Interviews

The value of ambassador partnerships — a Vancouver Film School case study

Thi Tran
August 21, 2020  •   4 min read


(Photo courtesy of www.vfs.edu)

Before making it big with movies like Clerks, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Mallrats, and creating the ubiquitous silent character that would become part of the movie culture lexicon, acclaimed filmmaker Kevin Smith attended Vancouver Film School (VFS). Now he’s circled back to the place where it all began, becoming VFS’s first ever Creative Ambassador.

In a media release issued February 2020, Smith writes, “Vancouver Film School was the first step on the road to making Clerks. In the hallowed halls of VFS, I not only learned the basics of my craft—I also met other like minded dreamers who would go on to help me tell my stories for the rest of my life.”

Viewers can watch Smith talking about getting his start at the film school online at VFS’s Industry Talks series. Evan Biswanger, Creative Director and Head of Marketing at VFS, says of Smith, “You’ll get to see first-hand his passion, no BS approach, and love of the creative industry. For a young prospect or a working professional looking to pivot, getting this kind of input from someone in his unique position is invaluable.”

Smith, an award-winning writer, director, and producer, has also been a long-time supporter of Vancouver’s creative film scene.

“Kevin Smith has a very interesting history with VFS and we have worked with Kevin in the past on various initiatives,” says Biswanger. “We joined forces to help save the Rio Theatre and also ran scholarships in his name in 2018.

In 2019, Smith awarded more than US$250,000 in writing, acting, and film production scholarships at VFS.

The partnership between VFS and Smith doesn’t get much more aligned than that. It’s a prime example of one of the most natural brand-ambassador partnerships — the kind that feels like a perfect pairing because of the connection both parties have built with each other over time. That is just not something you can manufacture.

What makes a valuable ambassador?

There’s a long history of organizations partnering with well-known celebrities to boost their connection to consumers or reach a more tightly defined audience. The partnering of Nike, for example, with basketball icon Michael Jordan is an example of what celebrity power can do for a brand. Jordan helped transform Nike from an underdog company in 1985 (Adidas was the top shoe company at the time) into one of the largest, most valuable consumer brands in the world. However, it’s not the level of fame that determines the value of a brand (or creative) ambassador.

In choosing an ambassador for your business or organization, you want someone who upholds your brand’s core values and ethos – someone that speaks to, and connects with, the most dedicated core of your target audience. Smith, intrinsically and professionally, embodies the creative pulse and storytelling instincts that speaks to precisely those who want a legitimate career in the creative arts.

Good ambassadors are supporters who want to champion an organization they love and amplify its presence. But a valuable ambassador creates authentic connections between an organization and the targeted public.

“Having Kevin come on board as our Creative Ambassador was a no-brainer,” Biswanger says. “What we, and I believe Kevin, hoped to achieve was to draw more attention to creative industry programs for those who are aspiring to make the creative arts their profession, and to get further involved in the ‘ground-up’ building blocks of these young talents, even before they start school. Spreading the word about the legitimacy of creative arts as a career for anyone with passion and drive IS our passion and drive behind this.”
When a great partnership happens, you can sense — as one can feel between VFS and Smith — an authentic and unified mission.

A perfect pairing

Since Smith’s tenure at VFS, the school has garnered international recognition as a leader in entertainment arts education. Recognized as one of the top film schools by both Variety Magazine and Hollywood Reporter Magazine, their alumni — as exemplified by Smith — are some of the most sought-after talent, consistently credited on the most successful productions in the entertainment industry.

“At VFS, it has always been our intention not to just have a classroom with instructors teaching the basic ‘equations’ of creative programs, but rather to teach the direct production realities of experienced industry faculty,” states Biswanger. “VFS also takes this philosophy to the next level by creating what we call ‘industry embedded’ initiatives. We invite (or are invited by) high calibre companies to partner within VFS walls to deliver front-line industry experiences to our students.”
With Smith seated in the ambassador chair, he not only highlights the school’s proven track record of alumni success, but he also reinforces VFS’s global reputation as the premiere entertainment arts school. As Biswanger says, “Kevin’s wide breadth of industry knowledge and success and how he can funnel this to our students (and potential students) is extremely valuable.”

Coming soon…

As Creative Ambassador, Smith will launch a new scholarship program and was slated to make multiple campus appearances, including a Storyteller’s Studio AMA event, to provide support and mentorship to aspiring VFS creatives. One month after Smith was named Creative Ambassador, however, the world went into lockdown. “COVID-19 has really thrown us all for a bit of a loop,” says Biswanger. Though the pandemic hasn’t stopped VFS from trying to think up new and creative ways to connect their students with Smith.

“We have many ideas in the hopper and our first priority, when we can, will be to give our students as much access to Kevin as possible. His transfer of knowledge and passion is the greatest gift he gives to VFS,” remarks Biswanger on the valuable partnership.
“We would like to circle back on our scholarship initiatives with Kevin and see if we could offer this to more than just a few programs this time, and to all programs as a whole. Perhaps we can find a permanent place for Kevin within our walls too. VFS and Kevin Smith are two powerful creative forces, so stay tuned for more to come.”


To learn more about VFS, their programs, and upcoming events, visit their website at www.vfs.edu.


Thi Tran
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After a decade-long career working in financial sales, Thi returned to her passion for words and ideas. With sales and marketing experience under her belt and a formal background in creative writing, she’s a copywriter, editor, and public relations consultant. Thi specializes in writing creative content, crafting clear messaging and developing content strategy that aligns with her client’s brand and strives to connect people. She is based in Vancouver, BC.