Category Archives: Integrated Marketing Communications

Winning Pays

UMOle Miss beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa last night.

Now that’s a sentence you don’t see often because it’s only happened one other time in college football history. Ole Miss beat Alabama in Oxford last year too, which was without a doubt the best game I’ve ever attended anywhere, anytime. As pundits are saying this morning, if last year was an upset, what’s it called when it happens two years in a row? I don’t want to jinx it so will stop right there with my euphoria.

Sometimes people think collegiate athletics is out of hand – that the emphasis is too great, the stakes are too high, athletic budgets are out of whack with the rest of the school and the coaches make too much money. Lowly professors (of which I am one) grumble they get tiny (if any) annual raises, their departments deal with budget crunches and they teach in outdated classrooms while gleaming new athletic facilities spring up across campus.

The University of Texas at Austin has a $260 million athletic budget, with more than 10 percent of it coming just from sponsorships, merchandise sales and royalties. While that’s the second largest budget in the U.S. (behind Oregon, which moved into the top spot this year because of a one-time donation from Nike’s Phil Knight), it’s trending this way everywhere. Schools hand the marketing to conglomerates such as IMG Worldwide and Learfield Sports. They make a mint from conference television networks and media rights. Coaches at Division I schools make millions, and coaches at Division II and Division III colleges watch their players get beat up playing big schools in non-conference games because it brings in the money.

To be sure, college athletics is big business.

But for all the naysayers, this stuff is what builds the brand. Sure, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze makes a lot of money. Often, coaches are the highest paid public employees in any given state. But if they can win and keep a clean program, it’s worth it. Double or triple their salaries and it’s still worth it.

In the Ole Miss example, look at the exposure winning games like last night brings. The Rebels were highlighted all day yesterday on ESPN’s College GameDay. The game was watched around the nation. Now highlights are being replayed on all the sports shows, and the school is trending on social media everywhere. Money can’t directly buy this kind of exposure, but success on the field or on the court makes it happen.

We know high school students everywhere are checking out Ole Miss this morning. If this keeps up, we know applications will increase next year. In 2008, I was teaching at Drake University in Des Moines when the men’s basketball team made it into the first round of the NCAA tournament – something that rarely happens there – and student applications the following fall spiked while the community beamed with pride.

Some smaller schools are adding athletic programs simply because of the exposure and students it will bring.

A lot of my Ole Miss students are from out of state, sometimes from seemingly far away places like Washington state, California, New York. And I often ask what put this place on their radar, what first piqued their interest in thinking about Ole Miss?  I usually hear one of two things.

The first is athletics. They watch our football team play, they see game day festivities, they want to be a part of it. Winning puts us on the map in ways nothing else can.

The second thing I hear when I ask that question is The Blind Side, and thank goodness cable networks play that movie repeatedly and not Mississippi Burning.

To those academics who lament the fact that athletic programs hog all the attention and coaches get such high salaries, I ask: How much money do you bring into the school? How much national exposure does your department generate? And how many students would discover your program if athletics didn’t put the institution on the map first?

So thank you Coach Freeze. Last night proves you are worth every penny and then some. What you do means I have more students to teach and the brand on my own resume becomes more valuable. When you win, when the team wins, we all win.


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Chicken or Egg?

Chicken-EggThere’s something I’ve never quite figured out when it comes to the U.S. news media (the “mainstream media,” as some politicians and pundits like to call it).

Does the media set our agenda – meaning, our national discourse is because of the prominence given to certain topics that are broadcast, posted, printed or published?

Or is the media mostly a reflection of the things we as a nation want to see and hear? Media is, after all, business. And the goal of business is sales and profit. That’s achieved by giving customers what they want, which is the very essence of marketing. So this theory says that the news we get is because it’s the news we want.

Think about news cycles when nearly every major outlet was intensely focused on the same thing (and I’m not counting natural disasters, plane crashes, celebrity deaths and the like): OJ.  Balloon boy. Octomom. Wikileaks. Trayvon Martin. Ebola. Polar Vortex. Penn State. Brian Williams. Gay marriage. Confederate flags.

I’m not minimizing any these subjects, but wonder if they were so prominent because the media sets the agenda and made it so, or because that’s what we wanted so we got what we asked for. Maybe it’s both, maybe the two theories can’t be separated and perhaps it’s academic to try to dissect it. To be sure, this seems like the intersection of journalism and marketing.

But I’m thinking about it again recently because of the coverage of Donald Trump. Clearly – for the moment at least – he is the big story of the 2016 presidential election. There are a bunch of other Republicans running but Trump is the one making headlines (see my July 27 post). One can ask: does he make headlines because he’s the guy voters want,  or do voters want him because he’s the guy in the headlines?

Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

Although I teach in a school of journalism and mass communications I’m not as much on the media side. My background is marketing. So my natural inclination is to believe that media doesn’t exist to inform, educate or persuade; I don’t think there’s any so-called “agenda.” Media is about money – that’s the agenda. And the way for that to happen is to deliver the content, the headlines, the pictures, the graphics, the anchors and the talking heads people want.   If not, the product won’t be consumed.

