Yellow Line Digital Gives Students First-Hand Training in Digital Marketing

June 17, 2019 | By James Powers

Several JPCatholic students have just completed the inaugural quarter of a new course offered through a partnership between the University and marketing agency Yellow Line Digital. “Digital Agency Workshop” (BUS 441) was taught cooperatively by various Yellow Line staff, introducing students to the fundamentals of marketing strategies and their application across social media and other digital platforms.

In past years, Yellow Line’s office location just footsteps from campus has provided multiple opportunities for student internships and part-time work, but this is the first time their staff has formally taught a social media marketing course for JPCatholic. The course also functions as a recruitment opportunity, giving students hands-on experience in working with client accounts and allowing the company to evaluate potential interns.

“For us, the most important thing is to hire a culture fit for our company,” says partner Stephen Flemings. “Knowing the students from [JPCatholic] are culturally aligned allows us to hire quickly and easily.”

This culture fit owes largely to the close relationship that Yellow Line has had with the University since its inception in 2011. Founded by JPCatholic professors Joe Szalkiewicz and Dominic Iocco, along with alumnus Matt Salisbury, Yellow Line was originally conceived as a film production company, but underwent several alterations to its business model before arriving at one in 2016 that has since proven both successful and sustainable.

This final shift came about with the realization that many of their clients were taking a rather fractured approach to marketing that didn’t seem effective. At the time, Yellow Line was a creative agency making content for clients, such as video commercials or blog posts, but was not in the business of overall marketing strategy. Their clients, meanwhile, “would buy video and content and social management separately and it wouldn’t really get results,” Flemings explains.

Around this time, co-founder Salisbury had just completed a master’s program at Georgetown University which, among other things, trained him in methods of strategic communications - the coordination of a company’s digital content and messaging (e.g. ads, social media posting, etc) around a cohesive story. Salisbury brought these skills to Yellow Line, and from there the company began to shift from content creation into its current model - a full-service digital agency for businesses and nonprofits.

In other words, the focus is now more on creating an overall narrative for the client, rather than individual pieces of content. “Our goal is usually simple: Use social media to tell a brand’s story to its ideal fan,” explains creative manager Emily Snell on the agency’s blog. “However, the application of that formula is not always easy. A brand’s story is deep and important, while social media posts are short and transient.”

Flemings speaks of it as a series of “micro-stories” that come together to form an overarching “metastory.” Through the years, Yellow Line has helped a wide array of brands tell such stories, from corporations such as Casio Electronics and The Leo Diamond to nonprofits like the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the New Civil Liberties Alliance. The company has been building a reputation, and last year Salisbury was even featured in the Wall Street Journal and interviewed on Fox Business.

The agency aims to scale up significantly in the future while still maintaining a tight focus on its digital agency model. The company is currently valued at about $2 million and employs a half-dozen full-time staff – most of which are alumni of JPCatholic. The goal is to hit the $10 million mark within the next few years and ultimately have around 20 full-time employees. To do so, the company is focusing on making their workflow as streamlined and consistent as possible, so that it can be successfully implemented with a larger team while still achieving the same results.

“In finding and really focusing on what we do best, we have begun to get momentum in getting more complete processes,” Flemings says. “All of our deliverables begin to look more cohesive; all of our product fits the same quality standard.”

This consistency depends in large part on training new employees in Yellow Line’s unique procedures and approach, which is one of the benefits of the Digital Agency course. By having students do supervised tasks for real client accounts, the course gives them first-hand experience of the agency’s workflow as well as the field of digital marketing overall, a valuable asset if any should choose to join the company later as interns or new hires. From the beginning, Flemings says, co-founder Szalkiewicz envisioned Yellow Line not only as a successful firm in its own right, but also as a building block for an entrepreneurial community surrounding JPCatholic, helping college students make the transition into digital media careers.

Student response to this new teaching model has been positive. “The fact that we get to work with real data, real accounts, and the actual employees of the company is such an incredible opportunity,” says senior Grace Reding. She observes that putting this work in the context of a group class rather than an individual internship takes away some of the pressures that can affect on-the-job learning otherwise. She adds, “Because it's a small group of students, the focus is definitely on learning and getting one-on-one feedback on the work you've done.”

After a successful first quarter, it is likely that the course will continue to be offered in the future. Flemings emphasizes, however, that the course isn’t exclusive to business students, and invites students from media programs like screenwriting to also join in the future.

For more info on Yellow Line Digital, you can visit their website.