Local Current Blog

Twin Cities advertising agencies will battle at First Avenue and fight for diversity in their industry

Cherry Cola will be representing the Minneapolis creative agency Morsekode in the Battle at First Avenue on Dec. 6 (Jake Armour Photography).

On Thursday night, local advertising and communications professionals will step out of the office and onto First Avenue’s stage. Five advertising agencies will be competing in the Battle, a battle of the bands to raise scholarship money for students from diverse backgrounds studying advertising and communications. Five bands are battling it out — but really they are all fighting for the same thing: breaking down barriers in the local communications industry and making advertising jobs accessible.

The idea for the Battle began at the CLAgency, the student-run communications agency at the University of Minnesota. “As we were mapping out our long-term goals, one of our key goals is to increase the diversity of students that are part of CLAgency,” said Scott Meyer, CMO of the College of Liberal Arts and founder of CLAgency. “In order to do that, we wanted to be able to create a scholarship fund that would help provide financial support to students with diverse backgrounds.”

A number of organizations joined CLAgency in brainstorming ways to fundraise for the scholarship and increase diversity in the local advertising community, including Minneapolis creative agency Fast Horse Inc. and nonprofit organization the BrandLab. Fast Horse founder and CLAgency board member Jorg Pierach pitched the idea of a battle of the bands as a way to raise funds for a scholarship.

We threw around a lot of different ideas, and this is the one that we all got the most excited about,” said Laurel Osman, who works at Fast Horse and is part of the team producing the Battle. “We knew it would be a fun, interesting way to engage with industries and industry leaders in perhaps a creative challenge they’re not used to.”

Money raised from ticket sales at the Battle as well as funds from sponsorships will go towards “The Battle” scholarship at the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts for “diverse students seeking a career in the advertising and communications field.” 

“Part of the funds will come from what’s raised at the Battle this year and in subsequent years — the idea is to make the Battle an ongoing event,” said Meyer. “We’re focusing on building the scholarship through individual contributions as well. Our goal is to have a scholarship fund of $1.25 million by June of 2021. If we’re able to do that, that could generate support for 15 to 20 students coming into the College of Liberal Arts, and would have a really strong impact on CLAgency.”

There will be five bands competing on First Ave’s stage on Thursday night, and all of the participants work in advertising and communications. The five bands come from local agencies Clockwork, Target Creative, Magnet360, Morsekode, and Fast Horse. Each band was formed uniquely for the Battle — some participants have years of experience playing music, and others are new to performing onstage.

Osman, who is performing in the band One Trick Pony, says that her band’s members come from a variety of musical backgrounds. “We have individuals in our team that have played for years and years,” she said. “We also have people who are dusting off old instruments and coming onstage for the first time maybe ever in their life to perform that night.”

The evening will also feature guest performances from P.O.S, Chastity Brown, Dave Simonett, and Static Panic.

Fast Horse is producing the Battle, but the event is also the result of a collaboration with 22 other local organizations. One of these organizations is the BrandLab, a nonprofit that aims to “change the face and voice of the marketing industry by introducing, guiding and preparing students for careers in marketing and advertising.”

The BrandLab has run the numbers on the local advertising industry, and their reports show a discrepancy between the demographic makeup of the Twin Cities and that of the industry’s workforce. Their 2018 State of the Industry Report shows that 10% of employees at Twin Cities advertising agencies are people of color (a 2% increase from 2016), while 20% of Minnesota residents in 2017 were people of color.

“The BrandLab is working to create a marketing and advertising industry that really reflects the mosaic of our nation,” said Ellen Walthour, CEO of the BrandLab. Their programming involves exposing youth to jobs in advertising, giving them access to resources like internships and scholarships, connecting them with a network of students and professionals, and challenging barriers within the industry to create more inclusive work environments.

“Over six years, our numbers have increased,” says Walthour. “Some of our partners are starting to ask their talent recruiters to really make sure that they have diverse candidates in the talent pool. So they’re not just saying, ‘Oh no, I couldn’t find anybody,’ which is age-old— there are so many communities where you can find talent.”

Travon Sellers was introduced to the marketing industry in high school, when he took an elective class in marketing taught by the BrandLab. “I took that marketing elective not really knowing what it was,” said Sellers. “It was really awesome to have the BrandLab come in because they brought a real world perspective. They exposed us to real people who worked in the industry, versus just reading a textbook, so I think they framed my decision to go in this direction.”

Now, Sellers works as a freelance web and branding designer. Through the BrandLab, he had the opportunity to apprentice a local graphic designer, an experience that sparked his interest in pursuing design.

As an alumni of the BrandLab, Sellers mentors current high school students interested in pursuing careers in marketing and advertising. He spent five weeks mentoring a group of students, and sees the lasting impacts of seeing yourself represented in your field.

One of the biggest things that I heard from my students is that it really helps to see somebody of color represented,” said Sellers. “To show them that it’s possible — to see someone of color making it in the industry really pushes them and it motivates them. I think that’s the goal of it and that’s what I love doing.”

Sellers will be one of the emcees at the Battle, and says that he looks forward to seeing students at the event make connections with professionals in the industry.

I know that there will be a lot of college students in the room, and I’m really excited for them to be able to network with the professionals and different folks that will be present at the event. I’m excited for people to have a good time, but specifically I want college students, I want BrandLab students to come out and network. At the end of the day it’s about representation. When you’re not at these events or in these spaces it’s hard to make a name for yourself, so that’s what I enjoy; that people can have the exposure.”

Colleen Cowie runs the blog Pass The Mic.