In short, Trump will remain the news until if and when people tire of the topic, and then the headlines will wane.

Still, sometimes I wonder if there’s more to it than that.

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Trump Card

Trump CardsDisclaimer: I’m not endorsing or promoting any presidential candidate. My political beliefs or party affiliation (if any) aren’t relevant here. This blog isn’t about politics. It’s about marketing and communications.

So it is from this vantage point that say I admire Donald Trump. Currently there are 17 – SEVENTEEN – candidates vying to win the Republican nomination. Which one stands out? Which one makes the headlines? Which one are pundits talking about? Which one am I writing about?

The Donald.

Good marketing communications is about making your product or service stand out. It’s about being different, and generating buzz and being remembered. That’s exactly what Trump is doing.

Sure, he might be a clown sometimes. But he’s a clown people remember – one people know something about – unlike most of those other 16 what’s-their-names.

I know, I know. Standing out for the wrong reason can be bad. Think about Toyota or BP. They dominated the news for a while, but they stood out because of mistakes and accidents. Trump is no accident. He’s a guy that knows his brand, knows his audience and has figured out how to maximize his marketing communication.

Kudos to you for that, Mr. Trump.

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Skills Versus Theory

small biz toolboxOne of the things my colleagues and I discuss often is the balance between teaching “skills” versus “theory” courses.

Skills courses are those where students learn a specific, tangible thing – a “how to” – that can be applied immediately:  How to use a software program, how to write promotional copy, how to conduct a survey, how to shoot video, etc.   Theory courses are those where learning takes place, but the application of that knowledge is less specific, more situational, and requires critical and strategic thinking.  Examples are ethics courses, branding courses, sales courses, and so on.

Both skills and theory are important, and both are taught here in our program at Ole Miss.  But the question becomes, what is the right mix?  When students graduate, what should be in their toolbox?

Chances are, students will land their first job after graduation because of a skill.  They’ll go to work for a marketing department, a PR department, an ad agency, a newspaper, a magazine, or a TV station or some other business.  There they will write, report, edit, take pictures, create websites, handle social media, conduct surveys, do a newsletter or whatever.

A recent graduate who now works at an ad agency in Atlanta told me he stood out from other new hires because he knew how to use Adobe Creative Suite 6 (a design software program).

But while a skill gets students their first job, it’s the ability to think critically, be strategic and understand the big picture that will lead to their advancement.

The trick is to make sure students are prepared for an immediate job, yet have knowledge that will last a lifetime.

And skills become obsolete.  If we focus too much on making sure students know how to create mobile apps today, how is that helpful in five years (or less) when the technology changes?

But yet it is.  In college, I took a Fortran class.  Fortran is a computer programming language that isn’t used much anymore, at least in my field.  I was good at it, but how important has that technical skill been in my career?  Well, I never once used it – haven’t done a thing with Fortran since I graduated.  However, surprisingly, the foundational knowledge it gave me about computer programming has been very helpful throughout the years.  I have worked with many companies to build marketing databases, and my ability to understand the process that the techies use – even though I couldn’t do it myself – has been invaluable.

The point is, the debate over skills versus theory isn’t all or nothing.  I’m not very musically inclined, but my hunch is someone who learns how to play the piano has an easier time learning another instrument because they already know how to read a music note.  In that way, specific skills do impart lasting knowledge.

There’s no magic answer as to what’s the right balance, at least in the marketing communication and journalism fields.   It’s more a matter of monitoring what’s going on in the marketplace, staying in touch with employers, and tweaking curriculum as needed.

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Pick the Right Internship

intern3Students often ask me about internships:  Where to get them, how many they should have, what they should look for, when to start searching.

This is serious stuff for integrated marketing communications and journalism students – no one finds a job after graduation if they haven’t had some type of real-world experience.

Earlier this week a student who was fortunate enough to have several internship opportunities to choose from asked me how to pick the right one.

Here are some thoughts, not so much from my perspective as a professor, but as a guy who has hired a lot of people (including new college graduates) for both internships and jobs over the years.  Disclaimer:  It is my opinion.  This does not necessarily reflect the views of the Meek School of Journalism or Ole Miss; the career placement office may give different advice.

It’s not just the job.  At least in marketing communications, an internship shouldn’t be so much about specific job duties as it is experiencing things, meeting people, and building a network.  Sure, it would be great to have work published, build a cool new app or website, or organize an industry conference.  But answering phones or fetching coffee isn’t a bad gig either if you’re doing it for the right people – people who will be impressed with you attitude, recognize initiative and can help you find your next job.

A couple weeks ago I met Renie Anderson, senior vice president for sponsorship and partner development with the NFL.  Her first job out of college?  She worked as a temp, which led to a job as a personal assistant, which put her in touch with the right people, and her career took off from there.

