If you are a small business owner, you can spend thousands of dollars on a marketing campaign with virtually no guarantee that it will succeed.
Or you can call Ann Fulmer, M.S., an adjunct faculty member in the Master of Business Administration (MBA) program at Benedictine University.
She teaches a course called simply "MBA 661 – Marketing." As part of the course curriculum, students develop and present comprehensive marketing plans for real clients.
So far, the campaigns have been an overwhelming success – for the participating businesses and for the students.
"When I do speak with the client, I explain that this is a win-win situation for not only the students to obtain some hands-on experience, but also for the clients to receive some fresh, new ideas from talented, experienced, professional students," Fulmer said.
"Oftentimes, these ideas can lead to concepts that the client can implement immediately and it costs them nothing but a little bit of time," she added.
More than 500 students have completed Fulmer's course, developing marketing plans for more than 40 businesses, companies and individual entrepreneurs. After initially pounding the pavement to solicit companies willing to take a chance on her students, businesses are now reaching out to her.
Her students have prepared marketing campaigns for businesses ranging from health care companies to golf courses.
"Our students developed a campaign for a local golf course that absolutely loved all the students' ideas and immediately began to implement them," she said. "Some of these ideas included punch cards, a social media campaign, a virtual golf league and an internal tracking system.
"Another team was assigned to an area park district," Fulmer added. "The team designed some unique outdoor classes to further leverage the park's beautiful grounds, and redesigned new membership packages for the fitness center that were implemented and published in the park district brochure."
Gaining actual hands-on experience is important for students to gain a better appreciation for working with clients, working within a budget and working under deadline.
"This hands-on opportunity is important so students can truly experience what it is like to work with an actual client who has their own ideas and expectations, and to work to develop their ideas within a given promotional budget that can range from a few thousand dollars to no dollars at all," Fulmer said.
"There are also other challenges along the way such as the importance of teamwork and communication," she added. "Client information may be limited. Then the project must be completed and professionally presented not only to the client, but to the chair of the MBA program here at Benedictine.
"At times, managing all of these aspects can be daunting," she added. "But it does parallel the experiences we are faced with on the job."
While her students are busy serving other clients, Fulmer is busy ensuring that her clients – the students – gain a broader appreciation for the marketing field.
"I view the student as my customer," she said. "It is my responsibility and hope that students' knowledge in the area of marketing will grow and they will have a full appreciation for this field of study. Marketing is so much more than a mannequin in a window or that telemarketer calling at dinner time.
"Marketing is an exciting, challenging, creative and dynamic field of study," Fulmer added. "There is always something new happening and everyone is impacted by it each and every day. I want the students to have that "Aha" moment where those marketing connections are made."