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How This All-Female Creative Team Helped Shine a Light on Solar Energy and STEM

Q&A: Get the inside scoop on ComEd’s Icebox Derby challenge from Leo Burnett’s Debbie Mudd, Anna Jacobs and Emily Wilhelm

The end of summer often means goodbye to sunny weather, beach vacations and lunch breaks enjoyed outside, but in Chicago, it also means hello to the annual ComEd Icebox Derby.

The derby, now in its third year, aims to get young girls inspired and involved in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields by teaching them how to build a derby race car made of recycled refrigerators.

The event has grown year over year, thanks to Leo Burnett Chicago’s integrated, all-hands-on-deck approach, bringing in Greenhouse for production, LBI for interactive components and the Department of Design. As a result of the teamwork within the building, ComEd’s program has seen tremendous growth and participation, and most importantly, has impacted the lives of girls right here in the agency’s own backyard by inspiring them to get involved in STEM.

We reached out to the campaign’s creative team, Creative Director, Debbie Mudd; Senior Copywriter, Anna Jacobs; and Art Director, Emily Wilhelm, to learn more about the campaign, how it’s grown over the years and how Leo Burnett and ComEd #HelpGirlsShine through the unique event.

This campaign seems to be one that steadily improves and becomes stronger and more impactful every year. How does this year’s program differ creatively from past years? What are some key improvements?

Debbie Mudd: This year's program is bigger and brighter than ever because it's the solar edition! Harnessing the sun and tapping into one of ComEd's key initiatives is a nice build on years past.

Anna Jacobs: The girls added solar panels to their fridge-cars, and we added a big-picture push to help girls shine in STEM and create a brighter tomorrow in Chicago. ComEd even donated six solar-powered lights to the Chicagoland area in honor of this year’s teams. Pretty sunny outcome for all.

Emily Wilhelm: Solar energy is one of ComEd’s most recent initiatives. Creatively, it was fun finding ways to hint at solar energy throughout our language and visuals.

Could you describe how the experience felt?

DM: People were really excited at the event. All the girls had worked so hard over the summer on their recycled-fridges-turned-race-cars, so people wanted to come out and celebrate their accomplishments.

AJ: Race day was awesome! It was so much fun to see all of our—and the girls’—hard work come to life. Mudd’s Rosie the Riveter get-up was pretty good, too.

EW: These girls are so impressive, and not to mention incredibly smart. It was also very heartwarming to see how close they’ve all grown as friends throughout these last few weeks.


What other divisions within Leo Burnett worked on this year’s derby? How do you achieve that kind of collaboration?

AJ: The Department of Design. Leo Burnett Interactive. Greenhouse. The Celebrity Talent Group. Producers. Project managers. Strategists. Participation teams. Promotion teams. Account managers. Community management. It took a whole community, a lot of communication and several trips to the new gelato stand across the street.

EW: DOD and Greenhouse have been huge partners to us. DOD did all of the branding and illustration work, and Greenhouse captured some beautiful photography and video content. It was definitely a large collaborative effort, and I think what made it a success was everyone’s desire for this to be a great experience for the girls.

What did the collaboration with the Museum of Science and Industry bring to the event?

EW: Rabiah Mayas, Ph.D., MSI’s director of science and integrated strategies, helped craft the build manual that the girls followed in order to build their derby car. It was great having another Chicago-based STEM organization support ComEd’s initiative. And we hope to strengthen that partnership for next year’s Icebox Derby.

AJ: We worked with Dr. Mayas and her team at MSI to add more real-world applications to this year’s build book. That way, the girls could better understand how many of the STEM lessons that go into building their fridge-cars could also apply to their daily lives, their futures, and the future of their communities.


What’s the insight behind the #HelpGirlsShine hashtag?

DM: #HelpGirlsShine is obviously a play on the "solar" aspect of this year's program, but it also embodies everything ComEd is doing: being a champion of girls in STEM and helping them realize their full potential.

AJ: We wanted a fun, short way to highlight the solar aspect of this year’s derby while also speaking to the importance of helping girls succeed in STEM.

EW: We created a way for all of Chicagoland to be a part of this incredible program. The hashtag helped spread the word and every impression helped support ComEd’s donation of six solar-powered lights throughout the community.

How has the curriculum for the girls changed and how does that affect their experience with the program?

DM: The build book was able to incorporate more real-world applications to sustain interest and excitement throughout the program.

AJ: The addition of solar energy was a big win. The girls were able to better understand how solar works and why it’s important for the future. With the help of MSI, we were also able to incorporate more real-world applications, which also helped them understand their builds in relation to the world they live in.

EW: I think the curriculum was elevated this year with the addition of the solar elements. I hope that got the girls interested in renewable energy and maybe sparked some passion for them to pursue a career in that field.


What’s it like to work on a campaign like this created for girls while being a group of female creatives?

DM: What is it like to be a female creative working on a campaign created for girls? EMPOWERING. It's incredibly gratifying to know that we're playing a part in making these future STEM stars' dreams come true.

AJ: It rocks. You write all of these lines about girl power and tell all of these young girls that they can do anything they put their minds to. Then, you look up and see yourself working with the women you’re writing and talking about. That’s pretty powerful.

EW: It’s amazing and very humbling. Debbie and Anna are rock stars and so is every girl and mentor that has been involved in the Icebox Derby program. I work with some incredibly talented and hardworking women at this agency and the support I get from them is very inspiring. I think we’d all like to see more women leaders in our industry.

What kind of feedback have you gotten from the participants and the community regarding the program?

DM: This year's Icebox Derby has been a resounding success. Everyone from the Rev. Jesse Jackson to Amy Poehler's Smart Girls is talking about it! (Thanks, Twitter!)

AJ: Pure excitement. It starts with the surprise of turning recycled refrigerators into race cars. The delight is that we’re actually getting more girls into STEM. It’s fun—and it’s working!

EW: The feedback has all been positive. I think everyone wants to see the gender gap close in STEM industries, and all industries for that matter.


How has the client relationship with ComEd evolved as this program has been built over the years?

DM: I don't know the behind-the-scenes stats, but I do know that women now hold 25% of STEM jobs (versus 24% last year), so maybe we've had an impact!

AJ: I think the fact that we’re on the third annual derby speaks volumes. The program—and the community’s interest in it—is only continuing to grow, as is the number of women in STEM. I’d mark that one up as a win.

EW: I think the client relationship has strengthened given the continued success of this program over the last three years. I was impressed with the crowd attendance at this year’s derby and I think ComEd was, too.

August 19, 2016