Students Excel as Consultants in Marketing Tools Course
February 11, 2014
"I speak for the three of us on my student team when I say that this project was by far the most challenging and most rewarding experience of our undergraduate careers," emphasized Isenberg senior Nicholas Munro. The Isenberg marketing major was reflecting on Professor Charles Schewe's honors course, Tools for Professional Success in Marketing, which assigns student consulting teams to strategic marketing challenges on behalf of corporate clients.
In the fall-semester course, twelve Isenberg-Commonwealth Honors College students in four teams completed projects for Carvel Ice Cream, LEGO, Boston Scientific, and MapR Technologies. Each team made actionable recommendations to its clients based on thorough marketing research. Munro's team addressed Carvel's concerns about competition from frozen yogurt shops and the preferences of 18 to 24-year old consumers. A second student team recommended how LEGO might increase the consumer experience, brand loyalty, and revenues associated with its LEGO Club for children.
A team initiative on behalf of Boston Scientific's endoscopy division, made recommendations for expanding and improving its Close the Gap program, which aims to eliminate treatment disparities for high-risk, underserved patient populations through increased awareness, educational programs, and improved access to care. And research into the "Big Data" resources and needs of four industry groupings-airlines, natural resources, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals-explored how the San Jose-based big data provider MapR Technologies might better serve them.
Students as Consultants. By and large, Professor Schewe viewed his role in the course as a coach, as principal in a consulting agency with the students as consultants and "knowledge workers." "That means that they have considerable independence, but that comes with an equal dose of professional accountability," he remarked. After receiving their team/company assignments at the beginning of the semester, the students immersed themselves in background about their clients' cultures, business models, and the problems at hand. By the course's third week, each student team had rewritten their client's initial problem, sharpened research objectives, and settled on research methodologies.
In subsequent weeks, the students deployed a host of skills: leading and delegating responsibility, organizing and planning, managing time and deadlines, conducting research and interviewing, crafting presentations, and managing relationships with their clients. For the latter, the LEGO team visited LEGO headquarters in Enfield, Connecticut and met face-to-face with its liaison three times during the semester. The team exchanged weekly e-mails and occasional phone calls. And it conducted three focus groups in Enfield with LEGO club members.
Presenting their Findings. As their research progressed, the students met one-one-one with Professor Schewe to resolve team research issues. And they received masterful coaching on oral and written presentation skills from Gail Cruise, who directs Isenberg's Channing L. Bete Communications Center. For their PowerPoint presentations to their classmates, Cruise introduced the teams to Design as Argument, a discipline that employs colors, fonts, and layout for emphasis; prominence, position and balance of images and text for persuasion. She then worked with each team, videotaping their classroom presentations and critiquing their delivery and the content and design of their PowerPoint slide decks. That leant students' final presentations to their clients exceptional fluidity and polish. It was remarkable, observed Cruise, to watch the students progress in one semester from ordinary presenters to confident professional communicators.
And how did the clients themselves react to those presentations and the research and recommendations that they conveyed? "Their research, work, and preparation were extremely thorough and their preparation was flawless," noted Jim Salerno, Vice President of Franchise Operations-Carvel Brand at Focus Brands. Michael Sorkin '82 MBA, Vice-President of International Marketing for Endoscopy, concurred: "I found them to be bright, energetic, professional, and as engaged as any group with whom I worked," he emphasized.
*L to R: Amanda McDonald, Audrey Tripp, Suzanne Morin