In the mist of post-College World Series mania and trying to make French toast in the agency kitchen, I got to work with two of the art direction interns, Elizabeth and Breanna, on a fun project creating and pitching ads for an imaginary running shoe to agency execs – and here’s what we came up with:
“A summer working in Omaha” just doesn’t roll off the tongue, or call forth Instagram-worthy mental images as well as, say, “a summer touring Europe,” or “a summer exploring New York,” or even “a summer relaxing in Columbia.”
At least, that’s what I thought when I jammed my car full of scavenged Ann Taylor pencil skirts, only three short days after taking my last final, and then hauled it all to Omaha, Nebraska. Not the city that never sleeps. Not the city of lights. Not the city of brotherly love. But the city of beef, Warren Buffett, and being nice.
But one month into living in Omaha and working as a public relations intern at the ad agency Bozell, I’ve realized, sure, Omaha is not the glamazon It Girl at the party, and that’s okay. She’s the smart, sweet, sensible girl who smilingly offers to hold your purse while you go to the bathroom. She has impressive taste in microbrews and knows a lot about a lot, but won’t make it apparent right away. And she believes in things like free parking, numbered streets and the ability to buy a week’s worth of groceries for $40.
As for Bozell, nowhere else is there a better microcosm showcasing Omaha’s metropolitan feel mixed with small town pleasantry. I’ve spent about a month here, working mainly on the College World Series account (but also on my personal Take Advantage of Free Daily Office Donuts project). And in these past four weeks, I’ve already discovered some pretty big lessons from deceptively small moments. Here are four:
- The first press conference that I helped organize was not only being held in honor of an NCAA official who was a Mizzou alum, but one of the journalists who came to cover it was none other than my friend Hunter Woodall, a fellow former editor at The Maneater. Check us out in our fancy business professional below! That day furthered my theory that Mizzou Tigers secretly run the world.
- Getting to work on the College World Series, if you know me at all, is very ironic since I spent my junior high softball career spitting sunflower seeds on the bench. To me, sports is an enigma on par with the theory of relativity. But watching this city come alive with the idea of baseball is downright inspiring. A few weeks ago, we drove around the city putting down giant sidewalk stickers shaped like home plates and bases. At a local playground, we decided to have some fun and arrange them to look like a real ball diamond, and the kids barely gave us time to step back before they emitted bloodcurdling screams and started running the bases in that kind of pure little kid show of appreciation that makes the world go ‘round.
- Now that the games have officially started, I get to wear a floppy laminated press pass and wander the stadium, doing important PR type things like sampling the journalists’ buffet. Bozell sent me down to the field to take photos, and I was kind of clueless as to how I was supposed to take pictures of this sport I didn’t really understand, while competing against hawk-like NCAA and ESPN photographers. Then I saw a cluster of kids chattering with some of the players by the edge of the fence. And I realized that I didn’t have to get the rules or regulations of baseball to understand the kind of joy it brings to kids – and a city – so enthusiastic about meeting and making heroes.
4. Last Friday night, I thought I was just going to clock out, go home, veg out on Easymac, and continue my scorched earth strategy with Netflix. Instead, I found myself strapped inches from the door of a plane, 14,000 feet in the air, surrounded with tough-as-nails Golden Knight parachutists hired by the College World Series for Opening Ceremonies. I watched as they strapped sparklers to their feet and lept out into the void. When I looked out into the night sky, they looked like shooting stars.
Ah life, you sparkly, unpredictable thing.
Being a Maneater taught me everything. I mean it.
As a reporter, it taught me to be meek. It taught me how to get on my knobby freshman knees and beg — for a story, for a contact, for an interview, for a chance. It taught me how to write sentences that I loved dearly, and then it taught me how to kill them with a machete without flinching under the level gaze of my editor. Being a Maneater reporter also taught me to be bold. It taught me that journalism is scary, but in the way that jumping off a cliff into a crystal cold pool can be at first, and it taught me that literally and figuratively, I was only a 500-word article embedded within the 40-page issue life.
And then as an editor, being a Maneater taught me to be tender. I learned how to gather up doe-eyed young reporters under my wing and, without suffocating them all crowded together there in my armpit, coach them to shun the Oxford comma and to worship fact checks. It has been one of the greatest joys in my life to watch too many of the reporters I worked with evolve into these beautiful journalistic creatures careening across campus, pens perpetually in hand.
But, you know, being an editor also taught me to be vicious. It taught me to stand up for my reporters with the diligence of a 5-foot-4 mother bear, to stand up to weekly print cycles that came at you like some kind of sick, merciless tetherball, and then to cast predatory stares at other competing publications with embarrassing sophomoric pluckiness. The Maneater, underrated and unsung in a city of thousands of journalists, taught me to aspire to be among the best. Never mind the disadvantages of a completely student-staffed editorial board and the anemic financial state that comes with being self-funded.
