“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It is the age-old question and one that goes along with “How did I end up doing what I am doing for a living?” For example, today I am the owner of a company that manages public service announcement (PSA) advertising campaigns for nonprofit organizations. It is something I enjoy, at least on most days, and something that has roots reaching back to elementary school.
It All Started In Third Grade
I still remember sitting in class the day Miss Toy, my third-grade teacher (an interesting name for a teacher) asked us to create posters about a cause that was important to us. Back in the 1950s, television was still a new thing and PSAs were even newer. I assume the goal of the lesson was to teach us to think creatively. For me, the idea of creating an advertisement that could change people’s behavior and make the world a better place was a revelation.
It led me to create a poster designed to help prevent forest fires, just like my television friend “Smokey the Bear.” My poster said: “Watch that Match.” I thought it was short and to the point. What really impressed me as a precocious eight-year-old was the idea that by turning the “W” in Watch upside down, I could create the work word Match. That may not have been a revolutionary idea, but it did get me started down the road toward the PSA business. In retrospect, it also probably indicated that I was not destined to become a famous advertising copywriter.
I grew up to become a CPA, a Controller of several New York publishing companies, CFO of a broadcast public relations agency and today, CEO of Connect360 Multimedia, a marketing and communications company that specializes in managing PSA campaigns for nonprofit organizations. It is where I get to work with a team of people who are passionate about educating the public about important causes and building awareness about their missions.
Paying it Forward by Giving Back
Last spring, I had the opportunity to work with a dozen 15 to 16-year-old high school students in a work-study internship program at Bayside High School, a public school in Queens, NY. The school’s goal was to bring in an experienced volunteer from industry to mentor students enrolled in its broadcasting education program. For me, it was a chance to take what I had learned about the real world and share it with a new generation.
Bayside is a large, multi-cultural place. The students mostly come from first or second-generation American families, often where English is a second language. They are from an extraordinary array of countries, which is what the borough of Queens is all about. The students I worked with were participants in a pioneering work-study program called the “Workplace Challenge,” which provides a place to learn about career options and develop workplace skills.
Most of these students had never been in a business office and many did not have family members who went to college; they had little exposure to the adult world of work and careers. That is why the school created a place where they could improve their presentation and writing skills and learn how to function in a business environment. The program includes learning how to create a one-minute elevator speech about who they are, write a resume and participate in a mock job interview. These skills are important because the students were expected to apply for summer internships at the end of the program.
Practicing Business Skills With a PSA Project
Students were required to use the skills they developed in the school’s broadcast production program to form 3-4 person teams and create PSAs modeled after what my company does. To do this, each group identified a cause about which it was passionate, wrote a PSA script, produced it and prepared all the collateral materials that Connect360 delivers to stations for actual PSAs. The students had to demonstrate their understanding of what a 501(c) 3 organization is and create materials including a station pitch letter, letter for the nonprofit’s president and background information about the organization. Then they put everything together into an electronic press kit suitable for submission to stations.
The experience was designed to reflect what it is like to work in an actual business environment, with students submitting weekly time sheets to be paid (yes, this was a paid program), develop project timelines, prepare written status reports and meet project deadlines. My role was to work with them for 10 weeks over Zoom guiding and motivating them and reviewing their work.
We were lucky to have a teacher with a unique background coordinating the program. Noam Bronkowski was a first-year teacher at Bayside High School who had recently changed careers. After spending over a decade in television/film production and becoming a PMP certified project manager, he had decided to become a high school teacher.
The students were quiet and reserved at first, trying to figure out what was expected of them. Around the fourth week, their personalities started to emerge and their creative juices started to flow. As they became more self-confident, their work product began to improve. By week seven, most started to “get it.” It was amazing what a group of 15 and 16-year-olds can do when given the chance.
At the end of the 10-week program, each group was required to do a stand-up presentation where they discussed the process of creating their PSA, their strategy and focus, and how they functioned as a team. Public speaking did not come easily to most of the students. Remember, English was in most cases their second language. However, the results were impressive and I want to share them with you (see below).
The Joy of Being Able to Give Back
Participating in this program brought me full circle back to my start in elementary school. It also helped me discover that it is a joy to find new ways to use old skills and talents. Let us be realistic. There are doors that close as we grow up. For example, I cannot now become a doctor, a baseball player or an astronaut. However, there are also doors that open, if we only look for them. That is what I meant when I said it is not what you want to be when you grow up, it is what you want to do when you grow up. You can be a mentor, a teacher, a helper and an advisor by talking the skills and talents you have developed over a lifetime and using them in new ways that have nothing to do with earning a living. With most of us working for and with nonprofits, there are so many ways we can find new ways to do things that can bring us joy and satisfaction.
For me, mentoring a group of high school students did the trick. In fact, just last week I got a call from Bayside High School asking if I would do it again this spring. I can’t wait to start.
The video below is a short highlight reel of the student’s PSAs. I hope you like it.
About The Author
Steve Edelman is a Partner and President of Connect360. He is a leading expert on the measurement, valuation, and financial reporting of Public Service Announcements by not-for-profit organizations.
About Connect 360
Connect360 is a leading media placement agency driving measurable results for some of Charity Navigator’s highest-ranked nonprofits, well-known associations, government agencies and public relations/marketing firms.