Spark, a student-run communications agency within the walls of St. Lawrence College, has been growing rapidly since its founding in 2014. Among other services, Spark supports businesses in animation, branding, photography, and videography projects on a fee-for-service basis.
“Our purpose is to hire students,” Steve Janssen, creative director, told YGK News.
“Once a student graduates, we don’t employ them anymore, [so] we effectively have a one-hundred percent turnover rate [ … ] We’re tasked with having to restaff every time a student graduates, but it does give us an unique advantage [because] if the services that are our clients are looking for shift, we get that opportunity every year to reevaluate who we hire.”
According to Janssen, the objective behind Spark’s employment philosophy is to provide students with self-driven, hands-on experience that they can add to their resume and take into the workplace.
“What unique is we pay all our students,” he added. “The expectation is [ … ] they’re treating this as a job.”
Project timeline overview
Spark begins each business relationship with “an honest discussion about what the challenges are and what Spark can provide,” Janssen said.
“Depending on what the project is, we get to assemble the team based on the requirements,” he said. “From there, once we have a full grasp of what the challenges are and a good hold on what we can do to help them solve the problem, we give them a quote they can approve and work on [a detailed] project agreement.”
“Generally, we try to follow a framework [that entails] a fifty-percent deposit once the client signs on and agrees on the deliverables, timelines, and [which] students are going to be working on their project.”
The planning stage begins upon deposit, which then moves into execution. Spark conducts biweekly to monthly check-ins with clients to gage satisfaction throughout the process.
“Once we’re done, we hand all of it over [to the client] and we don’t really retain copyright,” Janssen said. “The biggest thing we ask for is that they allow us to showcase them as a client or give us the opportunity to do a case study [on the project]. After that, we ask for our fifty-percent completion fee and close the project.”
Kingston’s business ecosystem
Janssen called Kingston’s local network of businesses and business support systems an “ecosystem,” citing Queen’s University’s number of incubation programs and the Kingston Economic Development Corporation as integral to Spark’s operations.
“You need to give first to get something back,” he said. “For us, [giving is] being part of Kingston’s ecosystem not only in training student talent, but being able to provide high quality marketing to startups who aren’t able to pay ten, twenty grand for a website or business strategy.”
Janssen said his most memorable moments with Spark have been in “challenging expectations.”
“Each client, each project, each challenge is different,” Janssen said. “The experience that I quite often find rewarding is when we really exceed client expectations.”
“Sometimes our clients hold back expectations or set the bar low because it’s ‘student work,’ [but] the students working with us [are] a good mix of second- and third-year students [ … ] so they’re producing professional work.”
Spark turns sights to student enterprise
Moving forward, Janssen said Spark is tackling “student enterprise as a concept.”
“We want to create entrepreneurs and students who can create their own businesses and have the support and environment they need to do it,” Janssen said. “Spark is a marketing agency—that’s what it was designed to be and that’s how we’re developing it, [but the question is] how do we take the framework, package up everything Spark has done, and apply it to a different area of study or opportunity?”