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Energy BBDO Interns Tackle "The Work" for 1871 Startups this Summer

Earlier this year, my wife Tiffany mentioned an idea to me that might be a possible collaboration between 1871 and Energy BBDO, the Michigan Avenue-based advertising agency for whom she works. The idea was fairly straightforward -- that the group of 25 or so Energy BBDO interns would work with 1871 startups over the summer to develop and pitch full advertising campaigns.

 These advertising campaigns would be presented to our members for their review and potential use. Okay, so it's actually a fairly complicated idea, but a great one, nonetheless.

Since a huge part of our focus at 1871 is finding and embracing any and all opportunities that will benefit our member companies, we jumped at the chance. Led by Deena Siegel, our Director of Membership, we quickly interfaced with the Energy BBDO team and got together to map out a plan. We selected a list of 20 member companies that we thought might make sense for the program, and Energy BBDO came back to us with a prioritized list of the top 5. We only needed three -- all of our members who were invited jumped at the chance to participate. The three companies that ended up participating in the program were SpotHero, GoNanny, and Holberg Financial (typical 1871 diversity, not just in terms of the founders and leadership of the company, but also industry, size, stage, exposure, everything).

We launched the program earlier this summer and for the past three months, our member companies interfaced with these teams of interns from Energy BBDO -- working closely with them, answering questions, discussing strategy, reviewing research, and basically working as any client would with their advertising agency. One Friday in July, we welcomed the interns from Energy BBDO for a tour, which was great. Last month, the interns pitched their ideas to our teams, which was amazing (more on that in second).

Over and above the agency's willingness to employ members of the Alexander family, Energy BBDO is an ideal partner for this type of program, because the company's focus and organizational ethos under the leadership of their CEO Tonise Paul very much mirrors the attitude that we as a team continue to try and build at 1871.

First, Energy BBDO is constantly talking about "The Work" -- this idea that "The Work" is everything and that pouring your soul, energy, creativity, tearing your beating heart out of your chest and leaving it on the table, that's what they're all about. This is a very "1871" mentality as well, as it's an entire environment where people are putting everything on the line to try and accomplish what they're trying to do.

Second, Energy BBDO is an organization that is built to be like one large family. Dozens of employees from around the organization attended the pitch and stayed for the whole time; many employees from this company helped the interns work on their ideas throughout the summer. The four top officials from Energy BBDO spent their entire morning with our companies and provided thoughtful feedback and support. Tonise herself said at one point that "My business is the people who work here" -- all of these are values that we have adopted throughout the ecosystem that we are building at 1871.

Finally, diversity and inclusion are key values at Energy BBDO as they are at 1871. This includes not only traditional measures of diversity and inclusion but also an emphasis on diversity of perspective, which is why bringing to bear the perspectives of so many young people from all over the country and all walks of life to "collide" with our businesses -- all the while being informed by top-level professionals from remarkably diverse backgrounds themselves -- worked with such amazing results.

The presentations were outstanding. Each of our three startups was extremely impressed with the quality and thoughtfulness of the work, and the professionalism displayed by the interns exceeded all expectations. The interns put together full branding campaigns for both Holberg Financial and GoNanny, and for SpotHero they were tasked with developing a multi-channel integrated holiday campaign.


The interns presenting at Energy BBDO, with the 1871 startups and the BBDO team all in attendance.


In all three cases, it's a good bet that some of their work will evolve into useful resources that will help advance their businesses.

There can be a "fake it til you make it" element of running a startup -- you sort of keep putting one foot in front of the other and trying until one day you wake up and you are a real business that is off to the races. Part of the thrill of this whole project was that we got to watch our companies grow up and advance a bit through this process, turning into "real clients" before our very eyes. It was a remarkably rewarding experience for all involved.

The team that did the pitch for GoNanny won the competition, as the judges felt they did the best job of capturing the breadth and depth of the challenge ahead of them and encapsulating what Patrice is trying to accomplish with her business. All three teams, however, put forth amazing work that will have a profound positive effect on our three businesses, and, in turn, our entire community.

Thanks to Energy BBDO and our three companies and everyone who was involved. The program was an amazing success, so, obviously, we're already starting to talk about next year.  

Want more? Check out these videos of our participating companies as they share their thoughts and experiences with the collaboration. 

Patrice Darby, Founder of GoNanny 


"They did an excellent job. They understood the mission and vision of our company and executed it through the messaging and branding." Patrice Darby


Margo Kahnrose, Senior Director of Brand at SpotHero 

 "What we found was that they were really able to nail the tone, insights and research into what makes our best customer at SpotHero tick. It was a lot of fun to get some fresh minds on the SpotHero brand." Margo Kahnrose


Joe Holberg, Founder of Holberg Financial

"They created a really comprehensive and amazing strategy and redesign of all that Holberg Financial is, and with that, I’ll be able to substantially accelerate our cohesion going forward." Joe Holberg


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