Last Friday, a few of us from C21 attended the Two+Two event run by Creative Resource. The event is designed to introduce the next generation to creative and advertising industry professionals. Not only are they given a real brief to work on, but the winners get an incredible prize. Angelo, our Creative Director had been invited to attend as one of the judging panel and I, along with Jess our Strategy Manager and Emma our Head of Creative, were asked to take part mentors. I’ve always found coaching and mentoring very rewarding, so I was eager to get involved. I’ve worked at C21 since the very start and I’ve always been the go-to person for work experience students wishing to spend time in the creative studio, and I’m proud to say, I’ve played an active role in identifying and nurturing the talent of tomorrow.

As it was my first year taking part, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived, but I was impressed by the scale of the event. The venue was huge, but the steady stream of students soon filled the warehouse space. I’m not sure of the exact numbers, but there were several hundred students and about 50 mentors, all eager to help guide and support the students. After an initial briefing session, we were split into separate sections, with seven teams of students in each. Our sections were all colour coded and I was assigned the orange teams.

Joining me were 7 mentors and a team leader, all ready to guide the students. They had been split up into groups of five, deliberately separated from friends and course-mates from their alma maters to pull them out of their comfort zone. Working with other students they had only just met added an extra layer of complexity to the challenge of answering the brief. The students were studying a mix of disciplines across the advertising, design and media spectrum and had travelled from all over the North of England.

The other mentors and I had received the brief a few weeks before, and after reading it, I felt this wasn’t an easy nut to crack. The consensus was this was the most difficult brief ever set for a Two+Two event and many of us long-standing professionals were left scratching our heads. It asked for a ‘big idea’ rather than anything specifically deliverable like a brand or a website and centred on creating a perception change. The teams were asked how they would rally Gen-Z to be advocates for the benefits of data-sharing technology in cars so they, in turn, could convince Gen-Y to embrace that technology. Simple right?

Our first job as mentors was to visit each table and answer any questions the students had on the brief. I thought each table looked a little like rabbits in the headlights, but it was our job to break the ice and get them working together. I walked them through research, the problems to identify and solve, target audiences, possible methods of communication and how long they had left. Unsurprisingly, I think I left each table in a more overwhelmed state than I found it.

After catching up with the other mentors and forming a plan of action to help as best we could, we returned to the tables to see how the students were getting along. I think the mentors were pleasantly surprised in the progress in such a short space of time. Our job was to guide thinking without throwing ideas in ourselves. It was a challenge not to try and give a solution, especially as this was a brief that we at C21 would have loved to get our teeth into. It fit so well with our own values and goals about creating change and embracing technologies designed to better our world. But our role was to help the students challenge their ideas and push them to create something they could be proud of. I think the benefits of this for both the students and I were huge — it developed their problem-solving skills and tempered my desire to give the solution. It was really rewarding to revisit a table after a while to see the ideas flowing. It really goes to show, if you give talented people the tools to succeed, they most likely will.

After a working lunch it was back down to business to start finalising thoughts and building presentations. There was only 2 hours until the students had to present their ideas in front of the mentors and their peers. Some tables needed a little more guidance that others, but it was encouraging to see how each tackled the brief. When there were just 30 minutes to go, the room was a hive of activity. No-one even had time for a toilet break.

Suddenly it was all over, it was time to watch each group in our section pitch. Seven different presentations gave us seven completely different answers to the brief, which was very impressive. After a brief deliberation we chose our first and second place concepts.

Another intensive 30 minutes later of refining presentations we had our finalists and our wild card entry. When all the teams gathered to see the final presentations, I’m sure most mentors felt like me — incredibly proud of what our teams had achieved. All the work was fantastic, and even though there was no victory for the orange team, we got the biggest laugh for the work which sailed closest to the wind. It was great to meet with some of the students in the bar afterwards over a beer and discuss what we had gained from the experience. I left for home with a ready-break glow of wholesomeness.

Two+Two was an incredible day. I met some fantastically talented students and some lovely people. It was immensely rewarding experience and I can’t wait to get involved again next year. If you’re a student – take part. If you’re in the industry — considering being a mentor. You’ll get more out of it than you put in.