University of Akron Raises DM Education

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Armed with money donated by a major player in the teleservices industry, the University of Akron has embarked on a project to create the nation's most comprehensive, hands-on direct marketing undergraduate program.


The Gary and Karen Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at the University of Akron just completed its first full year in May. It is the product of a $1.5 million gift by Gary L. Taylor, chairman and founder of InfoCision Management Corp., Akron, OH.


According to the Direct Marketing Association's Direct Marketing Education Foundation, 39 educational institutions in the United States offer DM programs, most as certificates or areas of specialization. Only a few offer graduate or undergraduate degrees in direct marketing, such as New York University's longstanding DM graduate program.


The Taylor Institute is the only program of its kind to place such focus on offering practical experience to students, institute director Dale Lewison said. The institute consists of about 9,000 square feet but expansions are planned for a total of 30,000 square feet.


It houses a fully equipped call center, database lab and creative lab. There are plans for an e-marketing lab, fulfillment lab and a multimedia lab for DRTV marketing education, Lewison said. The idea is to offer students a broad education in the entire process of direct marketing, from start to finish. Many in the DM industry come out of the creative side of the business and learn the rest later, he said.


More importantly, the goal is to give students experience on real-life projects, Lewison said. One graduating senior, Sharon Hooker of Dennison, OH, helped develop a Web site for the Furnace Street Mission, a local nonprofit. She is preparing to take a job with the marketing department of a publishing company and focus her career on interactive marketing.


Interactive marketing is the area most likely to draw young students, Lewison said. The institute's undergraduate degree program is geared toward e-marketing, offering a major in e-marketing and advertising and minors in direct interactive marketing and database marketing.


Taylor received his undergraduate degree and MBA from the University of Akron in the 1970s. He expanded his company, InfoCision, into one of the nation's most prominent call center providers, particularly in the field of political advocacy and fundraising.


The university initially approached Taylor for help with funding construction of a building for its business college, but he declined. He offered to help fund scholarships for students in financial need -- once having been one himself -- when the university came back with the proposal for the institute.


"I wasn't aware of much out there in terms of direct marketing," Taylor said. "I felt it was an area where higher education is needed."


Taylor said he was impressed by the institute's plan for practical education. The institute is modeled partly on the university's Fisher Institute for Professional Sales, which also focuses on providing students real-life experience.


The Fisher Institute was founded in 1993 through a $500,000 gift from Ronald Fisher, whose career was in pharmaceutical sales. One of Fisher's goals was to enhance the image of the sales profession and attract young people to it as a career.


Taylor said he hopes the institute will accomplish the same thing for direct marketing. The industry's bad image is driving away bright students, but the institute is a tool to show them its potential, he said.


"Telemarketing has a terrible stigma, but that's what we do," Taylor said. "One of the things we wanted to do was show bright students that there is a career in direct marketing and telemarketing."


Scott Hovanyetz covers telemarketing, production and printing and direct response TV marketing for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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