Narrative Science picks Zeno--with an assist from DePaul grad students

Graduate students enrolled in DePaul University's master's program for PR and advertising assisted in the agency search.

CHICAGO: Technology company Narrative Science chose Zeno Group last month for an assignment with some help from an unlikely place: graduate students at DePaul University.

Students in instructor Ron Culp’s class were assigned a project to research, interview, and prepare presentations about 10 agencies for client Katy DeLeon, VP of marketing at Narrative Science. The goal of the assignment was to complement Narrative Science’s own due diligence and give students a taste of the real world. The project started in January.

"I wanted to give them a real-life picture of what it’s like in corporate America and the agency world when it comes to selecting an agency for a project," said Culp, a veteran of senior communications executive positions at Sears, Sara Lee, Ketchum, and Sard Verbinnen & Co. "In some regards, it was like a capstone class, by accident. It just got better and better every day, and the students realized what they were helping a company achieve. This is not a textbook; it’s real life."

Narrative Science ultimately awarded Zeno the business in April based in part on its expertise in AI. Emma Finkbeiner, national president of the PRSSA, and Imani Shabazz, a first-year grad student from New York, led the presentation on Zeno.

"The insight [the students] brought to the table was they confirmed a lot of things [Narrative Science] wanted," Culp said. "They made it come to life differently than if it were a typical capabilities presentation."

After the DePaul students made their presentations to Narrative Science and recommended three agencies, the company narrowed the list down to Zeno and another firm Culp declined to identify.

As the startup grew into a "force within the AI industry," Narrative Science decided it needed an firm for comms support for business challenges such as helping prospective customers understand its offerings, Culp said.

"We wanted someone who could understand the business quickly and the things we want to accomplish from a growth perspective. We wanted to create more awareness of the company and the category," said DeLeon. "Natural language is an emerging AI technology, and we’re trying to ensure that large enterprise companies know who we are and what we’re doing with a number of organizations."

Culp said he hopes to repeat the exercise next year with a major consumer brand that students would actually encounter in the agency world. The former agency and corporate executive is a professional in residence, instructor, and professional director in DePaul’s graduate program.

As a result of this project, DePaul decided to create a special course on AI and how it's being communicated, which will be led by instructor Don Ingle this summer.

This story was updated on June 1 to correct the type of relationship between Narrative Science and Zeno, as well as DeLeon's title and Shabazz's home state. It was also updated with quotes from DeLeon.

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