaving, staying, switching between account or creative, or being promoted. During my two years at Live Oak, I was a Creative Content Producer, Graphics Production Manager, and then the Creative Director my senior year.

So now that I’m a college graduate in the “real world,” how much did college and my time at Live Oak actually prepare me? This blog post looks back at my experience at Live Oak and how it equipped me to be a summer intern at DaviesMoore, a marketing and advertising agency located in downtown Boise. And, should we integrate more of these types of organizations into colleges to provide hands-on experience?


Communication + Task Management

LIVE OAK

While at Live Oak, I definitely learned that while we are all communications majors, that doesn’t mean good communication comes easily. We often found ourselves relying mainly on just emails and as the semesters went on, we found that this made for a lot of gaps in information and mixed messages. Moving into my senior year, we started using job jackets to encourage more in-person interactions. We also made a push for account teams to present creative briefs to the creative team versus just emailing them. We discovered that this helped encourage more brainstorming and a better understanding of the project. For me as Creative Director, I also felt like the channel of communication between account and creatives had opened even more and a lot of stress disappeared!

DAVIESMOORE

Before starting DaviesMoore, I was curious as to how they handled communication with projects. It turns out that they use an online software called Asana. Asana is essentially a task-manager and a to-do list merged into one (and for anyone that doesn’t know me in person, I am obsessed with to-do lists). You create a task, including a title and description, and you can then set a date and time for it to be done by as well as add people to the task, even being able to assign it to people. As an intern, most of my projects didn’t require full creative briefs, this has been my main communication for new projects. This has worked great for my needs, though I am unsure of how larger projects are assigned as a whole. They also utilize Skype as a chat method, and it definitely speeds up the process of getting questions answered, instead of waiting on email.

The Tasks

LIVE OAK

During my first year at Live Oak, I primarily worked on creating presentations and publications for our clients. This meant working on brand books and taking the research our account teams had compiled and formatting it in a way that fit the client and made it more visually appealing. I also had the opportunity to work on photo and video shoots, and create social media graphics and a variety of smaller graphic design projects. As Creative Director, I worked with the management team and also helped lead the creative team. This meant assigning projects, giving advice and critiques, and scheduling meetings within our own team and with the account team.

DAVIESMOORE

While at DaviesMoore, I’ve been working as a creative intern, and my tasks have been more varied in the type of projects. The majority of my work has been concentrated in creating social media posts. While at Live Oak, social media was something that the account teams worked on so this was a great chance for me to learn what all goes into it. I learned how to research articles and information that fit with the client’s brand, as well as reconfiguring the same post for different social media posts (i.e. how do I share this link on Twitter versus LinkedIn?). I also got the chance to help make a handful of graphics for blogs, as well as freshen up the design for an internal presentation. These latter projects reminded me of some of the work that I did at Live Oak, and I was able to confidently dive into them because of my previous experience. 

Awards

11260345_970301823064589_3502382293116359921_oWhenever we had an open house for Live Oak, I would often describe to prospective students the benefits of being able to work with actual clients. Classwork, while able to help teach skills, does not have the same weight, or excitement, that client work has. There are higher expectations of effort and your work directly impacts a company. Beyond working to help our clients, we were able to also work with the goal of representing our own agency at award shows. For us at Live Oak, this meant getting to be involved with our local chapter of AIGA. In my two years at Live Oak, we were able to acquire multiple ADDY awards for work that we had done. It was my senior year as Creative Director that we took home two ADDY awards, and I was honored to be the recipient of one as recognition for my work with helping update the Live Oak logo and brand. The opportunity to sit at the ADDY awards forever shaped me as a designer and creator. I was able to see what the big agencies were doing, becoming inspired by the work that I saw but also confident that I could be a part of that too. By being an award-winning agency, this further prepared me for work after Live Oak, and carried over to my work at DaviesMoore. Another award-winning agency, DaviesMoore might be different, both agencies have passionate creators that strive for bigger goals than just getting the job done.

Conclusion 

Looking back at my summer internship at DaviesMoore, I am convinced that I wouldn’t have felt nearly as comfortable as I did without my Live Oak experience. While I worked on different tasks at DaviesMoore than I did at Live Oak, the structure, purpose, and process was still familiar to me. I wasn’t a stranger to the concept of creative briefs or the collaboration needed between account and creative. One of the greatest assets of Live Oak is that we worked with real clients. Our efforts weren’t just a reflection on ourselves, but on Live Oak as well, and our clients depended on our professionalism to help their businesses grow. This helped me at DaviesMoore as well because I approached all of my projects the same way – they were for actual clients. My status as “just” an intern didn’t mean that the importance of doing a good job for myself, for DaviesMoore, and for our clients.


This blog post was written as a part of my internship at DaviesMoore, in a challenge of “Blog Win Eat” and can originally be found on their website.
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Kathryn Buckingham

Graphic designer in Washington D.C., occasionally will update my blog with an assortment of photography, literature and film analysis, as well as some personal thoughts.

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