A team of Liberty University students showcased their skills as skilled storytellers and Christian professionals in another successful showing last week at the National Student Advertising Competition (NSAC) in Nashville, Tennessee. The 15-man team finished second to Texas Tech University and third to University of California, Berkeley, among the eight collegiate national finalists.
The NSAC is the premier university advertising competition, providing more than 2,000 students with the real-life experience of creating a strategic advertising/marketing/media campaign for a corporate client. This year, virtual reality company Meta Quest challenged 110 universities across the country to create a fully integrated marketing campaign that would position Quest 2, a VR headset, as essential to the university.
“The client provides teams with a brief description of their communication challenges and the audience they want to reach through the development of an integrated marketing campaign,” said Caitlyn Richard (’17, ’19), an adjunct professor and advisor to a advertising team, along with graduate assistant Daniel Scichitano.
Before creating a single ad, the team spends the fall semester solely on research — analyzing the market, audience, brand, competitor, and product. Research projects include everything from focus groups to thousands of national surveys, experiential product testing, ethnographic studies, and more.
The research results in important insights that determine the central message and strategy of the campaign. This year, the team’s strategy focused on positioning Quest 2 as the thing that takes people to the individual destinations they can’t reach in their current reality.
“In the spring semester, the campaign comes alive, producing digital, out-of-home, video, social media, traditional and experiential ads to be present in their 20-minute customer pitch,” said Richard.
“Everything we did was backed by research, and I think learning how to translate real data into something on display to the public was a great skill to learn,” said senior strategic communications student Collin Croom. “It’s probably the most fun experience I’ve had, but also the most difficult. I learned an incredible amount because of this and the relationships I built with the team were so important to me.”
Richard said the competition, which began last August, offers a real-life experience that students can get the closest to the professional advertising world while still in college.
“Unlike a typical college course, where students are presented with a hypothetical marketing challenge, the NSAC provides students with the opportunity to interact with a client who is looking to them for a strategic marketing solution,” said Richard. “It prepares our students for what the client-agency relationship looks like in the industry and how to develop content that exceeds campaign goals, not just a catchy idea.”
“I talked to a lot of people from ad agencies there, some of whom (of whom) have previously been students in the competition, and hearing from them how accurately you can transition into the professional world of (NSAC) I really opened my eyes,” Croom added.
The team went through three rounds on its national run, starting at their district competition in Raleigh, NC, and finishing in Nashville. The other five finalists that Liberty faced in the national games were Chapman (Calif.) University, East Tennessee State University, University of Kentucky, University of Minnesota and University of Oregon.
Croom noted that Liberty’s team was one of the smallest in nationals in terms of membership, while other schools had more than 30 students each. It was also the first time that any of its members participated.
“It’s not about how many people you have on the team, it’s about what the people on your team are made of,” Croom said. “Everyone has done their best for the team.”
The Liberty team also took home the MRI-Simmons Inspired by Insight Award for the best application of research demonstrated in the NSAC presentation and planning book.
This year, Richard was a team advisor for the fifth time and she said that witnessing the growth of the students as industry professionals has remained a favorite part of her job.
“There was a moment in the national election after we left the awards ceremony: ‘The people you are now, compared to where you were when we started, are so different,'” she said. “There has been an immeasurable growth in their professional skills, character and teamwork, and I am honored to have been with them on that journey.”
Richard said developing students into champions for Christ, in line with the school’s mission† is her goal, and she took the time to chat with the team about how they could approach their work in the secular advertising world after graduation.
“As a consultant, I can talk to them about what it means to be in the advertising industry, which is especially difficult as a Christian, and we can discuss how faith crosses our work,” she said. “One prayer the team has consistently had is that Christ is well represented in our work, that we radiate Him through this competition and that the other schools see that in us.”