The model catches on

A year of The BrandLab expansion

What started with an idea in 2007 – changing the face and voice of the advertising and marketing industry – has evolved into a movement with significant momentum. Both internally and externally, The BrandLab is looking back on a year of major developments.

Strengthening our core

The major focus in 2017 was strengthening our team. We were able to hire a director to lead our Fearless Programs, who will oversee the State of the Industry Report, our Fearless Consultancy, the 3 Fearless Questions Podcast and our Fearless Conversation Annual Event. We are proud to say that we now have six full time employees as well as seven part-time instructors that help facilitate our Fearless workshops. In addition, we were able to diversify our board of directors. 48 percent of our board now represents the diversity of the student body we serve.

Brenna Smithson, Director of Brand Planning at Carmichael Lynch, has been with The BrandLab from the very beginning. She’s seen the growth that has occurred.

“This really matters. It is hard sometimes, but totally worth all the work that goes into making change happen. One of the most memorable experiences for me was holding a NY Times article about The BrandLab in my hands. That was in 2010 and I still have it in a folder at my house. There was just something so visceral about it. It made me recognize how important this work really is.”

It is a relationship-based project and that is why so many people feel connected to it and support it, why it is so successful.

- Brenna Smithson, Strategist at Carmichael Lynch and
TBL Board Member

It’s one thing to believe in the big idea of diversity and inclusion, but quite another to acknowledge and do the hard work that it entails, to effect change on the small scale, to make mistakes and learn from them. Inclusion, Smithson says, is a daily practice.

“The BrandLab both challenges the rules but also knows how to play within them. It acknowledges that significant change takes time. It is a relationship-based project and that is why so many people feel connected to it and support it, why it is so successful.”

Expanding the vision

How to practice inclusion is also an intriguing issue for Jeff King, CEO at Barkley, an integrated marketing and ad agency in Kansas City, MO. “We talked a lot about inclusion and finding new, diverse talent internally. By chance, I learned about The BrandLab through one of their board members and thought that it was perfect to what we were trying to accomplish.” Initially, King set out to learn from us and to replicate our efforts. Ultimately, it made more sense to do to an actual expansion of The BrandLab to Kansas City, implementing our classroom program, connecting interns and industry and growing this movement. This expansion will happen in 2018.

“We want to do better work and that is why we need to broaden our talent pool. We need different backgrounds, perspectives and ways of seeing the world”, says King.

“By bringing The BrandLab to Kansas City, we want to introduce kids to an industry that they might not even have been aware of but where their talent is greatly needed,” King says. “Even if we only change one life by exposing them to our industry, all the efforts were worth it.”

Even if we only change one life by exposing them to our industry, all the efforts were worth it.

- Jeff King, CEO at Barkley

We’re very proud our vision is working, that our brand promise is strong and that other people are taking notice of what we have done in the Twin Cities and want to join the movement. Best of all, we are happy to announce that after Kansas City, The BrandLab will expand to Chicago in 2019.

In the long-term, we want to expand The BrandLab to many more schools and cities across the U.S. Our industry should become a shining beacon for how to address this societal problem and hopefully, in the future, other industries will start to replicate our efforts.

Thank you, Bold North

Successes like this could never have been accomplished were it not for the many passionate people who believed in and supported this initiative. For so long, our partners have been investing in a vision and we can now see the impact of our efforts. The BrandLab began in 2009 with one classroom program, two interns, one agency partner, three corporate partners and one TBL staff member. We have gone through many frustrations and disappointments over the past 9 years. But we have worked hard and grown tremendously alongside our students and are now looking at:

  • 29 classroom programs
  • 65 interns
  • 8 connect interns
  • 10 scholarships
  • 5 college tuition discount partners
  • 70 mentorship matches
  • Fearless Conversation
  • Fearless workshop & consultancy series
  • Five full-time and three part-time employees


It’s satisfying to see how our vision slowly bears fruit and how the movement is growing and picking up speed. It would never have happened without our supporters, and we are extremely grateful. Thank you for believing in us when The BrandLab was just an idea.

And thank you to the Twin Cities for trusting The BrandLab and for helping us to change the industry and make it better. You truly are the Bold North for supporting these bold changes. Now we’re ready to bring them to additional communities.