After a semester of research and number-crunching surveys—eight groups of communication students are racing to complete integrative marketing plans for an area restaurant.
Only one will win. Its recommendations will be used by Biba’s Italian Restaurant in Milledgeville to increase sales and patronage.
“The competition part makes it more high-stakes,” said senior communication major Sarah Allen of Covington.
Another member of her group, senior communication major Huntley Cowart of Macon, said “if it wasn’t a competition, I could just do my best. But I can’t just do my best. I have to do better, because we’re going up against so many people.”
This is real life—where accounts aren’t just “handed to you” and competition is fierce.
Students take Dr. Jack Karlis’ Strategic Planning class specifically for this challenge. The end product is a “Request for Proposal”—painstakingly hard to formulate but something students can put on their resumes to impress potential employers.
Strategic reports like these command “good money” in the corporate world, Karlis said. The last-minute rush students are experiencing is also indicative of public relations.
Senior communication major Alex Jones of Wrightsville took the class to work with real clients.
“I think it helps students and myself more to do things that actually mean something to real-world clients,” Jones said. “It’s better to get real experience than read samples out of a book.”
Earlier in the semester, students gave pitches about themselves—their talents and skills. They interviewed for positions, like they would in the job market. Cowart is good at pie charts, and Allen’s expertise is writing. Jones is the agency leader of his group—and he got the most completed surveys, 113.
Overall, students in two classes gathered 1,974 survey responses—the most Karlis has seen for this project. They surveyed mostly online, targeting college students and workers, Milledgeville residents and the after-church crowd. Students looked for patterns in the data, so they could make informed decisions.
“I’m very proud of the job they’re doing. They’ve hustled hard,” Karlis said. “The Georgia College student population is academically inclined. The solutions they come up with show we have some very great thinkers on this campus. I’m proud to say a lot of them are my students.”
In the past, Karlis’ students created marketing plans for Adam’s Acres, Green Market and Salads-to-Go. They come up with fresh ideas, like using apps or building websites. They’ve branded water bottles and bags. One group even created a “Bobcat Sandwich” for Cravings.
They start on an even playing field—using the same survey information. What they do with it from there, Karlis said, is where it gets creative.
“Their ingenuity, their attention to detail, their comprehensiveness are just amazing,” he said. “I’m very happy with the quality of work these students put out.”
This year, the goal was to bring more students and customers to Biba’s. The establishment’s strengths are its homestyle meals, warm chicken salad and crab meat ravioli. Its weakness is name recognition. Few residents know about the restaurant, located on North Columbia Street near Kroger’s.
Students interviewed Biba’s owners about how much money they’re willing to spend per week on advertising; if they’re willing to change their loyalty program; and if they’d decrease prices on spaghetti or lasagna for a college student’s budget. Jones said his group put the information together, categorizing by themes. Now, they’re looking at what’s missing.
Each group is careful not to give away their tactics. During the last week of fall classes—they’ll dress professionally and present marketing strategies before judges using PowerPoints, tri-boards, graphics and charts. Karlis said it’s like watching the TV show, “Shark Tank,” where contestants present business ideas and try to convince investors to buy in.
“This will prepare them for the real world,” Karlis said. “If you were to ask me what my favorite class is to teach—this is it by far—because although it’s a lot of work and coordination on my part, at the end when they’re presenting, I couldn’t be a more proud parent.”
“Students aren’t always aware of what they’re capable of doing, until they’re pushed to do so,” he said. “They develop a sense of pride and a larger work ethic from this class. It gives them a sense of accomplishment.”