It’s not every day Southwestern Michigan College joins the conversation at the Beverly Hilton, but that happened when top advertising executives converged on Los Angeles.
Buchanan, co-sponsored by Honor Credit Union and SMC, garnered national attention by winning a “nicest school in America” trophy through Secret Deodorant’s Mean Stinks anti-bullying campaign.
As they say in the Redbud City, when Bucks unite, they get “herd.”
What started as a bullying awareness effort in the 2012-2013 school year at Buchanan High filtered through the Berrien County school district to the middle school and Moccasin and Ottawa elementary schools.
The district instituted a “Herd Hotline” allowing students to anonymously report bullying and other issues. Messages flow anonymously to administrators to investigate tips without students worrying about reprisals for “snitching.”
Luminaries speaking at the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) “Transformation 2014: The Idea Effect” conference March 16-19 included Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, TV and radio host and producer Ryan Seacrest and executives from Twitter, Facebook, Google, Lionsgate, AT&T, Dairy Queen and Coca-Cola.
The conference sheds light on issues affecting advertising, media, tech and publishing industries.
Branding, data, social responsibility and entrepreneurship were major themes this year.
Christina Perri, who sold 3 million copies of “Jar of Hearts,” performed.
Susan Credle, Leo Burnett chief creative officer, whose clients include Secret parent Procter and Gamble, spoke on branding social causes, highlighting Buchanan’s adaptation of web materials.
Leo Burnett plans to send a film crew from Chicago to southwest Michigan in May to document Buchanan’s efforts.
“We emphasize looking after one another like a big family and creating a culture of kindness,” Cindy Soltys, Mean Stinks Club advisor, said.
Giant screens displayed images, including an SMC sponsor banner.
Credle, creator of M&M’s “spokescandies,” introduced senior Brittany Schmidt, who addressed the ballroom of 1,000 people.
“It was an Ellen DeGeneres format with stuffed chairs, like a TV show. You were on the edge of your seat,” said Soltys, former SMC enrollment manager who joined BHS four years ago to counsel at-risk students. “The Beverly Hilton is old Hollywood glamour, like Frank Sinatra.”
Executives kept coming up to Schmidt, complimenting her composure before such a large, distinguished audience.
Soltys, Schmidt and administrative assistant Renee Cornwell flew to California all expenses paid.
“We felt like rock stars,” Soltys said. “They thought we were really going above and beyond what other schools were doing,” such as committing two days to showing “The Bully,” Lee Hirsch’s 2012 documentary, in class-sized settings so small group discussions could follow.
In fact, “The Bully” camp contacted Buchanan about starting a Michigan chapter.
“Creating a positive environment for Buchanan students to work and play is a constant concern. Mean Stinks activities encourage students to ‘Gang Up for Good’ by uniting to end bullying,” Principal Sharon Steinke said at the January 2013 Perc Breakfast in the BHS cafeteria.
Anyone wearing a $7 “Don’t be a Bully, be a Buck” T-shirt was admitted free to basketball games to discourage “mean from showing its stinkin’ face.”
The odor-oriented campaign aimed at girls, but Buchanan expanded it to both sexes K-12.
After spring break, on Friday, April 11, SMC sponsors the Girls Be Positive sleep-in for grades 9-12 at Buchanan High School with dinner, movies and crafts hosted by positive role models coupled with an overnight ban on technology devices.
The 4A’s is a national trade association whose membership comprises virtually all large, multinational agencies and hundreds of small and mid-sized agencies across the country.
The 1,200 member agency offices served by the 4A’s employ 65,000 people, offer a wide range of marketing communications services and place 80 percent of all national advertising.
Featured at the conference was a video exhibit created by Leo Burnett, which last year won the 4A’s TruthBrief Competition for the best agency campaign to attract a new generation of talent.
Leo Burnett’s winning campaign took the form of a staged “art show” on a college campus in which all pieces shown were advertisements stripped of their logos.
Soltys has fond memories of her former employer.
“I loved SMC,” she said. “It was the best place to work.”