Business students at The University of Texas Pan-American are taking on a real marketing challenge with a real client and real budget, to meet the requirements of their business class this semester.
The College of Business Administration's Advertising and Promotions class was selected to participate in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Collegiate Marketing Program by EdVenture Partners, which develops innovative industry-education partnerships with universities across the country by blending academic theory with practical, hands-on applications.
"I felt that this type of project would be a challenge for the students' creative abilities as well as incorporate all of their marketing courses to make this real life work experience project successful," Garza said.
The CIA Collegiate Marketing Program gives students the opportunity to gain hands-on training in the fundamentals of marketing - market research, marketing strategy, campaign design, advertising, public relations and campaign assessment. Through the program they formed their own fully-functioning marketing agency, which they named MERCA Marketing.
"MERCA comes from the word Mercadotecnia, which means marketing in Spanish," Yajaira Flores, public relations coordinator for MERCA Marketing, said. "We chose this name because it is a representation of our nationality and Latin roots. More than half of the students in our class are fluent Spanish speakers and almost all of the class has Latin ancestry."
The challenge for the class and its agency is to design and implement its own unique marketing campaign for the CIA, focusing on specific marketing objectives designed by the CIA. The goal is to increase awareness of the CIA and its career opportunities, market the CIA as an employer of choice to UTPA students and assist the CIA in positively marketing the agency and dispelling myths about the agency and careers within the agency.
Students in return receive many benefits that are not taught in a typical classroom environment. The CIA Collegiate Marketing Program helps them develop interpersonal business skills, build their résumé and define what skills and area of work they most enjoy.
"This class provides a great opportunity to gain some experience in real world job scenarios," Maritza Rodriguez, research department coordinator for MERCA Marketing, said. "We learned how to meet deadlines, work as a group and how to communicate with individuals who have a different point of view."
Flores said UTPA was selected to participate in the project based on the institution's positive academic record, geographical location and diverse culture.
"The CIA is interested in how to market to different ethnic groups and UTPA was the perfect candidate for this," Flores said. "The location of our University is in South Texas, bordering Mexico, which gives us a cultural advantage over most universities in the United States."
UTPA and New York University are the only universities in the country that were selected to participate in the CIA marketing program this year.
To operate the agency, MERCA Marketing was given a $2,500 budget, sponsored by the CIA. The budget could be used for any expenses the marketing agency incurs. MERCA Marketing chose to spend the budget on its main marketing event which was held March 29 on campus and advertisement efforts for the event.
The marketing team had conducted a survey of UTPA students and determined that 57 percent had never been exposed to any CIA advertisement and 62 percent had never considered a career with the CIA. Flores said the survey also showed that most students thought the CIA was a very secretive organization and did not consider the CIA as a business organization with many job opportunities.
"Our goal is to change those numbers significantly," Flores said. "Through diverse marketing strategies, we will increase CIA awareness and promote the CIA as an employer of choice."
During the marketing event, representatives from the CIA visited the UTPA campus to inform students of job opportunities with the agency. In addition to a live band, free food and drinks and games, nearly 1,500 students were also able to register for door prizes such as concert tickets, cash prizes, T-shirts and a television. The marketing team will continue to track the level of awareness of the CIA among UTPA students by conducting a follow-up survey of students in the coming weeks. Based on its research thus far, the team has made a few marketing strategy recommendations.
"To market to ethnically diverse populations, one must understand the culture. Furthermore, it is most effective to market to cultures individually rather than standardize the message," Flores said. "Our marketing agency chose a modern strategy - hosting an event - to create awareness, rather than the CIA's more traditional approach used in the past."
The project culminated May 2 when the marketing students presented their results and recommendations to the CIA and EdVenture Partners representatives in addition to many UTPA staff and faculty members. The students also proposed the CIA maintain frequent visits to the University to increase awareness of the agency.
Marilyn Blatnikoff, diversity recruitment coordinator for the CIA, was impressed with the students' presentation and said their hard work and preparation was evident through their presentation and marketing suggestions.
"Some of their recommendations are exactly in line with what we are trying to do," Blatnikoff said. "We are trying to narrow our range of schools and go more often to those schools, so their suggestions are great."