Supporting Exceptional Students
Supporting exceptional students: part altruism, part recruitment strategy for Marketing grad
Rob Jennings (Business Administration – Marketing ’98) will candidly admit that he wasn’t terribly motivated during his first year at NAIT. But then along came Bev Holoboff, now retired, who taught the promotional campaign planning course. “My career choice suddenly became very clear,” says Jennings.
That particular class was focused, competitive and full of enthusiastic students, recalls Holoboff. It was a tough course, focused on problem-solving and, since it was an option, you knew that the students wanted to be there. “I’d bring in people from industry to critique the students’ work.”
Jennings recalls that formative part of the course. One of those leaders was Helene Leggatt, who joined Palmer Jarvis in 1989 as a shareholder and Director of Client Service. Jennings was impressed.
After he graduated in 1998, he worked for a couple of years with Henry Singer. He continued to “bug” Leggatt until, he says, she probably got tired of him. First, she helped him land a job in the business before he joined DDB, where he worked for six years. By then, Leggatt was a local icon in the industry, becoming president in 2002 of DDB’s Edmonton office.
During those six years, he learned a lot, cutting his teeth with one of the most dynamic marketing agencies on the planet. One of those lessons, he explains, was that there was nothing more important in marketing than establishing lon-term, solid relationships with clients. “If you build great relationships, you build trust.”
While at DDB, Jennings nurtured his entrepreneurial zeal by operating a bar. It wasn’t long before, backed by two partners, Robert Lennon and Kim Odland—mentors, really—he pulled the trigger and established advertising and interactive agency Starburst Creative. “We solve marketing problems and help clients reach their business goals by applying our skills and experience in design, technology and communication. Our own objective is simple—great work that results from long-term relationships with like-minded clients.
“As a company, we set high standards for all our work, aiming to produce modern, effective, interactive and advertising products that align with our tagline: We make smart, good-looking things.” In lay language, the company provides strategic marketing and advertising, brand and visual identity development, media planning and buying, print and graphic design, website development and content creation and copywriting.
Located on 103 Avenue in the old warehouse district, Starburst exudes a ‘cool company’ vibe that not only has established itself as a player in the local industry, it’s continuing to grow exponentially. Now employing 13 people, Jennings is looking to beef up the communications side of the agency. No surprise, Jennings routinely turns to his alma mater for new staff.
One such recruit is Chelsea Rho (Business Administration – Marketing ’12), now an account executive at Starburst Creative. “I had just completed an internship and short-term contract at a major agency in Edmonton and was looking for an agency where I could plant my roots,” she explains. “When my former instructor Bev Holoboff reached out and referred me to a job working for a friend of hers at Starburst Creative, I jumped at the chance. It was the perfect role. I applied immediately, had a brief chat with Rob and went for an interview. I was offered a job the next day and never looked back.”
NAIT marketing program graduates like Rho have the solid fundamentals of marketing, says Jennings, who regularly returns to campus to serve in an advisory or judging role for students’ marketing projects. But he’s taken his support one step further, by creating the $1,000 Starburst Creative NAIT Scholarship. The scholarship is awarded to students in their second year of the Business Administration – Marketing program at NAIT, on the basis of top academic achievement in the Public Relations course.
“It’s partly altruism and partly strategy,” says Jennings, who’s never hesitated to call marketing instructors like Teresa Sturgess to get their read on which students would make great employees. Yes, it’s part of their recruitment strategy to support great students, he explains, “but it’s also about shining a spotlight on exceptional student talent, singling out those with the intelligence, skills and drive to succeed in the advertising industry.”
Starburst Creative also helps students in another important way. The company has sponsored the Ad Club of Edmonton’s Student Speed Mentoring night for three years in a row. Rho had attended as a student a few years ago. “It was a huge turning point for me in terms of understanding what kind of opportunities existed in the city and where my education was steering my career trajectory. Now, as member of the professional community, I jumped at the opportunity to attend again and bring that experience to the next batch of ad men and women.”
“We definitely want NAIT students to know who we are,” adds Jennings.
And while Jennings, his employees and the company are making contributions to the industry, Jennings is trying to balance those commitments with his personal life. That, too, is demanding. He and his spouse, Mieke, have two children, Elloise, two and a half years, and Jack, three months. Add the dog, Audrey, and a new house under construction in Westmount. It’s a busy life, but no regrets…well, maybe a couple. “I should have paid more attention in school to organizational behaviour and to accounting.”