BRAND-A-THON: ‘Mad Men’ Meets the Startup World

Kathy Kiely is the President of The Ad Club, the trade association for the New England marketing & communications Industry, and the brains behind the new Brand-a-thon which she created in conjunction with David Chang (COO, PayPal Media Network) and Start Tank. 

Her inspiration came this March when the latest Start Tank was announced. Having always wanted to connect deeper with the startup community she thought why not provide startups with the kind of marketing and branding that is typically reserved for powerhouse brands. 

Last Friday eight of Boston’s top agencies took to the PayPal/Start Tank offices at One International Place to hear pitches from 17 startups and decide whom they’d be working with. Nine of the seventeen startups would be lucky enough to land creative support from an agency team (Hill Holiday had two teams) while the others will be paired up with a mentor. 

Along with Hill Holiday were isobar, FORGE Worldwide, NAIL, Allen & Gerritsen, AMP, Conover Tuttle Pace and MMB. 

The pitch & selection event last week carried a similar format to the hit show The Voice where an agency team could jump in and select the startup at any point before or during the 3-minute pitch. Having known the startups ahead of time there were times when one or more agency chimed in before the pitch even began. One in particular, Covvet, had 4 agencies jump on them as soon as they were announced. A random draw saw them rewarded to one of the Hill Holiday teams. 

At the conclusion of the pitches the startups immediately headed into a 30-minute briefing session with their respective agency teams. From there it was up to the agencies to build a full creative campaign. As you can see from A&G’s tweet pic below – they took this seriously.


This takes us to last night – the presentation of the creative campaigns (kudos to isobar for hosting in their spectacular space). Each team was given ten minutes to present to the audience and the judges, who would be awarding the $2,500 prize (courtesy of Santander Bank).  The full list of judges can be seen here, but included Woody Benson, Sarah Welch (CMO, Gazelle), Diane Hessan (Chairman, Communispace) and David Krauter (General Manager, SmarterTravel). 


Much to the surprise of everyone (and to the joy of the agency teams) David Chang spontaneously ponied up $1,000 of his own money to sweeten the pot to be sure the runners-up walked way with some cash. 

The value of this experience for the startups can’t be stated enough. In talking with some of the founders, they fully realized and appreciated the amount of work that went into this and it opened their eyes to new possibilities. 

I caught up with Shanker Sahai, Founder & CEO of Greenbean Recycle, a cashless process which gives consumers a real time environmental impact as soon as a bottle or can is recycled in a reverse vending machine, who was represented by AMP Agency. Sahai told me he is very likely to adopt the new logo that the AMP team created for him. Chang did tell me that the startups do have complete ownership of all the work done for them within this process. 

Overall, the night was full of energy and plenty of laughs provided by the presenters. The NAIL team, representing SprayCake (organic cake mix in a can – “just add heat”) MMB, representing The Welcoming Committee and CTP’s “Creepy Craig campaign for Canary would have battled over the “Funniest” superlative if that was such an award.  But NAIL did one better, winning the competition overall with their humor-driven futuristic campaign. 

Third place went to FORGE Worldwide with their “How Eye Care Rolls” campaign for Project 20/20, who is taking eye exams mobile with on-site optometry. 

The first runner-up was A&G on behalf of Supplet. A&G created a new logo, a three-step actionable campaign and the tag line “Gifts of Pure Love” for the startup that is creating a healthy pregnancy marketplace. In talking with the A&G team after the event they told me they fully enjoyed the experience. The timing aspect was tight, but it was a new, fun experience dealing with a startup as opposed to a big brand. 

The judges had tough decisions to make, but from those I spoke with, all enjoyed the experience and embraced the concept. Sarah Welch loved the “Hack-a-thon” feel to it all. 

In speaking with Kathy Kiely and David Chang both were very pleased with the inaugural event and are excited to see it grow. Kiely loved the energy and for a first time event she said, “it was as good as it gets!” I agree! She also wanted to be sure to give props to the agency teams who crammed for these pitches for 72 hours. Ditto again, Kathy. 

Chang, a startup guy through and through, is excited to see this grow to benefit more startups. “Selfishly,” he said, “the next one would just include Start Tank companies again, but I really want to see this opened up to everyone.” Kiely shared that sentiment and is excited to bring in many more startups as well as new agencies. 

So, it’s safe to say there will be a Brand-a-thon 2, next year. And for those that missed this one, no worries, as Element Productions got it all on tape and will be putting out a video recap soon. We’ll be sure to keep you in the loop on that. 

As someone who enjoys and appreciates the creative work from agencies and how helpful this can be for early stage companies, I’m just as excited as the Brand-a-thon team for next year and to see this effort grow in the future. Providing more startups the invaluable opportunity to get their branding and creative off to a promising start with the help of true creative pros can only benefit all of us involved with the Boston startup ecosystem!

Josh Boyle is Director of Community & Marketing, VentureFizz.  You can follow him on Twitter: @jb_sid