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Budget cuts prompt shutdown of student ad agency

Budget restraints will cause the nation’s first student-run nonprofit advertising agency, RealWorld, to close at the end of the semester unless the university raises $100,000 for the program, a university official said.

Claudia Butts, director of RealWorld, said the university funded RealWorld through a three-year TCU “Vision In Action” grant of $350,000 that expires May 31.

John Tisdale, interim director of the Schieffer School of Journalism, said RealWorld will try fundraising throughout the semester to stay open but there is no way to predict what the outcome will be.

“The economic decision was not based on what RealWorld did or did not do,” Tisdale said. “The agency was making progress with revenue increasing each year; unfortunately it was not enough.”

David Whillock, dean of the College of Communication, said $100,000 in donations from alumni would keep the agency afloat for another year.

Tommy Thomason, former director of the Schieffer School of Journalism and founder of RealWorld, said the efficiency of the agency was evident through its use of the funding grant received in 2006. Thomason said the original grant was for two and a half years, but through sound money management the agency stretched the grant into three and a half years.

“The situation is an accident of timing,” Thomason said. “We were needing money at the same time the university was embarking on the most expensive physical expansion, and anyone who was inclined to give the university money saw their money go to the expansion.”

Butts said RealWorld is unique in that it is the only student-run advertising agency in the United States that works exclusively with nonprofit organizations.

“Last year we made over $40,000 off of what we charge clients for project proposals,” Butts said. “However, we charge way under market value by 25 percent.”

Thomason said RealWorld is filling a unique niche in this community by serving nonprofit organizations.

Rolando Guerrero, a senior advertising/public relations major and a student member of RealWorld, said the shutdown of the agency was sad because it was really starting to take off.

Guerrero said that last year he worked on a project with the Lena Pope Home, a program for low-income families in danger of gang violence.

“RealWorld gave organizations like the Lena Pope Home the opportunity to use their funds on backpacks and clothes for its young men and women rather than advertising,” Guerrero said.

Thomason said he hopes someone will step up and save an agency that serves not only students on campus, but also the Fort Worth community.

“If a downtown agency closes, then its clients will go somewhere else,” he said. “When RealWorld closes down, three-fourths of our clients who do a wonderful job serving our community will have nowhere else to go.”

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