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UofGH's Emerge project wins Pacemaker award for innovation

Credit: EMERGE: Unknown graphic designed by UofGH alumni Andreya Klobucar and Hilary Szeto

A group of students in the University of Guelph-Humber’s Media Studies program have received a prestigious international award for their work planning and promoting a major launch event for EMERGE, the multi-disciplinary capstone project designed and executed by graduating UofGH students.

For the creation of the first-ever launch party to promote Emerge Magazine’s 10th anniversary instalment – the EMERGE: Unknown project – UofGH students have been awarded a Pacemaker Award in the Innovation category. Given out annually since 1927 and administered by the Associated Collegiate Press in the U.S., the Pacemaker Awards are generally considered to be among the highest honours in the field of student media.

Emerge was singled out for its Innovation after this group of graduating students did something no other group had done before: they organized an ambitious magazine launch party that would have engaged UofGH students across all years and programs while creating excitement and buzz around Emerge Magazine well beyond UofGH campus.

Although the pandemic ultimately got in the way, the team’s creative and meticulously thought-out plan to hold a sustainable, engaging and memorable launch party was so thoroughly well-considered that even though it had to be cancelled, the work that had already been done was enough for the ACP (which according to its website is the largest and oldest membership organization for college student media in the United States).

The team – which consisted of Alena Blanes, Danya Elsayed, Kaela Johnson, Julia Boncoddo, Celia Commisso, Cassandra Constantinou, Andreya Klobucar, Mahleej Raja, and Caryssa Razionale – had already secured more than 100 registered guests for the event, as well as major sponsors that included Best Buy, Indigo and Aveeno.

Though the event couldn’t be staged, in achieving more than 8 million media impressions, it certainly helped the team meet their core goal of creating awareness around Emerge Magazine.

“As the professor responsible for mentoring the students completing this graduating multimedia Emerge final project – and who has witnessed these students grow and mature over the past four years – it was incredibly rewarding to see how even a global pandemic could not stop them,” said Heath Applebaum, who served as an advisor on the project alongside fellow instructor Kimberley Noble.

“In the face of the pandemic, the Emerge team turned a challenge into an opportunity. They continued to work diligently to develop content and not let the situation stop their mission. It was impressive to see how these students, many of whom were already busy with work internships, were still able to harness their creativity and deliver the project digitally.”

The Emerge project spans journalism, public relations, event management, social-media marketing and advertising, and that diversity of disciplines was evident in other honours received this year from the ACP.

Teams of University of-Guelph Humber were also finalists for ACP Individual Awards in categories including Advertisement of the Year (Video) and COVID-19 News or Feature Story (Online) for a special edition of The Verge newsletter also produced by the Emerge online team.

Media Studies students were singled out for another major honour recently.

Students in the Media Business stream won a first-place CMA Pinnacle Award for Best Social Media Strategy from the New York-based College Media Association for their Feed the North campaign.

University of Guelph-Humber alumni Alena Blanes, Danya Elsayed and Kaela Johnson played key leadership roles in organizing the award-winning launch party. We asked them a few questions about their Emerge experiences.

Name: Danya Elsayed

Danya Elsayed

Program: Media Studies, Specialized in Public Relations and Journalism

Graduated: 2020

Current Role: Intern in Penguin Random House Canada’s publicity department, Public Service Assistant at Toronto Public Library, and freelance communications specialist

Future Plans: Continue to work in the communications field with community or education based organizations. 

What aspects of these projects are you proud of?

Emerge: Unknown was the first of its kind. Our mandate was to increase awareness of the magazine and EMERGE itself. But we also wanted the chance to work directly with the journalism and digital communication students. Traditionally, the magazine team has worked solely on the magazine, and the PR students worked solely on events. We were able to change that; we spoke directly with the magazine team and asked for their input on the launch. That old mentality of  journalism and PR being at odds with each other was really challenged at the University of Guelph-Humber and in our event in general.

Do you feel better prepared for your careers having done Emerge?

The University of Guelph-Humber is a place of opportunity, and it’s up to students to take of them when they are within reach. Emerge is one of those. The beautiful thing about our capstone project is that we were really able to dictate the trajectory of how it went. As a cohort, we were able to choose the themes, events, speakers and projects included under the Emerge umbrella.

I really felt like I was part of a broader “company” working with students in different teams; looking for social media assets, or requesting video content. We worked together in order to bring to life Emerge.

Name: Alena Blanes

Alena Blanes

Program: Media Studies, Specialized in Public Relations 

Graduated: 2020

Current Role: Recruitment Liaison Officer at the University of Guelph Humber

Future Plans: Go back to school for a Master of Science in Sustainable Management at U of T in Fall 2021, use PR as a force for change in the industry, hopefully, move back to my hometown in B.C.

What were some of the challenges of putting together this Emerge magazine, and how did you overcome them?

As Co-Leads, Danya and I were able to oversee challenges in all areas of the event planning process. While she was more focused on being a liaison with the magazine team, I focused more on event sustainability, planning, and overseeing our brand image. We had excellent communication on the team, and hiccups were quickly solved with team calls, emails, and late-night texts. I think taking classes that talked about crisis communications and effective leadership was helpful. It made me feel assured in my leadership capabilities, which, in turn, crafted a confident and competent team. The two go hand-in-hand.

How did it feel that you won for innovation specifically? Did your work feel innovative at the time?

