RECAP: Portfolio Review 2023

AAF Buffalo was back in person at UB’s Center for the Arts for its annual Portfolio Review event on April 29th from 10 AM – 1 PM. As always, students presented their best work to some of Buffalo’s brightest advertising pros and got invaluable feedback to take their work to the next level. 

This year, the club returned the event to its speed dating style, where students met with 15 pros in 15-minute 1-on-1 sessions for two and a half hours. Each participant presented their top 3 pieces, received feedback, and continued showing the rest of their portfolio. Pros from Crowley Webb, the Martin Group, Community Beer Works, White Bicycle, and more met with students this year and raved about students’ ability to communicate their design decisions effectively. 

Each year after students share their work with all the professional volunteers, the pros nominate two portfolio review scholarships for outstanding work, portfolio craftsmanship, and presentation skills. So please join us in congratulating the following students:

Portfolio Review Scholarship: Hannah Smith – LinkedIn
Portfolio Review Scholarship: Rachel Tranter
Honorable Mention: Julia Fay –  juliafayonline.comLinkedIn

The AAF board would like to thank all professional volunteers and give a major high five to all student participants. We can’t wait for next year!

(Pictured Left to Right: Julia Fay, Noah Herman, Hannah Smith, Rachel Tranter)

(Pictured: All student participants, professional volunteers, and resident buffoon Noah Herman)


RECAP: Don Nichols Scholarship 2023

AAF Buffalo hosts a scholarship competition annually honoring the late Buffalo great Don Nichols. Don Nichols began teaching at the Albright Art School and founded its Graphic Design Program in 1950. He brought it to UB, where he served as the program’s head until his death on July 7, 1987. He was an extraordinarily dedicated teacher who educated hundreds of graphic designers, several of whom attained national prominence. Nichols received the Osborn Award for Creative Excellence from Buffalo’s Art Directors/Communicators and the Chancellor’s Award for Teaching from UB in 1982.

The scholarship competition presents students studying fine arts, marketing & communications, design, photography, writing arts, and illustration with a theme and encourages them to submit work that comments on that theme. This year’s theme focused on information overload. Below is this year’s statement:

“To say we are constantly distracted is an understatement. We are all the time in front of at least two or three screens – with even more going on all around us. How does one concentrate, let alone disconnect? What’s your take on all this noise, or perhaps ways to escape it? Bring to life your thoughts and opinions in any medium you choose.”

After reviewing submissions, the AAF Buffalo Board tallied the votes and is excited to congratulate this year’s Don Nichols Scholarship Competition winners.

1st: Grace Amborski – Villa Maria College

2nd: Andre Smith – Villa Maria College

3rd: Michael Blake – Villa Maria College

Honorable Mention: Olivia Ebers – Villa Maria College

Honorable Mention: Chris Weitz – Villa Maria College


RECAP: Equitable Marketing Panel Discussion

This past Tuesday, AAF Buffalo held a first-of-its-kind Equitable Marketing panel discussion on developing inclusive communications for people with disabilities. AAF Buffalo Treasurer Sam Burfiend and Sean Ryan, Communications Manager at Leadership Buffalo, moderated the conversation. We were proud to host a diverse set of panelists, Elizabeth Kahn, Vice President of Marketing & Communications at People, Inc., David Wantuck, Community Engagement Specialist at Deaf Access Services, and Ray Zylinski, Education and Development Coordinator at Visually Impaired Advancement (VIA).

Panelists shared their expertise on a wide variety of accessibility topics, including diverse representation in advertising, marketing with empathy, asset-based storytelling, available tools and resources for ADA-compliant websites, strategies for improving accessibility in digital media, and the ever-evolving nature of language.

In this powerful, honest conversation, attendees went home with several key takeaways. 

  • Ask questions and admit if you don’t know something! It’s totally ok. We’re all human and make mistakes, but we need to be open to learning. 
  • Involve people with disabilities in your communications. For example, invite a person with visual impairments to review your website while it’s still in the development phase. The earlier on, the better!
  • Companies need to practice what they preach. Empower your employees to speak out when they see injustices and be open to feedback on how to improve your DEI initiatives. 
  • Get creative with your hiring and onboarding practices! This shouldn’t be hard for us marketers. For instance, if a person with autism applies for a job posting but is uncomfortable with the workspace, be flexible about the working environment and make necessary adjustments to their set-up.

The Equitable Marketing panel challenged us all to take part in the ongoing conversation around improved accessibility in advertising. AAF Buffalo looks forward to building on this momentum and has plans to host many DEI panels in the months and years to come!


2023 American Advertising Awards Recap

Big hair, bigger hearts. The Buffalo advertising community gathered for a night of shoulder pads, spiked punch and synth-pop jams as we threw it back to 1984 for the 2023 American Advertising Awards: Promenade.

