There’s a reason an upper-level course at the University of New Hampshire - formally known as Marketing 762 - has been nicknamed by students who take it “Marketing Boot camp.”
The course has been part of the school’s curriculum for over 10 years, but its focus changed after it was taken over by adjunct faculty member Jacalyn Cilley. Students in Cilley’s class are required to complete comprehensive market research projects for local and regional businesses. Each participating business has a specific marketing question and contracts a team of students to find an answer.
Originally, students in the class worked only for large corporations. But after noticing that the majority of her students went on to work for small businesses, Cilley shifted the focus of the course to “give students the chance to experience a wide variety of companies.”
UNH charges client companies $750 for each 15-week project. Some businesses have used information from the projects to make strategic decisions.
In the spring of 2003, Cleve and Mindy Horton of Calef’s Country Store in Barrington contracted Marketing 762 students to take on a project.
The Hortons sell everyday necessities to locals, but they also market to tourists by selling authentic New Hampshire crafts and food products. At Calef’s the Hortons weighed the effects of starting a Web site, concerned that a site might change the “country feel” of the 130-year-old business.
So they asked students to find out what impact a Web site would actually have on the store’s image. “I was impressed with their dedication,” Cleve Horton said. “I didn’t have to spend time explaining the company that I’ve lived and breathed for the past eight years. They were very respectful of my time.”
Horton took his Web design team to the students’ final presentation, and the team made design decisions based on the students’ research and recommendations.
For instance, instead of a “frequently asked questions” page, the Calef’s site (calefs.net) contains a link to an “Ask Joel” page, an idea from the group of students who worked on the project.
Joel is an employee of the store who has been there for over 50 years. Horton said that the “Ask Joel” page has helped maintain the store’s “familiar face” atmosphere. If he could spare the money, Horton says, he would contract students from the workshop class for another project.
The course has attracted other repeat customers, like Spaulding University of Kentucky, which is returning this spring for its third project.
Cilley’s course is designed to simulate the business world. Students are graded on professionalism and must present full bibliographical information for their research. Some students say they spend on average 20 hours per week scanning trade magazines, searching on-line databases, designing surveys and conducting in-depth interviews. The surveys are then completed by consumers and the results entered into a database. Using statistics software, students assign values to survey answers and analyze the data.
During the 2004 fall semester 36 students worked together in small groups completing seven marketing projects, using Cilley as a senior consultant. At the end of the course, all 36 students had worked for such clients as Hannaford Bros., Bauer/Nike and Landcare Associates.
A former student, Lindsay Morgan, called the class “fast-paced,” saying that she feels for students who don’t know what they’re signing up for.
From the beginning of the semester, Cilley expects each student to log 10 hours per week on the project. The general feel from the students, however, is that Cilley demands at least 20 hours per week. In fact, Morgan said, it’s like having a job. One group in her class got slightly behind and was putting in 40 hours per week at the end of the 2004 semester.
One reason for the intense workload is the amount of writing involved. According to Cilley, professional writing is 60 percent of the course. Students have to write initial client questions, then a marketing project proposal to pitch to the client, consumer surveys, class and client presentations and weekly status reports.
The writing must be polished, said Cilley: “You have to be able to convey your idea clearly and concisely and very, very accurately. I’ve actually kicked e-mails back and said, ‘When I understand what you’re looking for here, which means I have to see clear punctuation, good grammar and appropriate spelling, then I’ll answer the e-mail.’”
When asked what the difference was between a student who took her course and a student with a more traditional university experience, Cilley said that students who complete the course are much more prepared for the work force because they learn to expect demands to be placed on them.
For example, she said, “I had a student who graduated in 2003 and is now employed by one of the top ad agencies in Boston. Her employer was just astounded by the fact that at the end of the week she automatically did a status report. Not only were they surprised that she did it, but they were surprised at the comprehensiveness of it.”
For more information about participating as a client in the Marketing 762 program, call Jacalyn Cilley at 862-3329.
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This article appears in the March 4 2005 issue of New Hampshire Business Review