Then there was this year, which I spent as the managing editor. Can I be proud to say that being a Maneater executive taught me to be cynical? Because it did, in a breathlessly humbling way. Between helping to lead the transition from a biweekly print product to an online publication and simply just trying to understand the peculiar business model that is a student newspaper, it got a lot discouraging some of the time. I learned that even the best-laid plans can be doomed to die — quietly in small gasps, sometimes, and other times in garish explosions. I learned to be okay with that, because despite our best efforts, we never learned how to stop trying, nonetheless.
But at the same exact time, The Maneater taught me to dream and to hope. You would think that 4 a.m. deadlines and a laughable excuse for a paycheck would be enough to dissuade those who walk into that basement office every day, much less the ones who then also voluntarily walk into deadening city council meetings and board meetings, too. On any given production night as a Maneater executive, there is this extraordinary chance where you sit down and click through the completed pages of each new issue, and you see the efforts of 30 to 40 talented young individuals fuse together into a tangible product that’s supposed to ship out in the morning and educate society. It teaches you that journalism — and life, and the world, really — is this amazing collective thing that you wouldn’t stand a chance against alone.
What more could a kid ever hope to learn?
Thank you to Joel, who gave me the chance to have that first byline. Thank you to Kelly and Pat for believing in me so much that they put me on an editorial board, even when I didn’t know what a comma splice was at the time. Thank you to previous MOVE editors Brandon, Natalie and Pierce, for their MOVE guidance, to Maneater editors like Zach and Allison and Kaylen and Celia for giving those of us in this basement something to aspire to be once we’re beyond the green masthead, and to Becky and Kara, whose daily efforts keep the Maneater from spontaneously combusting.
Thank you to Ted, pictured with me and our framed first issues above, who secretly knew before I did what a privilege it would be to serve as his managing editor this year, and thank you to each member of the editorial boards I was lucky enough to work with in the past three years. You are family. And thank you to every reporter, columnist, photographer, designer, editor, business manager, intern and staff member who has made The Maneater the game-changer it will always be. Don’t be surprised as this publication continues to change, to make mistakes, to make amends, to keep growing up. Don’t be surprised when I stop you on the street 50 years from now and shriek some staff box quote at you in greeting. And please, don’t try to act so surprised when you all become wildly, disgustingly successful out there, no matter where you end up.
As the saying goes: You’ve been warned.
The other day, I found myself across Missouri in one of those interview things where you try to explain to a group of exceptionally impressive industry professionals why you want to be just like them when you grow up, and why you would make a great scholarship candidate, and also why it appears as though you’ve sort of lost your voice (without admitting it’s because you were singing too enthusiastically out loud in your car on your lone man road trip there). They asked me about my background in journalism and how it was that I now wanted to go into advertising, which made my tongue somewhat invert into my throat, because I still struggle a lot with the idea, too (Sometimes, I swear I can hear my Journalism 1100 professor angrily crying in shame).
But then we started talking about our favorite ads, and I was jabbering about this Thai Life Insurance commercial called “Unsung Hero,” done by Ogilvy Bangkok, that I’d seen online a few days prior. I’m no expert as far as scholarship interviews go, but I’m pretty sure Rule #1 is not admitting you cried about an ad you saw on Facebook. But I did, and it made me think.
This ad is somewhat cliché, yes. And it’s pretty cheesy. And ultimately, it is designed to sell me something. And as a kid who’s studying advertising full time, I should totally know better than to let three minutes of images and sound and somewhat awkward subtitles capture my attention, much less steal my heart. But it does it anyway.
This “Unsung Hero” ad is an example of the kind of powerful communication and storytelling that got me into that journalism business in the first place, and it’s the kind I really, really hope to do one day.
I’ve realized that I want to go into advertising because of creations like these. Ads like these wield a power unimaginable by even Pulitzer-winning journalists and hard-hitting investigative writers, because those professions are noble and amazing and save the world a lot, but ultimately, even if they do everything right, that kind of work reaches maybe only 10 – 20% of the entire world. Maybe. Not everyone reads or watches the news. But everyone experiences ads. And while advertising can be a lot of meaningless jingles and sexed up cleaning products, it’s also the singular medium where you can have the chance to say almost anything to everyone.