This year’s show was a huge collaborative effort, beginning with graphic design seniors at Villa Maria College. Each student concepted a theme idea, coming up with everything from a catchy name and sweet logo treatment to ways the theme could be executed on show night.

When the concepts were complete, AAF Buffalo board members crowned Kelsey Sikora’s Promenade concept, this year’s winning theme. The board, led by President Caroline Buchas and AAA co-chairs Chelsea Carney and Lindsay Neilson, worked closely with Kelsey throughout the many months of show planning, establishing the logo, color palette and overall vision for show night.

Almost two-dozen Buffalo advertising agencies and marketing companies gathered at Buffalo State University in March. One of our most successful shows yet, Promenade saw 366 attendees put on their best ‘80s fits to celebrate this past year’s work—thanks to a record-breaking 500 award submissions.

We all had fun, but these winners just might’ve had the best night of their lives. Take a look at prom night’s big winners (including work as unforgettable as The Breakfast Club’s final scene).

Professional Winners

Judges from Georgia, Tampa, Chicago and Pennsylvania scored this year’s professional entries. Among many incredible advertising pieces, The Martin Group took home a total of 26 awards, Crowley Webb received a total of 24 awards and Mower rounded out the top three with 21 awards.

Best of Show

Show night’s prom kings and queens were the folks at White Bicycle, earning Best of Show for their Rich Products Baked in Business Book. 

Special Awards

In addition to each company’s entries, we recognize four outstanding individuals for their contributions and accomplishments in the Buffalo creative community. The 2023 special award recipients were:

  • The Levy-Osborn Award for Excellence in Communications went to Matt Low, Chief Creative Officer at Crowley Webb.
  • The Joe Crowley Award for Service went to Josh Gumulak, Account Supervisor at FARM and former President of AAF Buffalo.
  • The Future Star Award went to Lindsay Neilson, Art Director at Mr. Smith Agency and AAF Buffalo AAA co-chair.
  • The Mosaic Award for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion went to the VIA Marketing Department, led by Samantha Burfiend, Director of Marketing and Communications at VIA and AAF Buffalo Treasurer.
Local Awards

FARM took home The Creative Use of Paper Award for their paper flower box.

The CommUNITY Award for Inclusive Advertising recognizes advertising that addresses issues experienced by under-represented communities and gives voice to groups that have been stereotyped or ignored in media and by society, increasing perceptions and understanding of multicultural communities. This year’s award went to Mower for their One Hundred Black Men of New York “Open Every Door” Campaign.

Student Winners

Our own local judges, Evan Pease, Brittney Sikora and Jeff Pappalardo, judged this year’s student entries.

Awards went to undergraduates from Daemen College, Villa Maria College and Buffalo State College. Kelsey Sikora from Villa Maria College took home the Student Best of Show Award for her Buffalo Monopoly.

Thank You to Our Sponsors

Our sponsors are the bee’s knees. This year was truly a collaborative effort. Thank you to our show sponsors—Villa Maria College, dPost, and Mr. Smith Agency, as well as our volunteers and supporters—Lemur Studios, The Pickle Ship for the showbook printing and Shannon Silva. 

Congratulations to this year’s winners, and cheers to all who entered work and attended the AAA Promenade 2023 show.


RECAP: Jingle Bowl 2022

Twas’ the night of the AAA’s reveal, while agencies competed for the golden pin, endless cans of food were donated, and one agency took home a win. 

Mower, The Martin Group, Crowley Webb, Fifteen, Gelia, Mr. Smith, FARM, Luminus and more gathered for an incredible night of bowling at Transit Lanes. So, who rocked the competition? Gelia! Congrats to Gelia on winning a second year in a row.

Attendees donated to FeedMore WNY upon entering the event. Together, we collected an amazing amount of non-perishables to help feed families in our community during the holiday season. Let’s go, Buffalo!

The grand finale of the night was an epic promposal, revealing 2023’s AAA theme: Promenade. For the first time ever, the AAF Buffalo Board collaborated with Villa Maria College on the award show. Villa Maria’s graphic design senior class worked together to come up with a variety of creative and unique show themes. Ultimately, Promenade, developed by Kelsey Sikora was chosen. It’s going to be an awards night to remember, celebrating work we’ll never forget!

Thank you to all who came in their most festive attire and helped us spread some holiday cheer. We’re wishing everyone a happy and healthy new year!


Recap: 2022 Brand Hack

This year’s Brand Hack event featured a local non-profit looking for a new logo, a new color palette, and potentially a new letterhead. The Coalition of Adoption and Foster Family Agencies (CAFFA) is a non-profit organization that supports foster and adoptive families in Western New York. CAFFA collaborates with agencies and local social services departments that provide foster care and adoption services in the eight counties of WNY.

