The real-life learning opportunity is a collaboration between marketing students in the Donald L. Harrison College of Business and graphic design students at Southeast’s River Campus. The students are putting their digital marketing skills to work while assisting WhamAds, a classifieds website based out of Los Angeles, California.
WhamAds offers a one-stop online shopping experience to sell and purchase new and used goods. Users have the capability to upload videos, photographs and links to their Facebook, Yelp, Twitter or LinkedIn accounts and pages.
“For us, we teach about how companies do their market research and make their decisions, but all those companies already exist, but in this case, nobody knows about it but us,” said Dr. Sandy Sen, associate professor of marketing at Southeast. “This gives the opportunity for our students to get involved at the beginning of an idea and how to progress with that idea.”
Six groups, composed of five to six Southeast students,will present their sales and strategy plans, and brochure, logo and website designs May 4 to Dr. Don Stokes, co-founder of WhamAds.
“It’s been a great opportunity, especially for Southeast and its students to be connected with a company that wants to have a national presence,” said Kevin Marquez, a junior marketing management major from O’Fallon, Illinois. “I’m getting the chance to have a real world experience, while applying my skills from class.”
“It’s been an invaluable service,” said Stokes about his collaboration with Southeast. “It’s been professional and extremely helpful.”
Stokes was connected to the programs at Southeast but his family friend Kevin Dickson, a professor of management at the University.
The collaboration with WhamAds began in the spring of 2015 with students from Dr. John Cherry’s marketing research class. The students were given a prototype for WhamAds’ website, compared it to its top two competitors and came up with 25 criteria for evaluation. The students then conducted three surveyed data collections. After evaluating and analyzing the results, they presented the recommendations to Stokes.
During this three-month course, with his guidance, students were given the responsibility and independence to conduct their projects as they saw fit, said Cherry.
“This is about experiential learning with a real world client,” said Cherry. “It’s one of the hardest and most significant things they will do.”
In January 2016, students from Sen’s marketing practicum class teamed up with Southeast professor of graphic design and illustration Louise Bodenheimer’s advanced graphic students to create a marketing campaign for the company.
In 2015, “WhamAds took some of the suggestions from Dr. Cherry’s students, made some tweaks and now that they’ve got the basic look of the website and basic functionality, they wanted a brand identity and that’s where we come in,” said Sen.
The students were given three months to create a sales plan and strategy on ideas to attract local individual and business users, a brochure, and logo and website designs to advance the client’s success and image.
Although their work is part of the class, their ideas have larger, real-life implications. Each group functioned like a marketing consulting firm or ad agency, said Sen.
“Each group is taking responsibility for what they’re going to present. This is serious business because the client is flying from California to Cape Girardeau,” said Sen. “They understand that this is a project for a real company, this is a real person who is going to say yay or nay. They have to be practical and have to justify the money they want to spend for the client. They’re getting a taste of what they will be doing after they graduate.”
For Gabby Bernier, a senior graphic design major from St. Louis, Missouri, she wanted to offer a way for WhamAds to stand out from the competition.
“I think they have a really great starting point, but we want to give them an edge, something the Craiglists and Googles don’t have,” said Bernier.
As designers you want to elevate your client’s appeal, bringing organization and a high-end look to their products, both online and in print, Bodenheimer said.
“It’s a good challenge for the students because of the nature of the client’s product, which is a web-based information clearing house,” said Bodenheimer. “They have to dig deeper and think outside the box ways for the exposure and the promoting of this business.”
Additionally, the students had to take into account in their strategy and designs the fast-paced live and short-attention spans of potential consumers.
“In commercial art, you have three seconds to make an impression,” said Sen. “They’re training and using their creative instincts and independence to design something which can make a commercial impact in less than 10 seconds. If it doesn’t do that, then it’s not working.”
One of the most important aspects working with Stokes and WhamAds personnel has been the opportunity to build their professional communications skills. Skype and emails were the most common form of communication, said Marquez.
Finding a balance between the clients’ requests and her vision was a challenge for her group but something they strived towards, said Southeast student Alicia Leake.
“They can have what they want, but I can have some pride in my design,” said Leake, a senior graphic designer major from Wright City, Missouri.
The exposure to the demands and whims of a client prepares the students for jobs after they graduate, said Bodenheimer.
“When we do projects in the classroom we’re pushing their creativity and freedom as designers, but with this they’re dealing with a real client and people outside their area,” she said. “Experts in the design industry are recommending that students have this experience because it is the reality of the industry. They’re going to have account executives, marketing personnel, other designers, and with all those people you have to have communication.”
“It’s a lot of pressure, but if I went into the real world without this experience, I might not know what questions to ask or how to interact with the client,” said Leake.
Sen agreed, saying by grouping students from different majors and opposite areas on campus it prepares them for the industry’s global corporate structure; they can’t expect team members to be available in the same office anymore.
“You can work for any company in any part of the world, and the way things are going, multiple people will be working on the same team but they’re based in different places,” said Sen. “So you need to figure out a way to make this thing work, or else you’ll be fired.”
Projects like those with WhamAds provide the students the chance to grow and build their business muscles, said Bodenheimer.
“With WhamAds being a digital based company, I’ve learned more about digital marketing and how to reach consumers through social media,” said Marquez.
The work she did for WhamAds is an experience she plans to reference in her job interviews, said Bernier.
“It’s been an awesome experience,” said Bernier. “It helps build my working relationship with a business. That’s what people are looking for, that collaboration experience.”
The students’ final projects will also be submitted for ADDY Awards at the annual American Advertising Federation (AAF) Awards Show next year. As a three-tiered national competition with 40,000 entrants overall, the national ADDY Awards are the advertising industry’s largest and most representative competition, recognizing creative excellence and the very best advertising worldwide.
“It can be a challenge. They work with a real client who might listen to and follow their opinion while paying for their work to be showcased in the ADDYs,” said Sen. “They’re being taken seriously, that’s the most important thing.”
In the early phases of a new company, it is important to have opinions and ideas from people who are unbiased, and the work the Southeast students accomplished has been beneficial to their growth, said Stokes.
“Over the past year, the changes we’ve made have been phenomenal,” said Stokes. “We’ll always trace our roots back to Southeast and Cape Girardeau.”
For the students, it’s been a memorable and disciplined experience of being a part of something bigger than just a grade.
“It’s been really cool to see his (Stokes’) vision for his company but allow Southeast students and my vision to help grow his business,” said Marquez.
WhamAds officially launches in the Cape Girardeau area May 4. For more information, visit WhamAds.com.