Students Give Theory a Practical Edge

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In operation for one year, a New York direct marketing agency has achieved such successes as increasing enrollment for a library program by more than 300 percent and helping a nonprofit group cut costs while capturing more customer information. Best yet, the agency's work for these clients was free. That's because Baruch Direct is part of the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College and is staffed by student interns.


Three years ago, Baruch's direct marketing curriculum consisted of one course in DM basics. Then adjunct marketing professor and DM consultant Harvey Markovitz wrote a proposal for a school center that would replicate a real-life agency as a way to provide students practical working experience.


Baruch donated a room in the library that previously was used for storage. The school also donated equipment such as two Macintosh computers for creative work, several PCs and a large-scale monitor. Direct Marketers Gateway, formerly the Direct Marketing Day Foundation, provided the initial grant to get the Baruch Direct Marketing Center operating and additional grants in subsequent years.


"We saw a gap between education and the practical knowledge needed in the business world," Direct Marketers Gateway executive director William R. Denhard said of the group's decision to fund the center. Direct Marketers Gateway aims to provide funding directly to educators for resources and scholarships to introduce and drive careers in DM.


Additional sponsors of the center include Epsilon Interactive, Moskowitz Jacobs Inc., Target Marketing and the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation.


During the center's first few years, the grants funded scholarships for students to take a second direct marketing course in database marketing. In 2005, Markovitz created paid internships with the goal of having the interns run the agency.


"We took the theory in the classroom and put it into real play for clients," he said of Baruch Direct.


The agency's six interns have "lots of experience" even though they are students, said Jorge Miranda, who is the deputy director and has his master's of science in marketing from Baruch.


Their work with clients includes using primary and secondary research with a focus on an integrated marketing approach. Then the intern consultants write a creative brief that defines their approach, which clients are asked to approve. Potential clients typically sit with Baruch Direct for an hourlong meeting in which the consultants present preliminary ideas.


For small businesses that cannot afford an ad agency, there's no charge by Baruch Direct on behalf of its clients. However, if clients wish to donate to Baruch College, it will be used to fund the Direct Marketing Center.


One of the agency's clients is Baruch's library, which wanted to encourage more students to use some of its resources.


"We have a program of workshops for which attendance was so low, it was demoralizing to librarians," said Jerry Barnstein, Baruch's deputy chief of the library.


Previously, each seminar had one brochure that described it but gave students "no reason to come," Barnstein said. Baruch Direct presented the information from the various brochures all in one poster and borrowed a line from the library's mission statement: "Get a Competitive Edge." Now 22 people attend per seminar instead of three to five, Barnstein said.


Another client is Direct Marketers Gateway and DMEF, which sponsor a student career forum each fall. Previously, registration was done entirely by mail via letters from the students' professors. Baruch Direct suggested creating an online registration process and using an e-mail campaign to drive registration.


"We told Direct Marketers Gateway and DMEF that in the school culture, an e-mail from a professor works better than a letter," said Baruch Direct marketing consultant Kasia Gebala, who is working toward her master's in marketing at Baruch.


Though the number of registered attendees didn't change at last November's forum, Baruch Direct helped the planning organizations save money on postage while letting them capture more information via the online registration, Gebala said.


Still another client is cellular phone provider Ray Wireless, which wants to make an exclusive offer to Baruch students. Baruch Direct is in the market research process. It sent an e-mail to 1,000 students last month offering two free movie tickets and a chance to win a video iPod to anyone who signed up for a focus group. However, that produced only a 1 percent response, so the group went back to the drawing board and tried an integrated approach using posters, telephone calls and e-mail. This time, 100 students responded, 81 from the posters alone.


The work with clients isn't the only practical experience Baruch's DM students are receiving. In the past three years, they have won 54 collegiate Echo awards.


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