Five teams of students from all over Western New York were tasked with creating these deliverables. The event took place at UB’s Center for the Arts. Leading the teams were seasoned professionals from the area, including designers from Mower, Crowley Webb, FARM, FIFTEEN, and The Arc Erie County. 

Teams had three hours to organize and create their ideas before pitching them to our representatives from CAFFA. Time was broken up into introductions, analysis, sketching (no computers allowed), rendering, and developing their final pitch decks. 

Each team beat the clock and produced some well-executed, unique work along the way. Ultimately, the representatives at CAFFA were blown away by the thoughtful design of each group.  

“We were hoping to redefine ourselves and redefine our mission,” said CAFFA representative Mary Ann LoPiccolo. “Everything you all did will help push us in that direction. We can tell you all worked really hard.”

The winners included FARM Graphic Designer Katie Steckstor and students Jack Qu and Mia Mahar. Congrats to all the students and captains for producing another great event!


RECAP: 2022 Portfolio Seminar

Portfolio Seminar Recap

This weekend, on November 19th, AAF Buffalo hosted its annual Portfolio Seminar event, where three advertising pros from the Buffalo area talked about their experience crafting, presenting, and sharing a killer portfolio. This year we were joined by Katie Hazel a Group Creative Director at Crowley Webb with over 20 years of experience in the field. Brittney Sikora, Freelance Designer & Art Director with nearly ten years of great projects under her belt, joined us as well. Last but not least, we were also joined by recent Buffalo State graduate Jennifer Leising, who’s been loving her first year of design experience at Fourth Idea. Each speaker brought unique experiences to the table and shared what’s been successful for them and what might work for students as they hunt for that first job.

From networking tips to the amount of work you should include in your portfolio to which website builder to choose tons of tips were shared during our time together. Below are some quick takeaways:

  • Quality over quantity of projects always! 
  • Push your project’s concept into different mediums uniquely instead of creating more mockups with the same graphic.
  • Pace yourself and celebrate the small victories. Portfolios aren’t created overnight.
  • Get out there! Networking is challenging, but coming to AAF events and making small steps to put yourself out there can have a huge benefit when you take the next step in your career. 
  • Submit your work to the American Advertising Awards and the Don Nichols Scholarship Competition. Agencies keep their eyes on this (Katie included).
  • Be yourself. Create projects you’re passionate about and let that authentic love for your work come through when sharing it. This makes it easy to find a work environment that you truly feel comfortable in.

The tips in the bullets above represent a fraction of what Katie, Brittney, and Jennifer covered over the weekend, so mark your calendars for next November when three more Buffalo creatives will talk about what they think makes a killer portfolio. 


ADWEEK DAY 4: Culture + Typography

We had a full house for our final AdWeek event: CULTURE+TYPOGRAPHY by Nikki Villagomez! Attendees were engaged and entertained by Nikki’s long-standing blog that got her to where she is today and her analysis of urban typography across the United States.

What does she think of Buffalo? Well, our manhole covers are trash compared to Japan. The good news is that she was blown away by our vibrant murals and marquees. Her historical analysis of neon motel signs on Niagara Falls Boulevard amused the crowd and her Buffalo research paid off as she concluded with a “Go Bills!”

The healthy Q&A session was a sign of solid audience engagement and her book, CULTURE+TYPOGRAPHY, sold out! Great success! Check out for more information.

We hope to see you next year at any (or all) of our AdWeek events. 


ADWEEK DAY 3: Speed Networking

On Wednesday, October 5th, we brought our annual Speed Networking back for an appearance on the Ad Week event schedule! Understanding that most industries are still facing challenges with hiring and staffing—freelancers and professionals came to Jack Rabbit on Elmwood Avenue to get a drink while pursuing a series of one-on-one conversations.

The event was ideal for businesses and agencies wishing to grow their shortlist of freelancers. It was a fantastic opportunity for freelancers to network with businesses that may be looking for fresh talent for their team or forthcoming project. 

Although networking has been complex in recent years, we saw long-lasting connections established in various fields from the chats and banter that persisted after the signal to rotate.

Are you disappointed that you couldn’t attend Speed Networking 2022? Keep a watch out and bring your business cards to the 2023 Ad Week. 

We appreciate everyone who came, and we hope to see you again next year!


ADWEEK DAY 2: Ad’s Best Friend

Woof Woof! AdWeek day two at Barkology was a heckin’ good time! Doggo’s and dog friends did some productive networking. Where are the best bones? What’s the best way to leverage social media to attract new clients? Attendees had great discussions and great fun.

The dogs had little to say about the future of advertising in the metaverse, but they really got a workout! We’ve established that they’re more brawn than brains. Attendees enjoyed some cold beers on a crisp beautiful buffalo fall evening. Who’s dog was the best? Rude question! They were all amazing… but look at that doodle in the back left!