Web Game Lures Students Toward CPA Careers

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants has begun an interactive campaign on music download site MP3.com in conjunction with publisher Scholastic Inc. to interest high school juniors and seniors in a CPA career.

Called Be a Music Mogul, the effort is an online game that lets students create their own record label. Responsible for budgeting and marketing, the students can track the progress of their selected artists based on the number of actual downloads of songs from MP3.com.

“What we're trying to impart is that as a CPA and having skills that one would obtain [from] becoming a CPA really permits an individual to go anywhere in the world of business,” said Geoffrey Pickard, vice president of communications and public relations at the AICPA, New York.

While the college-bound students get no reward for participation beyond a certificate of honor from the AICPA, the main intent is to generate interest in the CPA profession as a career option.

According to the AICPA, only 1 of 100 high school students interviewed is considering an accounting major in college. In another worrying statistic, the percentage of college students majoring in accounting has dropped from 4 percent in 1990 to 2 percent in 2000.

The AICPA hired direct marketing agency Wunderman, New York, to address this declining interest. The shop bagged the $25 million account for five years, with a mandate to attract those ages 16 to 22 to the profession.

With this interactive push, the AICPA partnered with Scholastic, New York, to reach 6,000 high school teachers nationwide with a booklet doubling as a poster.

The mail piece, titled Learn to Build a Business, targeted teachers of economics and marketing who would persuade their students to participate in the online exercise. MP3.com, a Vivendi Universal company, hosts the game and created the pages.

“We wanted to help the teachers teach their students how to build the business and what the economics of the business are and marketing and tracking budgets and knowing that you have the building blocks of what it takes to put into a business,” said Fran Heller, senior vice president of promotions at Wunderman.

Participation is simple. Students register online with their school name, city, ZIP code, e-mail and password. A mock budget of $1 million is awarded. Once they choose a name for their record label, an automatic trademark search ensues. The search is not free.

“[The chosen label] goes through a trademark search, which you're charged for, so you already know that every single time you have an action in business, there's a cost associated with it,” Heller said.

Using their budget, participants can spend $25,000 to $150,000 for each artist they select. They choose real artists such as Faith Hill, the Backstreet Boys or Britney Spears, from genres like country, pop and rock, alternative and hip hop.

The students then pick marketing packages for each artist, from $25,000 for a Web promotion to $100,000 for a music video.

“The wonderful thing about the site is that every time you spend money, it dynamically subtracts it from your budget,” said Paula McCorkle, Wunderman's promotions account director on the AICPA business. “So when you get your budget sheet, you have everything all figured out.”

When the promotion ends Feb. 10, participants will be told where they stand in terms of the popularity of their artists.

“We're hoping that we can get about 1,000 of these kids to get online,” McCorkle said. “We have 400 right now.”

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