Isaac Versaw, '13

Profile: Tying brands to social impact

Isaac Versaw, '13, had his eye on the Big Apple when he graduated from Kent State in December 2013, targeting New York City to launch his career in advertising and visual communication design.

“I always wanted to live in New York City,” Versaw said. “I knew if I wanted to make it and brush elbows with the best of the best that I just had to go there.”

His first career stop was with Purpose, an organization and social movement incubator he worked with for almost two years. Purpose was working on a project called the Syria Campaign when Versaw joined the organization.

“The Syria Campaign was probably the most meaningful position I’ve held,” Versaw said. “We ran campaigns for nonviolent Syrians in Syria to put political pressure on policy-makers around the world. We also launched the rebranded Syrian Civil Defense group as The White Helmets.”

The White Helmets are humanitarian volunteers who rescue people in need after attacks on either side of the Syrian conflict. Since The White Helmets launched, the Nobel Peace Prize-nominated group has met with leaders at the White House and worked with Netflix to create an Oscar-winning documentary, titled “The White Helmets.”

“I was glad to be doing something that mattered and seeing real change in the world,  but the work was so heavy and emotionally taxing,” Versaw said. “I was responsible for digging up content to tell stories not being amplified by the mainstream media. I would see the most gruesome, upsetting stuff every day.”

Versaw spent his time away from work on lighter, creative projects, such as his Rap, Paper, Scissors, a hand-created paper cut-out project of famous hip-hop artists, animated frame-by-frame alongside some of their most famous lyrics.

“I just tried to do light stuff and put it out there,” Versaw said. “I caught the attention of some recruiters at an ad agency called Deutsch and they asked me to join their social media content creation team. So I left Purpose to start there.”

Versaw has been focusing his creative work at RYOT Studios since 2017, creating branded content programs for Verizon Media Group’s publishers including Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Yahoo! Finance and Tumblr.  

RYOT is a type of immersive film studio that started by making social impact documentaries, engaging the audience with a call to action.

“Sometimes reading the news is such a passive thing,” Versaw said.

“You read stories about Syria, or at the time it was the earthquake

in Haiti and it’s like, ‘What can I really do about it?’ So (RYOT) would attach a specific action the reader could take to have a tangible impact.”

Having experience in both the advertising and visual communication design programs at Kent State is what prepared Versaw for his series of career opportunities in New York.

“I was able to sharpen my headline writing and creative writing skills,” Versaw said, adding that he combined that with a design background to get his foot in the door. “And having those skills I learned as an

ad student, and understanding how to think like a journalist and tell stories in truthful, honest ways, really came into practice out here too.”

WENDY WARDELL, an associate lecturer at Kent State, recalls Versaw as having direction and passion about the work he wanted to do.

“Isaac is creative and fearless, at the same time, he’s curious and thoughtful,” Wardell said. “I believe that one can’t be creative without being curious, and fearlessness is dangerous without thoughtfulness. Isaac understands the societal impact he can make in our industry and that’s rare.”

In December 2018, Verizon Media Group had to lay off several employees across their publishers. Versaw’s contract at RYOT Studios had hit 18 months at the time and he was laid off until June, when he returned to RYOT.

This time without work allowed Versaw to reevaluate what he wanted to do.

“The exciting thing about a JMC education is that the world of media is so unique and changing. You can think you’re gonna do one thing, but nothing is set in stone,” Versaw said. “The skill set you acquired from the path you thought you were going to be on can still be very valuable when the paths change. The landscape is changing so fast every day, you really can’t expect to do one thing forever.”

During the Verizon Media layoffs, Versaw spent time freelancing and looking into performance and voice acting. In the future, Versaw would like to explore screenwriting in the film world and how branded content can be morphed into long form entertainment.

“Because branded content is very much story- and narrative-driven, I’ve always had an interest in film and the goal would be to be a creative director in some capacity,” Versaw said. “I’d like to move toward more entertainment focused direction. I’d like to have more of a role in screenwriting creatively and helping evolve that kind of direction of advertising.”

Versaw’s key advice for students and graduates includes having a unique viewpoint when it comes to the work you want to do and to find a passion project to work on in your free time.

“Take the time to do things you’re passionate about,” Versaw said.

“When you do that on your own and take the initiative it not only creates something you can show people, but it shows people you can be excited about something. I think that’s when the best work comes out, and people really want to see that.”

POSTED: Wednesday, September 25, 2019 - 1:36pm
UPDATED: Friday, November 15, 2019 - 1:38pm
Maria McGinnis, '21