Even though I’m still at the age where I think naming children after “Game of Thrones” characters would be a terrific idea, I had the chance to experience parenthood, sort of, last week during my Mizzou Alternative Break trip. Mizzou Alternative Breaks is an organization formerly known as Alternative Spring Break that I’ve been involved with ever since I was an ornery freshman who refused to go home for a week in March, deciding instead to sign up for seven days of road-tripping and volunteering with 11 other Mizzou kids.
Essentially, how MAB works is that two students are the site leaders in charge of each trip — they do everything from choosing the trip destination, arranging volunteer opportunities with local organizations, finding free or cheap housing nearby and then planning every other detail that goes into making a trip that’s fun and fulfilling for each of their 10 trip participants. Then, they take the participants on the trip, and ideally, everyone comes back in the rental vans alive.
I just returned last weekend from my trip to Atlanta, where my co-site leader Patrick and I spent a week volunteering with our participants in some pretty amazing organizations like the Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency (where we’re serving in the photo above), Books for Africa and LaAmistad. We spent eight days doing everything from serving meals and tutoring kids to sorting textbooks (and sometimes throwing them into dumpsters, which let me assure you, was really cathartic). Incidentally, Patrick and I also got a taste of what it was like to have two set of car keys, a credit card, and ten human beings in our care in a strange city for a whole week. Here are five of the probably 5 billion lessons we learned along the way:
1. Snacks are very important.
Patrick and I had this grandiose schedule planned out that involved us waking everyone up at 8 a.m. to work throughout the day until around 6 p.m., every day. We ate lunch at the soup kitchen at noon, but usually we didn’t get around to dinner until 8 or 9 p.m., which meant that everyone would get curiously hungry and miserable all at the same time in the afternoon.
At first, we were all about just soldiering onward and sticking to our budget, but by mid-week, people (okay, mostly me) were hunting for dusty Girl Scout cookies someone dropped in the van earlier. So we raided the neighborhood Kroger with the kind of conviction that would have made the Crusaders blush, and crammed our vans with every kind of granola bar, Triscuit product and fruit imaginable.
2. Minivans can and should be driven aggressively.
A) I’m used to driving a car the size of my fist, and B) I’m a terrible driver. I told my participants and Patrick that I was a terrible driver on Day 1, and I reminded them regularly over our pre-trip meetings of it. So no one was all that shocked when they climbed into the rental minivan I was in charge of and endured whiplash caused by my driving to Atlanta, but once we hit the actual city and drivers who preyed upon my indecision to switch lanes, I think the participants in my car were begging the ones in Patrick’s car to switch.
Nonetheless, with a week’s worth of coaching from daring participants who sat shotgun next to me and my ability to scream “I NEED TO GET OVER, CAN I GET OVER?” above any volume of Lil Jon that was blasting in the van, I can successfully say that the speed in which I can cut across four lanes of downtown traffic is now resume-worthy material.
3. Sometimes, you have to kick everyone out of the car.
My parents never went on date nights when I was a kid, and so there was something always mystifying to me about the idea of parents ditching their kids and just going off somewhere by themselves. But sleep deprivation and the necessity of being on constant alert to make sure everyone was fed/happy/not lost/not dead definitely wore Patrick and me out after a few days. One day, we got to a volunteer site early and were pulling into the parking lot. Patrick waited until all the participants were out of the cars before he climbed into the passenger seat next to me, shut the door, and we exhaled.
We weren’t entirely sure if it was against the rules for site leaders to essentially lock themselves in a car for ten minutes, but we reclined our seats back and just talked about school, our families, our friends — everything except the trip, while our participants played tag and probably didn’t buy drugs in the parking lot. It was the most relaxing ten minutes I’d probably had all semester.
4. Schedules fall apart, and that’s okay.
Atlanta rush hour happened. Food poisoning happened. Cockroaches happened. McDonalds for every meal happened. Getting seriously lost happened. 45-minute waits for chicken and waffles happened.
The beautiful, shiny 5-page master itinerary that I had printed out to carry around all week ended up wrinkled and torn in the bottom of my purse once Patrick and I realized that the end game was getting our participants to and from Atlanta in one piece, and in that context, missing one 45-minute group reflection was not the end of the solar system.
5. Take photos, because one day your kids will leave you forever.
When we got back to Columbia and I dropped off the last participants, I gave them the saddest, most pathetic little wave good-bye. It doesn’t get any more Pre-mature Empty Nest Syndrome than when you spend a week with eleven amazing people and then realize, after it’s over, that you’ll all probably never find the chance to be in the same room together again. My favorite thing every year about MAB is how it brings together random kids from all walks of life at Mizzou, and even though this was my fourth MAB trip, driving that big, stupid minivan home all by myself never gets any easier.
Here’s to you, MAB Atlanta: