Several teams of James Madison University participated in the Collegiate ECHO Marketing Challenge as part of my Integrated Marketing Communications (MKTG 384) course. The Collegiate ECHO Marketing Challenge is sponsored by Marketing EDGE, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to Educate, Develop, Grow, and Employ college students in the field of marketing.
As part of the Challenge each team developed marketing plans, using direct and interactive channels, with a goal of encouraging DIRECTV customers to participate in their Refer-a-Friend Program. Students also created a visual summary presentation and an online video ad.
In the end, over 200 teams competed and seven JMU Marketing teams earned an award or honorable mention. One of the JMU teams emerged as the winner of the 3rd Place Bronze Award in the undergraduate division.
I asked this team to share their thoughts about the experience and provide tips to help future competitors. Here’s what they had to say…
John Bassford – Starting is the hardest part of this project. To me, it seemed a very daunting task, but as soon as we started working on the project, things began to pick up momentum and the pieces fell into place. Communication is important in order to be successful. Do not be afraid to bounce ideas off of teammates. Even if you think the idea is ridiculous, talk it out with the team. You never know what ideas you will help your teammates create by telling them your ideas. Once you find an idea that you all can get behind, use that idea to keep everything within your plan consistent. There will be some arguing and maybe even some very vocal disagreements, but do not forget that this is a team competition. Be open to each other’s ideas and make sure to communicate between each other to avoid confusion on what needs to be done. Don’t overthink things and make sure everything ties in with your main idea. Before you know it, you’ll end up having a great plan.
Alexander Dixon – Take into account how long it takes to finally settle in on an idea, but make it an idea that will resonate with your audience. We initially brainstormed many different ideas on specific topics that played to our client’s advantages — in our case it was DIRECTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket. For example we had a bunch of ideas on the football packages, their refer-a-friend rewards already in place, and other DTV assets. We then realized that DIRECTV’s major selling point was their NFL Sunday Ticket, so we decided to combine the two to strengthen the refer-a-friend program. Brainstorming the ideas on the topics separately initially took most of our time. Once we honed down on our topic we were able to see ideas that we had on different DIRECTV assets. We were able to use them with our final idea which made it inherently better. The problem with this all was that once we finally found an idea that would work, we had about two weeks left in the semester to actually create the plan, which made us work quickly and under pressure. So my main piece of advice would be to not underestimate how long it takes to actually come to a solid idea that will stick out to place in the competition.
Kevin Harmon – I learned that staying organized and not procrastinating are keys to success. Once you come up with your main idea, have confidence in it and let it fully develop. Don’t veer too far off your original course, there are a lot of moving parts to this project and constantly changing your ideas will cost you lots of valuable time. Last but not least, have fun with it. This is a great opportunity to apply your knowledge from the classroom in a creative way.
Kelsey Jordan Hinkle – I often still think about my group experiences and what I wish I could’ve done differently. While there’s some I remain unsure of as a perfect solution, here’s what I would advise focusing on to fellow marketing majors:
1. Emotional Intelligence. A successful group begins with knowing yourself, your teammates, and yourself around your teammates. We learned in COB 202 to start group projects by taking the Myers Briggs test – a great tool for developing Emotional Intelligence. However, it wasn’t until Maymester as a senior, after being forced in COB 487, that I realized how beneficial this test is to a groups’ success. I highly recommend knowing your Myers Briggs score and your teammates within the 1st week. You not only discover personal strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of your teammates, but also this reveals any latent imbalances early-on. So now your team can create a more relevant plan of action to address any potential issues, and also better allocate specific roles/duties. But my favorite part is about this test is how much personal insight you gain, as well as those around you, especially opposite personalities. It explains why you react a certain way to surrounding personalities/situations and how to more effectively control any negative reactions.
2. Logistics. Go over everything you have to do together. Set up weekly deadlines and stick to them. Google Calendars and Google Drive are lifesavers. Share everything. But, do not overly rely on Google Docs. Don’t assign a task to only one person. Have everyone edit/add writing up until at least 3 days before the due date. Then, pick one person to create a version in Word. Read it aloud slowly together. If there’s something you want changed but no one agrees, change it on your own computer first. Wait for everyone’s approval before changing it yourself. If you want to make a drastic change, be sure to sufficiently back up your ideas. More importantly, don’t be afraid to do so. We actually changed our overall theme less than 2 weeks before the due date, which was incredibly stressful, but worth it.
3. Taking Initiative. The busyness of the business school, and lack of group rooms, makes procrastinating even more tempting. Do not succumb. Even if “there’s nothing to do” that week, do something. Meet at least once every week for an hour. As a change of scenery, I recommend not meeting in Showker (i.e. the café in Martin’s, Barnes & Noble, Rose Library, etc…) although, so long as you can find a space, Showker works, too. The issues I faced with most group projects resulted from my own laziness and/or entitlement. When 1 or more members procrastinate, it’s easy to follow suit, especially in the beginning weeks. Start something, even if no one else will. But always try your best to include the team on your work. Regardless of how much more effort you put forth, avoid feeling like you deserve greater control or credit. Vice versa, avoid negative thoughts of what you don’t deserve, whether related to grades or treatment by your teammates. Unfortunately, groups do not work that way, and neither does life.
4. Direct Communication. The moment you have something you’d like to say to another member,tell them. Never be afraid of making things worse because, trust me, that rarely happens. Remaining silent is much more destructive. If you feel uncomfortable telling the person directly, go to your professor as early as possible, not another member of your team.
Thank you to John, Alex, Kevin, and Kelsey for sharing their advice. To summarize their key points:
- Get started early.
- Brainstorm and then stay focused on your main ideas.
- Keep communication lines open within the team.
- Develop a team plan for completing the plan requirements.
For even more insights, read what the 2014 Bronze Winners from JMU had to say about succeeding in the Collegiate ECHO Marketing Challenge.