A team of 16 Gonzaga University seniors accepted for enrollment in a Marketing 490 class is competing against 19 other college teams nationwide in what's called the Honda Civic Marketing Challenge.
The class has been using a $3,000 Honda-funded budget to create an integrated marketing campaign for the 2013 Honda Civic Sedan, applying a campus-based approach and peer-to-peer marketing strategies to seek to influence Generation Y consumers.
Megan Mitchell, a Gonzaga senior who serves as public relations department head for Swerve Promotions, an ad agency formed by the participating students, says the class has provided an opportunity for them to apply what they've learned in the classroom to a real-world setting before graduation.
"It's a great way to rev up your resume," Mitchell says. "I don't think any other class provides this amount of hands-on, real-world experience."
In this case, it also gives Swerve Promotions an opportunity to one-up last year's GU class, which created an agency named Driven Mind that finished second in a similar national Honda-sponsored competition, behind the University of Pittsburgh. Students involved in that effort developed a marketing campaign for the 2012 Honda Civic Coupe.
"This year, we are planning on winning the competition," Mitchell says.
Swerve Promotions' campaign, which has included print and online advertising, culminated locally last week with a Honda Fest event on the GU campus that included Honda exhibit and information stations, music, and free food.
Next month, as with all of the other competing teams, the GU team will make a concluding presentation to Honda ad agency representatives, summarizing their campaign's results and successes. Honda then will reward what it considers to be the top three teams with a trip to the automaker's U.S. headquarters in Torrance, Calif., to present their campaigns there.
The Honda Civic Marketing Challenge is being facilitated nationally by EdVenture Partners, an Orinda, Calif.-based firm that connects students with national brands to provide an education experience as well as insight for clients on target markets.
Through its School of Business, Gonzaga offers the Marketing 490 class in the spring semester to graduating seniors. Those interested in taking the promotion-project class, as it is called, must submit a resume and cover letter to be considered for enrollment.
Instructor Peggy Sue Loroz, who teaches consumer behavior, selects the class members and says she uses a variety of criteriaincluding marketing-related experience, enthusiasm, and general academic performancein deciding who'll get to participate.
"We've been doing some version of the class since 1994. I've been teaching the class since I've been here, and this is my 13th year," Loroz says.
Although the class recently has engaged in nationwide competition involving major brands, in past years, it has focused on campaigns involving local clients such as Huppin's Hi-Fi, Photo & Video; the Jigsaw downtown boutique; and Thomas Hammer Coffee Roasting Co. Also, as an example, she says, "We did a local campaign with Krispy Kreme."
Most of the student participants are business majors or minors, but some come from educational interests as diverse as art and broadcasting, she says.
Among the courses offered at Gonzaga that include outside-the-class learning, she says, "For marketing folks, this is definitely the one that gives them the most experience."
Loroz oversees the promotion project, but says, "I try to give them the feeling that I can sort of be their consultant. I try to give them the impression that they're in charge, and it's their deal." Still, she adds, "It's a ton of work on my end, because I'm very concerned about quality control and working very much behind the scenes to make sure everything is going well."
Loroz says students who've been involved in the projects over the years often have told her it was far more work than they anticipated, but that they got even more benefit from it than they expected. She says a number of students she's heard from after graduation have told her the class helped them land their first job.
"It's definitely a high-effort, high-reward type of situation," she says.
Jorja Jacobson, project coordinator and student leader of the team, says, "It has been a lot of workmore time and energy than I expected." She adds, "It's more of an internship than a class is how I would describe it. It's been a great experience."
Swerve Promotions is divided into five departments: market research, advertising, promotions, public relations, and communications, with Jacobson overseeing the group effort and consulting with Loroz regularly. Students in each department have had to work together to accomplish assigned tasks, and the departments, too, have had to work jointly to devise an integrated marketing plan, class representatives say.
Mitchell, the Swerve Promotions spokeswoman, says, "It's very much student-run. She (Loroz) pretty much sits back and let's us take control of the project." Mitchell appreciates that freedom, but says, "It's definitely the hardest class I've experienced."
For her part, Loroz says, "It's just really interesting for me to work with clients and to have a different product scope each year, and to get connected with local businesspeople."
Also, she says, "I just love college kids, and I love that this kind of class gives me the ability to spend time with some really excellent students."
Because each project is so time-consuming, she says she gets to know the students in the promotion-project class better than the students in any of the other classes she teaches. When she hears back from them after they've graduated, she says "They rave about it. They feel really glad about it. They feel like it really helped them."
When she receives such feedback, she says, "I could smile about that for a week."
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