Marketing Students Pressure-Tested in Client Pitch Assignment

July 20, 2012


"Retailing is a dynamic, ever-changing industry, with emerging technologies, online markets, mergers and acquisitions, and new, innovative venues," observes Kathleen Debevec, a professor of marketing at Isenberg. "To succeed, you have to be vigilant and adaptable-that's an overriding message to Isenberg students in my course, Retail Management and Technology."


To test her students' own resilience and their ability to help a business adapt, Debevec asked them to complete a hands-on case project on behalf of a client, the Fortune 500 retailer, TJX. Best known for its discount T.J. Maxx and Marshalls stores, the Framingham-based company is a perennial employer of Isenberg graduates, who excel at the company in merchandising, store management, distribution, and other areas.


The assignment, developed with Laurie Lynch '86, a UMass graduate and regional talent acquisition specialist with TJX, asked teams of Debevec's students to devise strategies for the company's planned entry into e-commerce. "A lot of other off-price retailers have one or the other:  brick and mortar stores or an online business," Debevec told her students. "TJX wants both without upsetting its current customers." She continues, "Through these projects, you will get a flavor of how a client thinks, strategizes, and analyzes business. You will experience the excitement of generating ideas, making decisions, and solving problems.  Through direct feedback from your client, you'll develop a strong understanding of the importance of making your proposals feasible and measurable, and being flexible and open to constructive criticism - all skills you'll need to succeed once you graduate."


"Careful research and critical group discussions were the keys to our plan's creativity and success," recalls Christina Mentor '13, a junior in finance, who teamed up with marketing major Emily Messier '13, and two mechanical engineering students minoring in business-Natalie Zucker '13 and Michelle Gibbons '13. After doing their homework on TJX, its competitors, and e-commerce best practices, the team came up with a proposal that included tactics to reinforce an upscale, uniquely TJX retail experience.  Adds Mentor, "We saw first-hand how our combined insights and critical analysis led to a stronger proposal."


Marketing senior Deanna Colarossi '12 loved being able to get her hands dirty by conducting market research that was used to help solve a real client challenge.  "We had to be both innovative and conscientious about what would work online and how it should complement the company's present client base and retailing operations. This was more than a closed-universe case study -- our analysis was based on a variety of open-ended factors. At Isenberg, we'd learned many different skills in our classes, but in this project we had to put them together and pitch our recommendations directly to our client, rather than just present to our peers or a professor. It was a tremendous learning experience."