Advertising Campaigns, the advertising major capstone course for students in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations at Klein College of Media and Communication, took on an exciting new client in the Fall 2020 semester. Harriett's Bookshop is a Philadelphia-based, Black-female owned and operated independent bookstore named after Black revolutionary Harriet Tubman, a place that celebrates women authors, artists and activists. The bookshop was the subject of a racist email attack in September; in October, it hosted a sit-in that brought awareness to the ordeal. Klein students in the capstone course were inspired to create meaningful advertising campaign pitches by both Harriett's mission and the sit-in.
Every semester, students in Advertising Campaigns are expected to develop hypothetical campaigns for a selected client and compete for their business. Harriett's, founded and owned by writer Jeannine Cook, was asked to be this semester's client by Stacey Harpster, assistant professor of instruction in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations, who teaches the capstone course.
Starting at the beginning of the semester, students worked on their semester-long campaign pitches in four teams of about five students, with each student taking on a different role that would be found in a real advertising agency. Harpster believes that Harriett's Bookshop's community-minded mission embodies the values that students should aim for as advertising professionals.
"I really want to use Ad Campaigns as an opportunity to show students that they can use their advertising skills and talent as forces for good and promote good throughout the world," Harpster says.
Along with at least 10 other Black-female owned businesses in Philadelphia, Harriett's Bookshop was the target of cyberhate through a racist and sexist email attack. In response to the email, the bookshop hosted a sit-in at Fabrika bar and restaurant that engaged community members through Afrofuturist theatrical and musical performances. Jeannine and her sister, Jasmaine Cook, also facilitated hard-hitting, public discussions between 14 of the sit-in's attendees, in which the participants were grouped into pairs.
Tarahgee Morris, a senior advertising major who is a part of this semester's Advertising Campaigns course, attended the sit-in, saying that the public dialogue between attendees in particular "was raw, it was authentic, it was genuine."
"Being able to conduct and host a successful sit-in during a pandemic and during a racial reckoning is hard. And for them to do it so successfully, I think that was beautiful in itself," he says.
Harpster, who also attended the sit-in and says she "left that event feeling very full in my soul" was inspired by the Cook sisters' ability to pour into the community even though the community was there to uplift them.
"It was this beautiful moment," she says. "A very diverse group of people came together in support of our neighbors to respond to the hateful rhetoric in the email — it was hate speech — and we came together to say 'Collectively, we're greater than the hate and we're here to support our neighbors.'"
After experiencing the sit-in, Morris, who was the lead art director of the team pluscrea+ive, decided that his team needed to reexamine their approach to their campaign. Through their campaign inspired by writer Maya Angelou's 1978 poem "Phenomenal Woman," they strove to be inclusive of marginalized groups who may not be heard as often as other audiences. Their pitch won the competition.
"Advertising is telling a story and telling the right story," he says. "And I think a lot of people when they speak to specific demographics they stereotype it and they don't tell the right story. And that becomes very detrimental...to the demographic in itself and to the larger community that supports the demographic."
The pitch competition was held on December 15, with Klein faculty and Jeannine and Jasmaine Cook in attendance. The Cook sisters were impressed with the pitches that the students crafted, with Jeannine saying that the students "brought a level of professionalism that showed that they were ready to enter into the workforce." The bookshop has been taking a relaxed approach to marketing but the pitches provided new insight into advertising possibilities.
"A lot of what has been done is very intuitive so to find out that some of those intuitive things are actually connected to real marketing is kind of interesting and fun," Jeannine says.
Jasmaine, who debriefed the Advertising Campaigns students on the bookshop at the beginning of the semester, believes that the students' campaigns are proof of the impactful work that can emerge when students, faculty and community members come together.
"I think that more universities need to be thinking about what their community connections are and how they plan on bridging some of these issues and how they plan on really, really digging deep into relationships with business owners and with community organizations," she says.
Harriett's Bookshop plans to bring on a student from pluscrea+ive to assist with its anniversary marketing.
pluscrea+ive team members include:
Taryn Kolas, account director
Kelly Karwowski, account planner
Tarahgee Morris, art director
Shysaun Witlow, copywriter
Megan McLaughlin, media planner