Aug 11, 2011 • By

Teens tackle networking with The BrandLab

When I was young, if a kid was asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, jobs such as doctor, police officer, teacher and professional athlete often ranked high on the list. But brand manager? Graphic designer? Copywriter? Market researcher?

Not likely.

So, not surprisingly, exposure for children to careers in marketing and advertising has traditionally lagged other career options, especially among minorities.

I recently participated in a networking event hosted by General Mills with students and alumni from the Minneapolis-based nonprofit The BrandLab, and was blown away by how familiar these students were with careers in the marketing and advertising industry.

The BrandLab provides students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds with exposure and access to future careers in marketing through high school classes, internships, scholarships and, now, networking opportunities.

Last week, The BrandLab held its first “speed networking” event to connect students with experts who currently work in the industry, and to help those students practice the sometimes painful art of networking – a skill that they’ll need no matter what career they pursue.

The 27 teens who participated in the speed networking event were paired with marketing and advertising professionals from agencies and companies around the Twin Cities, such as General Mills, Target, 3M, and OLSON. Each pair had five minutes to “speed network” before the students rotated to a new professional.

Bright eyed and excited about careers in marketing and advertising, the students impressed me with the investments they were already making in their futures. After all, they were willing to spend a beautiful summer night inside meeting with adults up to twice their age rather than enjoying the last days of summer vacation with their friends.

Each student asked me thoughtful questions and shared their specific goals and aspirations for the future. When the five minutes were up, they politely handed me a professional-looking business card and shook my hand as they said goodbye. Many of them had already thought about university programs, college majors and future internship opportunities that they wanted to pursue. One sixteen-year-old already had a successful internship under her belt!

The students were either current students or alumni of The BrandLab’s classroom program, in which staff and volunteers from The BrandLab partner with high schools in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area to offer classes on marketing, media arts, mass communications and product development.

To date, more than 400 students have completed The BrandLab class, 40 have completed summer internships, and 42 have received $1,000 college scholarships.

At the event, I had the chance to speak with Pamela Brown, a digital content producer at General Mills, and her BrandLab intern for the summer, Quincy Jaquez.

Here’s what they had to say about why they participate in The BrandLab.

The BrandLab was created in 2007 by John Olson, founder and chairman of OLSON, as a response to the lack of diversity in the advertising and marketing industry.

General Mills, in addition to OLSON, Target, and the Schwan Food Company, is a founding sponsor of The BrandLab.

Mark Addicks, General Mills’ chief marketing officer, is currently the chair of The BrandLab’s board of directors.

Learn more or get involved at