What NSAC has taught me (so far)

I had always heard that competing in the National Student Advertising Competition takes up all of your time.

My friends who did it last year tell scary stories about late night arguments and people shouting at each other. I only half-listened as they went on and on about the stress that NSAC caused them, all the while thinking about how silly it is to stay up into the early hours of the morning working on something as trivial as a SWOT analysis or what format to use to convey your research in a limited amount of space.

Sometime between October and now, it hit me. It snuck up on me, and I didn’t even realize exactly how much NSAC had taken up of my life until now.

I dream about paint. I wish I were kidding, but it’s true. I literally woke up from a dream where I was painting my living room. I ran out of paint and wanted to cry.

That would be fine, but it isn’t the first time this dream has happened.

I’m not bashing it in any way; I love NSAC. But now that I’m in it, I get it. I understand why it’s important to stay up to make sure that a SWOT analysis is inclusive of everything you need it to be and why wording within copy matters and why the logisitics of a promotional idea are so important.

Putting together a good campaign takes time. It takes tension and stress and late nights. It takes honesty, which isn’t always easy to give people. It takes thinking as a group and being OK with the fact that you won’t always have the best idea.

I’ve learned so much through doing NSAC so far, and it isn’t even over yet. Not even slightly. But I would like to share some of the things I have learned thus far, so those who do it later will know what to expects.

1. Speak up

If you have an opinion, voice it. You’re there for a reason, and it isn’t to look cute. (It’s OK to look cute, but that’s not why you’re there.) If something sounds off to you or seems weird or off track, say it. Get clarification. Chances are, other people are thinking the exact same thing. Your opinion matters. Remember that.

2. Have thick skin

You won’t always have the best idea. In fact, most of your ideas will be shot down and criticized. That’s OK. The important thing is to have ideas, but don’t get attached to them. Oftentimes, and especially in our campaign, no single idea has come from one person. It started out as a thought and others added on to it. We all own a part of this campaign, but none of us own all of it. No idea can truly be credited to one person in particular because although they might have suggested it, most of the time it turns out different from what they had intended.

You’re going to make suggestions. Some of them will be accepted, most of them will be criticized. Which leads me to the next point.

3. Always back up your ideas

You need to know exactly why your idea is a good idea. How will it help our client? How is it unique? How does it overcome the barriers we are trying to navigate?

If you can answer those questions, then maybe you have a good idea. Back it up with facts. Back it up with details. Know why you think it is a good idea, and sell others on it. If it’s good, it has to be well developed. You have to think through your idea’s weaknesses (no idea is perfect).

4. Stop working alone

Although we get sidetracked by YouTube and spontaneous trips to get food, working in a group is quite efficient. People will have other ideas than you. They’ll look at situations differently. You feed off of each other and build on each other’s strengths (at least, ideally you do). People can look at your ideas objectively. They can see holes in your idea that you missed. More ideas are generated in groups and a small idea can grow into the big idea through group work.

Plus, it’s a lot more fun if other people are stuck helping you late at night to get something done.

5. $10 million is not a lot of money

I never thought I would think that $10 million is not enough money before this campaign. Developing promotions and media around a limited budget for a national campaign is difficult. It makes you plan strategically, and it can also cause arguments among the group as to where that money should be allocated (though that has not happened much yet).

Having said that, you have to work with what you’re given. As much as we would love a $25 million budget, we don’t have that. We can’t run ads on network television, but that’s OK. A good campaign is not defined by its budget. Some very effective campaigns required a small budget. Finding a way to maximize our reach with limited funds has been a fun and growing challenge for our team.

6. Make friends with other team members

You spend a lot of time with them. Literally every day. You’ll spend late nights with them. It’s natural to become more than team members. Go to parties together. Eat dinner together. DON’T talk about NSAC outside of a meeting together. Ask them about their dogs. Learn about their love lives. What do they listen to? Buy them a birthday card. It makes NSAC more fun when you do it with your friends.

7. Just enjoy it

You’ll learn a lot and gain valuable experience. But make sure you enjoy it, too. It’s a blast.

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