I think a lot of University of Guelph-Humber Media Studies grads can relate to this. One thing that was always reinforced was how dynamic and ever-changing the industry was. When you think about it, so much has happened in the media and communication sectors between 2016 and 2020--so much! When we first started chatting about the magazine launch, innovation was something at the forefront of our minds. We were setting the standard for what the future of EMERGE would look like and creating something that stood out from the others was essential to us. Throughout the planning process, we consistently tried to push as many boundaries as possible with what an EMERGE event could look like. Experiential marketing and social media shares are currency for event coordinators, and we strived to make our event on par with what some larger agencies organize. As COVID-19 concerns amplified, we really had to get creative in reaching our deliverables. I was confident in our team from the beginning and knew we had the tools and creativity we needed to succeed.

What aspects of these projects are you proud of?

I remember my former Event Management professor, Elliott Silverstein, saying, "If you don't ask for something, you'll never get it." Our team really took that to the next level and explored all possibilities, even those that seemed unrealistic. I'm proud of us for taking chances and pushing the envelope. We were a stand-out group, and our whole class knew it. I'm personally passionate about how we integrated sustainability into the event planning stage. Events are notoriously wasteful, and I was thrilled to have gotten the chance to partner with Humber's Office of Sustainability to ensure our event was low-waste, paperless, and accessible while still offering immense value to attendees. I had plans to complete a waste-audit after the event and share our data for future EMERGE events. I really hope this is something that can be integrated into all future Guelph-Humber events.

Do you feel better prepared for your career having done Emerge?

Despite the whirlwind 2020 has been, I absolutely feel more prepared after EMERGE. I was initially attracted to the University of Guelph-Humber because of the hands-on and theoretical learning model. I feel having those experiences has made me a stand-out candidate to future employers. It's one thing to say you understand the theory of public relations and event planning, but to say, “Hey, I actually organized two events in my undergrad and here are the wrap-up reports to prove it' sounds so much enticing. I'm upset we never got to see EMERGE: Unknown come to life in person, but I'm confident the innovation and teamwork we displayed will leave a legacy at Guelph-Humber.

Name: Kaela Johnson

Kaela Johnson

Program: Media Studies, Specialized in Public Relations and Media Business

Graduated: 2020

Current Role: Full-time Account Coordinator at The Influence Agency + part-time Account Executive at Common Media Group (brand partnerships and PR for entertainers)

Future Plans: Continue to work in the PR and Marketing fields and work to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion within the industry

Role on Emerge: EMERGE: Unknown Event Director + Event Coordination Team Lead

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced with Emerge this year?

The budget. Part of my role was to act as a gatekeeper when it came to the budget and that sometimes included having shoot down some really awesome ideas. We really had to get creative as a team to figure out how we could execute our big ideas without breaking the bank. This included having to work our personal networks to gain product and monetary sponsorships, raiding Humber College and UofGH’s event closets and resources, and even DIYing our photo booth.

Another challenge I faced was with my role with the Event Coordination team as Team Lead. We were the ones behind the overall event conference logistics and to collaborate with other event directors and make sure everything was seamless as possible on the backend. This involved working various teams outside of the event execution teams like the events website team to make sure that guests could easily grab their tickets, the graphics team to make sure assets were up to standards, the social media team to ensure posts went live on time, putting in joint facilities and equipment requests, and ultimately creating a crisis response plan when the events were cancelled. We also recruited volunteers for the events by posting online going class to class each week and attending admin meetings with our advisors.

It was also tough to schedule six events within two days and we only had access to some parts of the UofGH and Humber College campuses which made for some unwanted overlap.

How did it feel being nominated for innovation specifically? Did your work feel innovative at the time?

We were devastated when the conference was cancelled, to say the least. Mostly because the world wouldn’t be able to see what UofGH students can do, especially graduating students entering a competitive workforce. Our goal was to celebrate and showcase the talents of the magazine teams while also pushing the boundaries of a traditional magazine launch. We wanted to make it a very immersive event and have guests leave feeling confident in the future of media and what's to come. Our event was to take place in the new Barrett Centre for Technology Innovation (BCTI), a space all about innovation, and we had secured Virtual Reality headsets, Humber College’s Pepper the Robot as our door greeter, and a Visual Showcase, a gallery with a similar theme to EMERGE: Unknown.

But to know that we were still able to somewhat showcase UofGH student talent and also make history for being nominated for the ACP Innovation Pacemaker, an award in its inaugural year, was a huge honour - especially as the only Canadian school nominated!

EMERGE: Unknown is a combination of ideas: a celebratory event, an analysis of the media’s trajectory, a place for opportunity. The EMERGE Magazine would not go unnoticed – not on our watch.

What aspects of these projects are you proud of?

I’m very proud of how collaborative we were able to make it. We worked hand-in-hand with the magazine teams to make sure that their visions and ideas were included within the event and that they felt celebrated (we had a survey asking for their suggestions). We also worked alongside the Visual Showcase team, a gallery set up in the Presentation Room of the BCTI. Their theme was similar to ours and reflected the past, the present, and the future of media and we wanted to make sure that they felt welcomed and celebrated at the event as well. 

Do you feel better prepared for your career having done Emerge?

Yes! EMERGE reflects a real-world professional workplace since you're working with various team members and departments to achieve one common goal. Going into the workforce with only a little bit of professional experience can be daunting, but being able to highlight the work I did for EMERGE was very helpful!  

Being able to lead two teams for EMERGE gave me a great deal of leadership experience and what my leadership style is and also improved my time-management, creativity, and the ability to think three steps ahead and be prepared for anything. Though my career is currently in marketing and PR, I definitely feel prepared for my next event planning venture!

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