The American Indian College Fund has worked with pro-bono advertising partner Wieden+Kennedy for more than 20 years to create public service announcement advertisements to educate the public about the American Indian College Fund and its students. Wieden+Kennedy is known for its signature work for Nike, Target, and Coca-Cola, and was named Adweek's 2008 Global Agency of the Year.
Our public service announcements have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Harper's, U.S. News and World Report, Fortune, Marie Claire, and Outside, and on television networks such as Discovery Networks, National Geographic, and in radio.
The American Indian College Fund has worked with its advertising partner Wieden+Kennedy for more than 20 years to create public service announcement advertisements that educate the public about the American Indian College Fund and the communities it serves.
The partnership is one of the most exemplary examples of what can be achieved when the private and non-profit sectors collaborate. When founders Wieden+Kennedy founders Dan Wieden and David Kennedy decided to lend their agency’s expertise to promote the accomplishments of the tribal college movement, the result was exposing millions of people to the mission of the organization and showing them how a college education helps lift American Indians out of poverty. Thanks to the efforts of Wieden+Kennedy, the public is aware of the financial need American Indian students must overcome to go to college, and of the role of tribal colleges in preserving Native cultures while providing Native people education.
“So many of our donors have come to us after seeing one of our Wieden+Kennedy public service announcements. They are so striking and have really shattered people’s misconceptions about Indian people; I think that’s why they are so memorable. They move people to want to help,” said Richard B. Williams, American Indian College Fund President and CEO.
The relationship began when the fledgling American Indian College Fund sent Wieden+Kennedy a simple letter asking for help in 1990. Over the years that involvement has evolved to a passion on the part of agency employees and Dan Wieden and David Kennedy. Both men have served on the American Indian College Fund’s board of trustees at one point. They’ve also traveled across the country visiting the tribal colleges on countless reservation communities and listening to students as they have set about their work producing public service announcements for the American Indian College Fund.
When I walked into my office on the morning of December 19, 1991, there was a letter waiting on my desk from Barbara Bratone, the then-executive director of the American Indian College Fund. It briefly described the Fund and its mission and asked if we would be interested in taking them on as our pro bono account. I ran screaming down the hall to Dan’s office, shoved the letter in his face, and shouted, “Dan, look!”
He read it, and said “Kennedy, You’ve got to do this!” I called Barbara that very moment. We set up a meeting in Portland, and within a couple of weeks, we were the agency of record for the American Indian College Fund—a partnership that has lasted to this day.
Until that day, I had not heard of the Fund. I had helped out from time to time with its model, the United Negro College Fund, in Chicago during the Black Panther, Chicago Seven, and Democratic Convention riots era, but I had no knowledge of a like organization for Native Americans.
The reason Barbara contacted Wieden+Kennedy was that she had seen a tiny article in The New York Times about some upstart agency in Portland, Oregon, that was making ads for Nike. It was about the time we were introducing Air Jordan with Michael and Spike Lee, so we were beginning to get some national ink.
Why Barbara wrote to me instead of Dan (who was listed as president of the firm), I will never know. After all my years amongst Indian people, I know better than to question these things. They just happen. What she didn’t know was that I was completely predisposed to embrace her proposal. I suppose the situation was serendipitous for both of us.
The fact is I had grown up in Oklahoma surrounded by five reservations: The Creek Nation to the east, the Seminole to the south, the Pottawatomie to the west, and the Sac and Fox to the north. My mother’s family settled early in Oklahoma, coming west from Arkansas not long after Indian Territory was opened up to Sooners.
My grandfather established a general store in what would become Lincoln County, Oklahoma, on the southern edge of the Sac and Fox nation, boyhood home of Jim Thorpe. Eventually, they moved to the nearby town of Prague, a Czech settlement on the Ft. Smith and Western Railroad. I grew up there, and, as a boy, I ran with Indians. Many of my closest friends, classmates, and teammates were Native Americans.
My father was a wildcat oil driller. At times we moved often-up and down the eastern face of the Rockies, where the oil was more plentiful and the shallow deposits were easier to drill. We roamed from Billings to the Brazos—the ancestral range of the buffalo.
I rough-necked on the drilling rigs and my Indian contact continued. On the Northern Plains, there were Blackfeet, Crow, Arapaho and a few Cheyenne and Lakota. In the Southwest: Navajo, Ute, and Pueblo. And on the Southern Plains: Comanche and Kiowa. I become a powwow junkie.
When I graduated from college in Colorado, my wife and I moved to Chicago, then Oregon, and for close to 30 years, I had a little or no contact with Native people. So you might well imagine my joy and excitement when Barbara’s letter arrived that December day. It was the greatest Christmas present I have ever received—or will ever receive.