All-Star Q&A: Doug Michelman and Tracy Palmer of Sprint’s 1Million Project

By NativeAI / October 10, 2017

brand content can not only help the bottom line, it can help the world.

Case in
point is Sprint’s 1Million Project.

The charitable
corporate initiative from the telecom giant aims to provide home Internet access
to one million high school students in the United States – and digital content is
playing a key role in the effort.

Through a recent series of exceptional pieces, Sprint has been telling the stories of
students in need of connectivity and showcasing how it is helping.

To learn
more about this content and the undertaking overall, we recently chatted with Doug
Michelman, President of the 1Million Project, and Tracy Palmer, Vice President
of Brand Advertising at Sprint.

Check out
the Q&A below.

Q: What are your roles and responsibilities
at Sprint?

Doug: My title
is President of the 1Million Project. My job is to bring
the 1Million Project to life. So, I get to get up every morning and help
thousands and thousands of high school students reach their potential.

Tracy: Man,
that’s a tough one to follow. I am the Vice President of Brand Advertising for
Sprint.  I oversee social, communications,
and YellowFan

our in-house studio, allows us to do things like the 1Million Project. We have
writers, art directors, and our own production abilities, which allows us to
create the content to make sure that we’re helping Doug and the entire 1Million
Project and make the world a better place.

Q: What is the 1Million Project?

Doug: The
1Million Project is a massive initiative to help address a problem which is
called “the homework gap.”

homework gap is not an issue that’s discussed around dinner tables every night
but it’s a real problem, and it’s part of the wider, broader digital divide

challenge is that, increasingly, all school work is assigned online, is often
completed online, and is submitted online.

classrooms today are wired and have broadband connectivity, but there are still
about 10 million students who go home every night to a home that doesn’t have
Internet access. That’s largely because they can’t afford it; it doesn’t fit into
a family’s budget.  

creates great inequity between the haves and the have-nots, because some
students go home to a home where Wi-Fi and connectivity are taken for granted and
then there are millions of kids who don’t have that ability.


For those
latter kids, learning and studying is limited to the hours that they’re in the
school building. When they leave the school building, they are cut off.  They’re cut off unless they take extra
measures to get connectivity back, such as going to a library, or McDonald’s,
or Starbucks. We hear stories all the time about students who go home and then
when their parents get off work at 10:00 PM, they get taken to their aunt’s
house or someone else’s house who has Wi–Fi.  They study from 10:00 PM till 1:00 AM and then
they go home again.  

As a
wireless company, we’re helping to address that problem.  We are in a unique position to make a
difference and help address this problem because we have the network that can
provide that connectivity.  So, over the
course of the next five years we intend to help a million of these high school
students in need. We’ll give them each a free device – either a smartphone, a
tablet, or a hotspot – and free wireless service through their high school
years. They’ll have the opportunity to be connected everywhere, everyplace, and
so they can study where and when they need to – just like their other
counterparts at school who happen to have more money than they do.


Q:  What
role does digital content play in getting the 1Million Project story out?

Tracy: First,
it’s important to know that Marcelo Claure, the CEO of Sprint, for years has
been involved in many, many different organizations and community efforts. When
Marcello came in, he said, “You know what?
We really need to, as a company, pick one thing because the smaller the
amount of dollars that get distributed, the less difference we can make.”  

And so he
said let’s pick something that is very, very important to us and make it part
of the soul of our brand. Something that we can all get behind.

project is huge for us as a brand.  And Marcello
is adamant about getting stories out and helping people understand some of the
specifics around the homework gap that Doug was speaking about.  

Being a
mobile technology company, the 1Million stories and content is a good fit for
our audiences. We want people to know what’s going on, to share, and to find
out how to get involved.

Many of
the pieces of content that we’ve developed have been the stories around the
lives of some of these kids. We feature them on social media and across other
platforms – it’s the kind of stuff that connects. People see these and want to
know how to make an impact as well.  

About a
year and a half ago we decided to bring some of our creative initiatives
in–house, which is how YellowFan Studios came about. That’s been an amazing
opportunity for 1Million.  We’re able to
send our production crews with Doug and his team when they go on-site to
distribute the devices at the local schools.

And because
it’s our own studio, we can drop what we’re doing and run off and meet Doug in
a school and capture that content. Then we can we can turn it into pretty much
anything we need – social, video, text – because we have editing and finishing
abilities here as well.  

Q: We love the Inquisitive Minds video series. Can you talk a
bit about what it is and how it fits into the 1Million Project?  

Doug:  From my point of view, we need to engage
various constituencies for the 1Million Project.  We need the support of school districts, we
need the support of parents, we need the support of local governments, and we
need the support of generous donors to make this program a success over its lifecycle.  

no better way of engaging those audiences than telling the real gritty stories
of high school students around the country who have the need for connectivity, by
showing the difference that this solution can make in their lives, and by
highlighting how grateful they are for having the equal opportunity to succeed
in school and achieve their dreams.  

So, the
Inquisitive Minds videos are the greatest manifestation of that.  

Tracy: These
kids we feature in the series have amazing stories. Trevonte, Hannah, Marleni – I get choked up thinking about them.


I also
smile. I feel proud to be part of this – it’s like you go through it again
every time you watch each video.

Doug: The
Inquisitive Minds
series that Tracy and her colleagues are working on is one of
the most important things we’re doing right now.

been looking at some other ideas for the future which would be equally powerful
in different ways. We want to capture a viewer’s attention. The goal with the
content to make a viewer stop, pause, consider the challenge that these kids
face, and then maybe want to support the effort in some way.  

This is a project that people on my team are jumping up and down and knocking
the doors over to be part of.

The way
our company has rallied around the 1Million Project has made us a closer. We’ve
been able to mobilize 30,000 employees for good.


It’s shown
us how can we help, what can we do, how can we participate, how can we support
each other.  It shows our employee
community how big of a difference we can make as a larger group versus
individual pieces.

Doug: Tracy’s
team’s been doing a lot of work for a project we’re going to launch in about a
month in which we’re going to ask every one of our 30,000 employees to become a
fundraiser for the project.  We’re using
a social fundraising platform called CrowdRise for that.

asking every employee to go out and use their social platforms and email
networks to make appeals for their friends, families, and networks of contacts
to contribute to this effort.

Written by NativeAI / October 10, 2017