Students Pitch Coasters and Ideas During Real-World Ad Course

By Brian Peters

Release Date: November 1, 2010

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Marc Adler, who teaches the undergraduate course Prin-tech Advertising, is helping UB communications students learn about the advertising industry by doing.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A University at Buffalo communications instructor is giving students the chance to pitch real business ideas to real business owners, using something close to the heart of many college students to do it: chicken wings and beer.

"Everything I learned about the advertising industry I learned by doing," explains Marc Adler, an adjunct instructor in UB's Department of Communications. "You can't understand anything in the world of marketing unless you do it."

In Adler's undergraduate course -- Prin-tech Advertising -- teams of students compete to present the best marketing strategy to selected businesses, granting students the opportunity to experience a real marketing job and likely giving some local businesses some quality concepts in the process.

Adler's course examines advertising techniques, methods and evaluation, as well as sales promotion.

Each semester features different businesses selling different products, which has students tackling issues ranging from organizing ad campaigns for World Wrestling Entertainment events, to attracting non-traditional audiences to the Buffalo Zoo, to promoting UB football.

This semester features two separate businesses: Nadja Foods, a Buffalo-based business looking to increase their online cookie sales, and Katz Americas, which produces beer coasters and is looking to market them to Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants. This required, of course, a field trip to Buffalo Wild Wings so the students could, officially, get an idea of how the restaurant operated.

"These are real companies, doing real stuff, looking for real help, so it's a win-win," says Adler.

"The companies have always wanted the advice. The thing that happens with students is that they have more of their finger on the pulse of new things out there."

Representatives from each business invited to participate in the class attend the students' final presentations. They judge how effectively each teams is able to communicate their ideas for the business' success. One team is awarded the distinction of having given the best presentation. But Adler doesn't always agree with the judges' decision.

"The winning team is guaranteed at least an 'A,' but I don't even necessarily agree with the judges, so other teams may score higher if I thought they did better," Adler says.

"I've had students mad at me because they thought they should have won, but that's how the real world works. I help them try to understand why these things happen sometimes."

The process helps students understand that losing takes place in the real world, but they also gain far more real-world experience than they would from a book, Adler points out.

He got the idea to run his class like this from the format for the popular TV show "The Apprentice," which also features teams of competitors being judged and gaining useful work experience, regardless of winning or losing.

Adler has found the competition inherent in this style of teaching a useful way of motivating students.

"I realized that students needed something that kept their interest longer than using a book. I never liked using a book anyway. The book is meaningless to what I'm trying to achieve."

Without the use of a book, the students must rely on a combination of guidance from Adler and the pure imaginative power of young college minds to come up with realistic business solutions to present.

"Students, when pushed, will more often than not succeed," says Adler, adding "When forced to really think and do to be successful, the students really just pull it together."

Some students have even gone on to do internships with some of the businesses Adler has worked with in his class. Christopher Charles, a UB graduate and former student in Prin-tech Advertising, started working for WWE after his team presentation to the business was selected as the winner, and has since become an art director for the organization.

Though he sets the bar high, Adler finds that students are more than up to the challenge, and most enjoy their time in the class.

"I hope the students walk away with an appreciation for what it's like in the world of business -- not based upon what a book says, but on what can really happen. That should give the student great perspective when they go into that interview room and have to talk about something that wasn't easy, but they learned a lot about what they might face on the job."