Fast Pitch Storytellers: John Sullivan and BTS Communications

John Sullivan is the Creative Director and co-founder of BTS Communications, a Social Venture of Beit T’Shuvah. He presented on behalf of the organization at the 2010 Social Innovation Fast Pitch competition and won the $10,000 prize for Best Overall Presentation and the $2,500 Coaches’ Award.

On John Sullivan’s desk at the busy office of BTS Communications, there’s a stack of pamphlets from the Jail Enterprise Unit, a new potential client. The JEU is in charge of putting prisoners to work and helping them develop job skills.  This the kind of turn-around that John has experienced in his lifetime: at one point, he worked for the Jail Enterprise Unit—as a prisoner.  John’s winning Fast Pitch at the 2010 event began with a phrase that caught everyone’s ear: “My name is John Sullivan.  I’m an Eagle Scout, an ex-convict, a recovering heroin addict, and the founder and creative director of BTS Communications.”

BTS Communications is a marketing and advertising agency unlike any other.  It is housed within a drug treatment center called Beit T’Shuvah, itself a unique organization whose recovery model blends Jewish spirituality, cognitive behavioral therapy, 12-step philosophy and the creative arts. BTS Communications provides on-the-job training to the residents of Beit T’Shuvah, preparing them for a successful future post-recovery.  The interns at BTS Communications aren’t just learning job skills—they’re getting another shot at life.  “We save lives,” says John.  “That’s what I like to think we do here.”

John had an amazing story to share, but he was not a natural public speaker.  At the first Fast Pitch coaching session, he faltered through his pitch, eyes glued on his notecards.   In the beginning, says John, “I didn’t believe I could do it. I looked at the competition and thought, there’s no way I could win against someone like that…there were so many amazing programs.” But John didn’t give up.  He worked with his coaches Candy and Stephen for two months, going over his pitch until it had been perfected.  “They really dedicated a lot of time and energy to helping me,” says John. “It was an amazing experience.”  His hard work with his coaches paid off: at the 2010 Fast Pitch event, he won the $2,500 Coaches’ Award and the $10,000 prize for Best Overall Presentation.

Since the Fast Pitch, BTS Communications has been booming.  According to John, “Winning the Fast Pitch really changed the way that the LA community looked at us.  People have started to take us more seriously.  Specifically, I think it changed the way the Jewish Community Foundation looked at us.”   BTS Communications received $250,000 from the Jewish Community Foundation in 2011—the coveted Cutting Edge Grant for innovation in social entrepreneurship.  They have also gained new volunteers and clients, and moved into a new office space that will accommodate their growth.

Last but not least, Fast Pitch helped John realize his potential as a leader.  “It changed my idea of who I was…it changed my capacity to understand success. It was one of the best nights of my life.”

You can watch John’s Prize winning pitch here, or follow BTS Communications on Twitter @BTSComm.

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