Great promotional plans don't just happen. They're the result of extensive research, planning and thinking.
Students in Professor Gordon Bruner II's strategic promotion class in Southern Illinois University Carbondale's College of Business learn that first hand while creating promotional plans for business clients.
"In this course, students not only learn in class, but by experimenting and trying things out, by finding practical applications for what they're learning by working with businesses and non-profit organizations in the real world," said Bruner, who is also director of the Office of Scale Research.
He said that since he began teaching the course in the mid 1980s, the required class project has led to the development of hundreds of promotional plans for businesses and organizations. Each class has an average of about 100 students and they divide into groups of three-five for the semester-long project. Students usually seek out their own clients.
Bruner said the promotion plans essentially help a business or organization determine "what it is they want to say and how they want to say it." Perhaps a non-profit organization is seeking more volunteers or an increase in donations. Or, a business may seek to increase sales or improve its image. The "problems" are as diverse as the clients, Bruner said. There is no cost involved for the clients other than taking the time to work with the students. What clients get at the end is a professional, written promotional plan.
"The students research their client's business or organization and the problem they are trying to solve. They'll brainstorm different ways to reach the goal, the costs of doing it and try to justify the expense of recommended promotions. These students take a thoughtful, managerial approach to helping a real client deal with a real situation," Bruner said.
Each group becomes a consulting firm. Members choose a name for their group, talk with the client to determine a problem and goal, develop objectives, gather information about their target market, strategize, generate numerous promotional ideas, revise concepts and ultimately, prepare a final report for delivery to the client.
While students do not execute the plan, they offer the client a coherent strategy for solving the problem, Bruner said. It is up to the client at that point to decide how much of the plan will be executed and who will do it.
Several times in recent years, a group of students from Bruner's class has prepared a promotional plan for Black Diamond Harley-Davidson of Marion.
"They've been a lot of help and have great ideas. They've helped us and we've helped them," said Shad Zimbro, co-owner of Black Diamond Harley-Davidson with Rodney Cabaness.
Black Diamond marketing director Jeremy Pinkston, an SIUC alumnus, said he finds working with the students rewarding and a good way to give back to the University that provided him with a good education. Students have created plans designed to attract a younger demographic, maintain customer loyalty, expand the sales territory and bring in new customers from more than 100 miles away.
When Lesley Batson went about looking for ways to increase traffic on her global website, she thought of her alma mater. Batson, a Toronto native, came to SIUC on a track scholarship and earned her bachelor's degree in marketing in May 1997 and her MBA in December 1998. She said the University and the education she received at SIUC "have served me well" so it was natural to think of seeking help from faculty and students with her project.
Now living in the Orlando, Fla., area, sports remain an important part of Batson's life. An absolutely avid Chicago Bears fan, she couldn't miss the chance to see her team play in the 2007 Super Bowl in Miami. She also couldn't help but notice how many other women were in attendance.
"Yet, there was nowhere for them to go on a regular basis to engage with each other about the sport, or any sport, for that matter. That's when Fanatchicks was born. Fanatic + chicks = Fanatchicks. It's the first site where the focus is on female sports fans of all sports and on fitness as well," Batson said.
The website, http://fanatchicks.com, features sports commentary, fitness information, blogs, videos, women's health information, contests and more.
Helping Batson figure out how to achieve some of her business goals is giving SIUC students a chance to get some hands-on learning experience this semester. Hannah Rummel, a senior marketing major from Carbondale, and her group is one of the two in Bruner's class this semester working with Batson.
"Fanatchicks is a great website. More people just need to know about it. It's just a matter of getting the name out there and we're trying to help Lesley do that," Rummel said.
Her group's goal is to increase the hits on Batson's Fanatchicks website by 20 percent, primarily in the target group of college-age women. The students have been brainstorming ideas and initial thoughts include promoting the website through e-mail, e-cards, Facebook and Twitter campaigns.
"You feel more accountable working with a real client. It is a great lesson in how to communicate with people, how to organize a group, have ideas to present, keep in contact and present things professionally," Rummel said.
Batson is one of 20 clients Bruner's students are working with this semester.
Meanwhile, 39 College of Business students in the marketing research class of John Summey, associate professor and distinguished teacher in the marketing department, are helping Batson with market research.
They are researching the who, what, when, where and how of college females' interest in sports and the use of sports and fitness-related social media and technology.
"An experiential learning marketing research project for a firm like Fanatchicks.com engages students with real client information needs resulting in a higher level of involvement with the learning process. The outcome, in addition to very good information for the client, is a very beneficial increase in retention of the knowledge and skill set to which students are exposed," Summey said.