Think about brand.  Get the best one you can onto your resume.  A few years back, a student asked me to help her evaluate two internship offers.  One was a decent job with nice pay and pretty impressive responsibilities, but at a small agency few people had ever heard of.  The other seemed like a slight step down in terms of duties and scope, but it was with consumer products giant Unilever.  With it, she’d be based in Bentonville, Arkansas, working on the Walmart account.  I steered her to the latter because in three months when the gig was over, it would look better to have Unilever and Walmart on a resume than….hmm, I can’t remember the name of the other agency.

Brand matters.  It matters big time.  Having recognizable ones on your resume is extremely valuable.

The people count.  Think about the individuals you might meet and the relationships you will build – people who can introduce you to others and provide strong references.  Go for those opportunities where you’ll be exposed to as many others as possible.  Remember, networking isn’t just about who you know, but who those people know.

Remember grades, but…  Sometimes students ask if grades matter.  For internships and first jobs out of college, yes they do.  But it’s because that’s often a criteria companies use to winnow applicants.  Once you’re into the workplace, no one cares.

Generally speaking, I think the emphasis on grades is overrated.  I actually don’t ever recall looking at GPA whenever I’ve hired someone; I assume if they got through college their marks must have been adequate.  Instead, I want to see what the person has done, I want a portfolio of work, I want experiences, I want references, I want to know who they know.  Yes, grades can sometimes be indicators of how hard someone has worked in the past.  But I’m not convinced it is much of a predictor of future performance.  I don’t really care that a professor may have given an “A” on a project – I care about what that project accomplished.

Of course if you plan to go to graduate school, that’s another story…

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Word of Mouth Marketing: WOW

womTwo years ago, the undergraduate Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) program at Ole Miss had 80 students.  Last year, it was 190.  Now it tops 450.  Wow.

Why the fast growth?  Several reasons: Enrollment across the entire university is up, so that helps.  We continue to receive very positive feedback on the IMC curriculum from students, parents and alumni – it’s a good mix of journalism, communication, business and liberal arts courses.  Jobs are in demand for people with these skills.  And students in the program give it a big thumbs up.  In a survey last May, 86 percent said they were satisfied, 77 percent said they’d pick the major again if they had a do-over, and 81 percent said they’d definitely recommend IMC to other students.

That last one – positive word of mouth – is what I believe is really behind the numbers. (It’s also the one that keeps me up at night, because what grows fast by positive word of mouth can also be destroyed just as quickly if the buzz turns negative.)

Word of mouth is an important component of IMC.  Sure, everyone knows that good things said about a brand can be influential, but beyond that it’s important to understand how word of mouth works, how it’s quantified and measured, and more.

Fate intervened a couple weeks ago when I had the chance to visit with Stuart Sheldon, president of Escalate Marketing.  It’s an Atlanta based agency that offers experiential and word of mouth marketing to clients such as Barilla, Birds Eye, Coca-Cola, and others.  (I met Sheldon through a colleague who used to work in brand management at Coke.)

He champions the idea that a critical component of IMC – beyond things like direct marketing, public relations, advertising, sales promotion and all the other strategies – is leveraging the power of passionate customers in an organized way.  In other words, orchestrating the good words of customers, just like advertising and other messages are orchestrated (and integrated).

This goes way beyond just “likes.” In fact, it doesn’t have anything to do with social media.  According to Sheldon, word of mouth happens through:

  • Face to face interactions (72%)
  • Phone conversations (17%)
  • Text messaging (4%)
  • E-mail (3%)
  • Blogs and chat (1%)
  • And other means (3%)

What’s more, research also shows that about 1 in 5 consumer purchases in the U.S. are solely the result of word of mouth.

Think about that.  One in 5 is a powerful statistic, and yet it makes perfect sense.  What purchases have you made, what brands have you tried, because of the recommendations (or even just chatter) from people you know?

This is a fascinating concept, and while word of mouth marketing isn’t anything new, its recognition as a marketing discipline is somewhat recent.   Check out the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, formed just about a decade ago.

I look forward to learning more.  It’s a very important part of the IMC equation.

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Think Pink

pinkhighwayAs nearly everyone knows – thanks to the phenomenal marketing efforts of the major breast cancer charities – October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

I have never seen a brand extended into so many things.   I was thinking about it again this morning as I peeled the pink lid off my yogurt.  That color and the ribbon is everywhere.

A couple of the more unique extensions I recall seeing this year:  A pink highway ramp in Iceland, and the pink helmets, cleats, socks and gloves worn by the University of Oregon football team in their game against Washington State. (Pink was everywhere in the NFL this month too.)

Some pundits wonder about “pinkwashing,” – the idea that perhaps organizations climb on the pink bandwagon more to enhance their own bottom line than that of the charity.  And to be sure, sometimes pink has showed up on things that don’t make sense.  (A few years ago, the Susan G. Koman Foundation took some flack for teaming up with KFC on a “Buckets for the Cure” promotion – health and fried chicken aren’t usually things that go together.)

I’ll leave that debate to others, but the fact remains this is an absolutely incredible integrated marketing communications effort.  When you become so well branded that your organization can “own” a color — well that truly is amazing.  Kudos to the breast cancer charities.

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