Drawing on the Pencil Project

Ogilvy Exec Helps Sixth Graders Develop Skills, Confidence Through Ad Efforts

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Carla Hendra
Carla Hendra
On Friday afternoon I received not just one, but two of the most memorable pitches of my 14 years at Ogilvy & Mather. Both campaigns were for longtime client Kool-Aid. If successful, these campaigns will expand Kool-Aid's target audience from focusing on mothers to also targeting tween consumers, helping the product reinvent its marketing strategy.

Not too shabby, coming from a group of 11-year-olds. But after working with the Mahalia Jackson Elementary School for the past eight years, it's what I've come to expect.

My involvement with the school is the result of a strategic partnership through the nonprofit Pencil. The organization provides unique and strategic opportunities for the private sector to actively participate in transforming public education, with programs in New York; Rochester, N.Y.; and Baltimore. Through Pencil's Partnership Program, business leaders across industries are collaborating with more than 350 principals in New York on projects that are customized to their schools' needs. Business leaders can work with their principal partners either individually or on teams, like I do, to develop creative projects that leverage their expertise, talents and skills to have a meaningful impact on schools and on the lives of their students.

At the very beginning of our Pencil Partnership with principal Beverly Lewis of the Mahalia Jackson School -- a 600-student elementary school in West Harlem -- we recognized that students needed more opportunities to improve their academic success, college and career preparedness, and self-confidence. So the Future Marketers Program was born.

Eight years later, it has become an annual event that brings together students and agencies to collaborate on an innovative marketing curriculum. Through the program, sixth-grade students have the chance to create a comprehensive marketing campaign for one of our clients that resonates with a tween audience. Nearly 40 staff members, including account planners, media planners, creatives and technical staff, along with 15 mentors from various disciplines, meet with 15 students biweekly throughout the year to teach them about the various facets of the advertising industry. At the end of the year, students pitch their final campaign in our boardroom, using all forms of media, including TV, radio, print, online, interactive and out-of-home placements.

On Friday, this year's class of 15 students took their first major step toward a final product by presenting two initial concepts to me. Along with my agency colleagues and the group of 15 mentors, I gave them my feedback and ideas for improvements in their pitch. I then turned the campaigns back to them by asking that they conduct a research study of their peers. This spring, we'll reconvene to see their final 360-degree campaign.

There are many reasons that we remain so committed to the Partnership, not the least of which are the results. By developing students' presentation and writing skills, our program is credited with helping the school meet New York state learning standards. Principal Lewis and her faculty have told us that students show increased self-confidence and teamwork abilities as a result of their participation. And (as we are always proud to brag) for the past two years, the school's valedictorian has come from the Future Marketers Program. Principal Lewis says their involvement in the program helped motivate them to apply themselves academically.

Then there are the personal reasons. As the mother of three children who went through New York's public schools, I'm committed to doing all I can to provide a quality education for all of our young people. Ogilvy & Mather is proud to be part of Pencil's growing movement of businesses leading the effort to transform public education. Ogilvy's involvement provides my colleagues and me an opportunity to make a long-term investment that leverages our skills. It also helps us feel better about the work we do every day.

Through our Partnership, we've been able to come together across departments and levels and work together as a team on a project where the ROI comes, not from the amount of product sold, but from the skills and knowledge these students achieve. Participating in this program helps students achieve more, aim higher and ultimately become more valuable to society through their ability to succeed in the workplace. On a personal level, seeing the excitement of our students helps remind me of why I went into advertising in the first place.

And, as I just experienced Friday, it is a time to learn from the best marketers out there: our kids.

Carla Hendra is chairman, Global Strategy & Innovation Practice, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide.
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