Speaking the Language of Creative

Presidential Scholarship recipient Joel Ramirez brings his passion for ideas to the School of Advertising’s ad agency Young & Hungry

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Joel Ramirez. Photo by Jennifer Blot.

Joel Ramirez is all about ideas. He spends his days generating, dissecting and storing them on a laptop with a sticker that proclaims: “The Big Idea Box.” He’s also quick to say: “I speak three languages: English, Spanish and Creative.”

On any given Monday or Wednesday, you’ll find Ramirez confabbing with fellow students—in this case, colleagues—at Young & Hungry, the School of Advertising’s off–campus “creative co-op” ad agency.

He arrives around noon and though class is technically over at 3 p.m., he stays for many more hours fulfilling his duties as art director, conjuring up ways to tell and sell his clients’ visions before scrambling for the last BART train home to Oakland.


Young & Hungry is as close to a real-world ad agency as you’re likely to find. Clients are wooed, contracts are drawn and campaigns are fine-tuned and revised. Art directors spend time on ideation; copywriters huddle for the perfect language.

On a recent Monday, Ramirez reached out to his social network for a volunteer willing to surrender a messy home office to a makeover for a campaign for the Time Butler professional organizers. He’s also juggling projects for other clients, including the Academy’s Urban Knights, working on ways to increase awareness of sports and recreational offerings on campus.

Ramirez, 31, is the recipient of the Academy’s Presidential Scholarship and gushes when he speaks of President Stephens, expressing gratitude for her help to pursue an education that otherwise would be out of reach.

Ramirez has been with Young & Hungry since its inception in 2012. Located in an office building at the intersection of the Financial District and North Beach, the agency is operated by a total of 36 students from two classes who must interview prior to being chosen. The roster of clients includes Sonnen BMW and SpoonRocket, and on any given week, the agency’s working to drum up new (pro bono) business. Instructors are present—Vince Engel, Mark Edwards and James Wojtowicz, or “Wojo”—but they come across as laid-back managers.


“In beginning, students try and give the instructor what they think he wants or what they think advertising is, rather than their own style and own way of communicating with the audience. Their perspective is what’s valued,” said School of Advertising Co-Director Engel.

Engel called Ramirez “amazingly talented” and said the scholarship will allow him to finish school and hold out for the right job.

“Students really, really enjoy him – he’s always the leader, volunteering, ‘I’ll do that.’ He’s the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet and he works really well with people,” Engel said.

Ramirez uses his background in graphic design and penchant for outside-the-box thinking for clients such as the Agricultural Institute of Marin, for whom he created a fundraising campaign with videos.


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Dr. Elisa Stephens, Academy of Art University president and Joel Ramirez, Academy of Art University Presidential Scholarship recipient. Photo by Jennifer Blot.


Joel Ramirez at the School of Adverting’s “creative co-op” Young & Hungry. Photo by Bob Toy.

Last summer, he worked on projects with high-profile clients Swiffer and Citi Bike during his paid internship at Publicis in New York, a highly-competitive position he earned through the national Multicultural Advertising Internship Program (MAIP).

He comes across as both laid-back and intense, a dreamer and a realist. He can spend hours discussing ways to repurpose the remaining fragments of the old Bay Bridge, a la High Line in New York. He talks about certain legendary ad campaigns as if they were great works of art. And his mischievous side emerges when he talks about launching a Fake Stories blog, featuring snapshots of strangers on the street and outlandish stories that likely bear no resemblance to the truth. He’s still thinking about the guy he passed on the street recently who dropped a manila folder full of seemingly unrelated photographs. “Is he an FBI informant?” Ramirez mused. This is how his mind works.

As proud as he is of being “a Chicano who grew up in Bakersfield” (on a recent day he wore an eye-catching “Sun Fun Stay Play: Bakersfield” T-shirt), Ramirez knew career options were limited if he stayed. Most of his family members are field workers and service workers.

As a child, he embraced his gift of creative storytelling—or, in plain terms, fibbing. He’d arrive home from school and make up stories about his day for his mom. Even his appearance felt fictional at times, dressing in the colorful brand-name surfer clothes passed on to his mother by her housekeeping clients.

Spanish was his first language, then English and “Creative,” which essentially “translates what people are thinking into the right medium,” he said.

After high school, he was on the verge of enrolling in the Navy when he saw a screen-printing shop, walked in and asked for a job. His recruiter wasn’t pleased, but his future clients were. Ramirez ended up creating slogans and flyers, business cards and banners for local businesses.

“I didn’t really know the definition of advertising, but I had been doing it for people unknowingly and I was good at it,” he admits.

On the verge of being the first family member to graduate college, Ramirez continues to tap into his strength as an affable, team player who has learned to stretch his ideas beyond the germination point and do what it takes—whether subtle or outlandish—to create campaigns that resonate.

He also studies the campaigns that really work. One of his favorites was carried out in Mexico City by Scribe, makers of high-end notebooks. By placing an “artist in residence” in a structure inside a towering billboard, the company caught the city’s attention and created a campaign based on suggestions tweeted to her from the general public.

“Anytime you can have an idea—regardless of ad or design—an idea where the whole community can be involved and contribute, that’s a big idea to me. If your grandma and your five-year-old son can do it, that’s powerful,” he said.


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