Earning Credit for Real Work, by Design
All of the above are part and parcel of the marketing package, and all require different skills and interests. As with life in general, choosing a direction is like playing a choose-your-own-adventure game.
“For a lot of students, especially those directly out of undergrad, marketing is still this huge, nebulous concept,” said Michael Clayton, faculty program director of the MS Marketing degree. “It can be hard to grasp not only the different types of agencies there are, but just how many different careers there are within a single agency.”
The choice is made easier for MS Marketing (MSMKTG) students through the program’s signature Applied Client Project, an experiential learning opportunity that was designed to keep pace with the demands of entry-level agency life.
The goal is to get the creative wheels humming as the students dive into the project—a partner- ship between the degree program and Washington, DC-based RedPeg Marketing to develop a client retention strategy for GEICO.
Creating an original campaign for such a major brand will be the biggest challenge for students, said Mercedita Roxas-Murray, executive vice president at RedPeg.
“Everybody knows who GEICO is and what they do, and in a lot of ways that can make a marketer’s job even harder,” Roxas-Murray said. “This is going to be a great opportunity for students to think about how to elevate an already great brand.”
For RedPeg, the partnership with the degree program is an opportunity to help shape the future of the industry.
“As an agency, RedPeg strives to be at the fore- front of experiential marketing,” said Roxas-Murray. “By working with Kogod, we hope to expose more young minds to what’s new in marketing and give them a deeper understanding of working with clients.”
At an initial project meeting between the students and Ted Ward, GEICO’s vice president of marketing, he discussed the company’s “brute force” approach to messaging and client gains. Each year, GEICO strives to pick up 3.5 million new clients to offset its annual estimated loss of 2.5 million.
“A company like GEICO is always looking for a way to get people who have never used its product before to give it a try,” explained Clayton. “Everyone wants to find the answer to that question, ‘OK, I have these clients now, but how do I keep them?’”
To GEICO, the MSMKTG collaboration is a symbiotic relationship.
“GEICO has always been a strong supporter of the DC market and of education,” said Bill Brower, BS ’83 and GEICO’s senior director of marketing. “We saw the [partnership] as a great way to participate in a program that will grow world-class talent in the marketing field.”
Brower said working with his alma mater will provide GEICO with “a fresh perspective on marketing challenges.”
Two teams of students are spending the spring semester conducting original research to build an effective strategy that they will present to GEICO executives in June. Each team will periodically meet with mentors at RedPeg for feedback and critique.
Clayton set the teams personally, assigning the students based on their individual interests and skill sets with the hope of creating a cross-functional- team agency experience.
“You’re bringing together different skill sets to create a final product,” he said. “[Students can] take a leadership role in their specific interest, and really own that part of the product.”
For Dania Basrawi, MS ’14, the team construct reminds her of her days as an art director at Leo Burnett advertising before returning to school.
“From art to strategy to finance, all sides of the project are getting equal attention, just like it would at a professional agency,” she said. “I can already tell I’m learning from my teammates and that they’re learning from me.”
Entering the job market with real client experience to back up tangible skills is more important than ever, according to Joe Sprott, chair of Ad 2 DC, an area group representing young marketing professionals.
“I’ve seen dozens of very qualified candidates enter the job market with a list of skills but little or no experience in the field, and that hurts them,” Sprott said. “Even at the entry level, there’s stiff competition. Just having classroom work or even a summer internship isn’t enough.”
According to Sprott, a digital media strategist for the DC-based digital agency nclud, when the only constant in today’s marketing world is change, the only way to learn is in the real world.
“The industry is quickly evolving, and while that’s exciting, it can also make it difficult to learn in the vacuum of the classroom,” he said. “So many things can only be learned by getting to work on a real campaign.”
The pressure continues through the second semester; the cohort’s first visit was to Quad Graphics in West Virginia, the printing press for the very GEICO mailing collateral the students have already begun to collect for data analysis.
Clayton also took the inaugural student cohort on five site visits over their first semester. From the corporate Martin Agency—creators of the “Virginia is for Lovers” and GEICO caveman campaigns—to boutique mobile agency MXM, the students got to peek behind the curtain of differing agency structures.
For Carolyn Becker, who entered the program directly from earning her bachelor’s degree in studio art, the site visits provided a real look at agency life and the career paths open to her.
“Having the chance to walk in and see the day-to-day operations at these firms really showed how different each agency is,” she said.
“There’s been a huge growth in specialty agencies in recent years,” Clayton said. “The traditional image of the full-service ad agency isn’t the only norm any more. There’s room for everyone to carve out their own niche.”
Another group of marketing professionals came to campus to talk about the niches they carved for themselves. These included senior executives at Rocket Fuel—a Forbes “Most Promising” company with expertise in artificial intelligence- driven targeting—and the Brand Intersection Group, a boutique brand-strategy firm.
With so much exposure to new ideas, Clayton hopes his students will develop more creative approaches to their careers.
“Students gravitate toward what they know. If they’re comfortable with Facebook and Twitter, then those are the pitches they take to clients,” he said.
“We’re trying to get them out in the real world to see what is going on in [marketing] today. What are the new technologies? What are the new innovations?”
Clayton also plans to incorporate student feed- back into site and speaker selection, curating a bespoke marketing experience that showcases regional firms.
“Everyone thinks of DC as just a center for government and nonprofit agencies, but there’s also a very rich marketing foundation here,” he said.