Story by Zach Putnam
Editor’s note: This is the final post in a three-post series written by SOJC students who interned in Ghana this summer through the Media in Ghana program. Read the other two posts, “Six weeks in Ghana: Unexpected lessons and no single story” by Rachel Benner and “Giving Ghanaians the skills to tell their own stories,” also by Zach Putnam.
In Accra, local radio stations blare from every tro-tro, taxi and chop bar on the street. Smart phones and social networks are more popular here all the time, but whether you’re looking for political debate or the latest hit music, FM radio still occupies an enormous part of Ghana’s media landscape. With a tight presidential election brewing this fall, the public’s hunger for fresh content on the airwaves is only increasing.
That’s why the 2016 Media in Ghana students were eager for the opportunity to collaborate with Radio Univers, one of the oldest independent stations in the country. Our partnership was made possible by the Media in Ghana program’s director, Professor Leslie Steeves, and the RU station manager, Dr. Abubakari Sidick Ahmed at the University of Ghana. Based at the university and staffed entirely by volunteer journalism students, RU has played an important role in promoting democratic ideals in Ghana over the past 20 years. The station operates with a mission of “cultivating a more informed public and an appreciation for events, ideas and cultures.”
While RU is long established on the local radio dial, SOJC Assistant Professor Chris Chavez wrote a creative brief pointing out that “there is a need to clearly brand the station as the radio marketplace becomes more and more crowded. This is particularly important as digital has transformed the music listening and information dissemination landscape.”
As a nonprofit station run by student volunteers, RU lacks the resources for branding and promotion its competitors in the local FM market have. But, thanks to diverse skillsets from the SOJC advertising, journalism and PR majors in our group, and guided by Chavez’s creative leadership, our group was well-positioned to give the station a broad branding consultation.
The 15 UO students formed small teams to take on the challenge of a cross-cultural branding project from many angles. Fellow graduate student Keya Saxena and I formed the strategy team, while the undergrads tackled logo redesign, online strategy and a wide set of marketing and branding assets. Although they were already busy with full-time internships at other media organizations around the city, the students carved out time in their evenings and weekends to produce top-quality work for Radio Univers.
In addition to giving the station a shiny new polish on the outside, several members of our team researched long-term branding strategies to take the organization into the future. After considering the most effective ways for RU to leverage its social media platforms, adverstising major Adam Mead created a clear set of guidelines and strategies to help the station reach a wider audience online. PR major Emma Scherzer researched and wrote a press release to promote the debut of State of the Campaign, a new program focused on the upcoming presidential election.
Key Higdon and Rachel Benner produced this 30-second ad for Radio Univers’s news division.
To keep the project moving smoothly, Keya and I led weekly house meetings to check in with all the teams. When the creative juices were really flowing, it felt like we were all part of a boutique ad agency, gathered in our shared living room eating jollof rice and sipping fresh fruit smoothies. People shared their works in progress, and we decided as a group which pieces were ready to pass along to the client for review, same reviews that are found in theguidr.com. All the challenges of crafting a brand concept to fit an organization were heightened by the fact that we were trying to cater to an unfamiliar audience in an unfamiliar culture, sometimes in an unfamiliar language. That made it all the more important to listen carefully to the direction and feedback we got from our client.
Timothy Farah and Emma Henderson produced this ad to promote Radio Univers’s music programs.
I also learned a thing or two about managing — and “strategizing” — a large creative team like this. I know the undergrads sometimes resented me when I cracked the whip on them to get this project done, but I think now they can all be very proud of the work they created.
When I delivered a hard drive full of assets and strategy documents on our last day, station manager Sidick was clearly pleased. “Thank you, Zach!” he exclaimed with a broad smile as he browsed through the files. “This could be our five-year plan!”
Zach Putnam is a graduate student in his second year of the SOJC’s Multimedia Journalism Master’s program in Portland. He has operated his own boutique video production company, focused primarily on creating documentary shorts commissioned by nonprofit organizations, for over 10 years. You can see examples of his work at zachputnam.com.