This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

"The Apprentice," UB-style

Course based on TV show offers real-life marketing projects

Published: March 3, 2005

Contributing Editor

The premise: Teams of budding young entrepreneurs pit their skills and savvy against one another in an attempt to win praise and reward from an accomplished marketing pro.

Sound familiar?


Erin Hagner (back row, first from left) and other members of the red team celebrate a win. They're enrolled in "The Marketers," a new course modeled after TV’s "The Apprentice."

No, it's not the latest episode of Donald Trump's hit reality-TV show, "The Apprentice." It's a new, three-credit course called "The Marketers," modeled after the TV show and offered this semester at the School of Management.

Thirty-six students from various academic disciplines and walks of life are enrolled in the undergraduate course, created by adjunct instructor Marc A. Adler, a 20-year veteran of innumerable marketing campaigns, product promotions and media blitzes.

"The idea is to give students hands-on, practical experience in marketing that they wouldn't get from classroom lectures," explains Adler, who also serves as vice president of client services at Flynn and Friends, a Buffalo-based advertising firm. Adler, who is vice president for programs and events for the UB Alumni Association, holds three degrees from UB—a master's degree (1983), MBA (1982) and a bachelor's degree (1979).

"I want the students to get a real appreciation for how difficult it is to market products, and learn how it's really done," he adds.

Just like "The Apprentice," the students are split into teams—in this case, three teams—and are assigned competitive, marketing-related projects designed to test their business skills, initiative, problem-solving abilities and how well they work with a team.

Unlike the show, however, none of the students are "fired" during the course, nor does Adler offer the winning student a job at the course's conclusion.

Instead, Adler—a big fan of the TV show's first two seasons—challenges students to complete three projects over a span of three to five weeks per project for real-life clients drawn from his professional contacts. Clients consult with the students during each project and help Adler select a winning team.

The students are awarded points based on how successfully their team accomplishes a project, and the winning team also receives prizes from the client. There are no textbooks or tests—point totals at the end of the course determine each student's final grade.

According to Adler, the students "really got into their first project," for which each team was given complimentary tickets to a UB women's basketball game, and was asked to boost game attendance. In all, the teams recruited more than 400 spectators to the game, with the winning team attracting 233 fans, including a group of students from a local elementary school.

For their second project, which concludes March 21, the students must design supermarket promotional displays to support a new Diet Pepsi sales campaign, working with the regional Pepsi distributor and Tops Friendly Markets. They also must raise campus awareness of the product by taking photos of students, faculty and administrators holding up a bottle of the product.

The winning team will be determined by total sales and number of people photographed. "I really encourage the students to play up the competitive aspect of each project—complete with trash talking," Adler says.

Erin Hagner, a senior marketing major, says she "loves the course," and not just because her team won the first project, for which she was team leader. "This course is my first real-life experience in marketing," she says. "I really enjoyed taking a leadership role."

For their final project, the students will sell candy bars on campus for local candy maker Fowler's Chocolate. The twist is that each team must set its own price for the candy bars. Total profits determine the winner, with proceeds benefiting a charity selected by the students.

Though the course's top performer won't be offered a job at semester's end, Adler says the uniqueness of the course might open doors for students during their job searches.

"They'll have all these unique experiences and tasks they can talk about during an interview," Adler says. "It might even give them a leg up for a job."

"The Donald" would approve.