Marketing agency BTS Communications got its start the day John Sullivan, an ex-con and recovering addict, came into my office at Beit T'Shuvah, a Los Angeles-based residential treatment center and full-service Jewish congregation, with the ultimate dilemma: Now that he'd achieved sobriety, he said, "What should I do with my life?"
A tattoo artist at heart, John had also taken some graphic arts courses at the Arts & Entertainment School of Santa Monica College. I suggested it was time to go back. But after years of substance abuse, John was hesitant.
It didn't take long for his skills and confidence to kick in. He didn't bother sugarcoating it when he told me that our center's marketing materials were not going to cut it. He began to explain all of the technical reasons why -- so I challenged him to show me something superior. He did, and then some.
John immediately started to design new materials for Beit T'Shuvah. He also had an idea: to recruit some of the talented residents at Beit T'Shuvah and teach them how to do graphic design, copywriting, Web design, photography and videography -- not exactly a small undertaking. I laughed but gave him a small office to run with the idea.
Once our work was under way, Adlai Wertman, a professor at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business, took notice and suggested we enter the Los Angeles Social Venture Partner's Fast Pitch Competition. Sullivan, who had no public speaking experience, won first place with his three-minute pitch, and overnight, a business was born: BTS Communications, the only marketing agency in the world housed in a residential substance-abuse recovery center.
Soon, BTS Communications won contracts from local organizations and businesses. We already have eight interns, four staff members and 15 clients in the Los Angeles community, and we are expanding to include post-production work in cooperation with Quark Entertainment.
In July, BTS Communications was awarded a $250,000 grant through the Cutting Edge Grants Initiative of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. The Cutting Edge Grants Initiative was established by the foundation to encourage creative thinkers, social entrepreneurs and innovative organizations to develop and implement transformative programs that have the potential to make a lasting impact on Jewish life in Los Angeles.
This grant, to be distributed over the next three years, makes possible the training of up to 50 interns in advertising, marketing and new media who, in turn, will offer their high-caliber professional services to 30 Los Angeles-area nonprofit institutions, including synagogues. This distinctive honor is the result of the hard work, passion, determination and purpose of every single member of the BTSC team, our board and our staff.
Russell Kern, president of Omnicom's Kern Organization, is an avid supporter and client of , as well as a mentor at, BTSC. "BTS Communications provides an agency environment to help transform lives by teaching those in recovery the vocational skills of the advertising, graphic design and marketing industry so they can find their passion and rediscover their purpose," Kern says. "It is our goal to help our interns have productive and long-term successful careers in our industry after 12 months of intensive, hands-on training and education."
As you can imagine, it is with great pride and joy that I write this blog post. The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles' award is a tremendous vote of confidence in the work we've done and will do. It reaffirms the idea that every soul matters, and none has to be lost forever. BTSC is reflective of the entire Beit T'Shuvah philosophy: helping people find wholeness, health and spirit, and live meaningful, joyous lives while being of service to others who are in need.
As Beit T'Shuvah CEO Harriet Rossetto says, "There is nothing so moving as witnessing the transformation of a human soul. BTSC is transforming Beit T'Shuvah, the nonprofit world and all of us individually."