From the moment Mass Communication students take their first Advertising or Public Relations course, they hear about "Campaigns." This demanding capstone course is eagerly anticipated and creates quite a bit of nervous excitement. For over a decade, this course has partnered with national-level clients who have come to campus to pose real communication challenges to teams of 10 to 12 senior Advertising and Public Relations students. These integrated marketing communication (IMC) teams then create campaigns to meet those real-world challenges. Student teams create all the communication materials in their plans and pitch their ideas before a crowded auditorium of students, parents, friends, professors and the client.
Application of Classroom Learnings
Students apply all of their classroom learnings and then build on those skills with real-world experiences, such as teamwork and meeting tight deadlines. Numerous students have said that their experiences with Campaigns helped them land their first job after graduation, making all the hard work well worth it.
Campaigns has featured many different clients, but some of the most well known include Mall of America, Best Buy, Mayo Clinic, Target, Anytime Fitness and Edina Realty.
The Advertising and Public Relations programs at Winona State have included a capstone campaigns experience since their inception in the late '70s, early '80s. The current campaigns agency format began in the spring quarter of 1992 when Marketing Professor James Bovinet and Mass Communication Professor Ron Elcombe joined forces to create an interdisciplinary experience for their students.
Professor Bovinet had written a computer simulation game for his marketing class in which marketing teams formed "businesses" that competed with each other during the course of a term. The marketing teams made all the decisions that a business would be expected to make.
Professors Elcombe and Bovinet added advertising teams into the simulation. "Advertising agencies" were hired by the marketing teams in a trade show format to do the advertising and promotional work for three campaigns. The ranking of the advertising campaigns directly affected the sales results of the marketing teams and the expense of the campaigns was included in the calculations of the business's profit and loss statement.
Within two years, the Public Relations Campaigns class of the WSU Mass joined forces with Advertising Campaigns. The original advertising agencies became Integrated Marketing Communications agencies.
When Dr. Bovinet left WSU, the Advertising/Public Relations Campaigns courses began bringing in major companies as clients for whom the campaigns teams prepared materials and presented their work to the clients.
From its inception, the goal has been to provide students with an experience that closely parallels what they will encounter in their careers. The experience endeavors to give students valuable insights into the nature of the industries they have been preparing to enter.
Challenges have ranged from
- Launching a new brand both internally and externally.
- Creating a year-long celebration around the client's milestone anniversary.
- Creating international brand awareness for the client in China, Canada and Mexico.
Student Course Evaluations
- "[My favorite part was] [b]ecoming a family with my team. We overcame challenges together, communicated brilliantly, spent long, stressful nights together and still managed to have a good time after each challenge was over."
- "My greatest advice to upcoming students and teams would be to bond with your team right off the bat especially in your agency challenge, have fun with it, you are with them for the long haul. If there are issues, openly communicate them with the whole team present. It is really an amazing experience, you will walk away with a lifetime of memories, wonderful experience and some good friends. Take it all in."
- "Don't be afraid to do things differently. This is a mock experience, which means it may be the only time you get to have a lot of fun with a crazy idea."
- "I can remember during my interview my boss was blown away that we had basically three years' worth of planning done in a semester. I can honestly say Campaigns prepared me for a real job and was probably harder at times than my job now. I learned how to work with a large group of people (from very different backgrounds), manage a million different moving parts, plan yearlong campaigns, listen to a client's needs, and work really hard at something just to be told they didn’t like it. Failing at meeting the client's expectations was probably the most teachable moment because when I got to my job I knew right away to have five ideas prepared for everything and don’t take anything personal. My advice for students going into campaigns:
-Brooke (Hiestand) Rapchak '16
- Pay attention to details - those small details will set you apart from other groups.
- Be respectful of everyone in the group. In reality getting a job in marketing is like working in group projects for the rest of your working life.
- Listen to the client - always ask yourself if what you’re doing will meet the client's goals/expectations.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
- You get out what you put into it. The people in my group who put in the most work and really cared all have some of the most amazing jobs!
“Campaigns was one of the most valuable experiences I had in college and set me up with realistic expectations of what my field would be like post-graduation. While the class was rigorously intense it also pushed me to think critically and creatively and in turn making it a launching pad for my future career as a public relations professional. I never thought that while I was a student I would end up working for my then client, Mall of America®. Currently I’m employed full time with them in their public relations department working on various media strategies, external communication for incoming tenants and attractions along and assisting on large scale events including Super Bowl 52, our 25th Birthday and Holiday campaigns. One of my Campaign challenges was to create one to promote Mall of America’s presence at the Super Bowl and I even ended up using and referencing my work from my time at Winona State.”
-Brett Burger '16, B.A. in Mass Communications: Public Relations and Theatre Arts
"Campaigns is a class you can't describe; you've either been through it or you haven't. It's by far one of the best experiences of my college career, and the skills, knowledge and friendships I've made have lasted well past graduation. With that being said, you have to earn those skills, knowledge and friendships by putting in a lot of hard work and many late nights. I promise you it is worth it! If you want to make the most of Campaigns, I give to you two pieces of advice: 1. Your team is most important. It's not winning, not getting an A, not personal growth; it's your team! If you go in loving your team through thick and thin, you will be amazed at how well you can all work together, and you will make friendships that mean more than the class itself! 2. Be different. Coming from the team Oddity, trust me when I say take chances! It's a class, so you're not going to get fired or lose a client. In real life you're not going to be able to do all those cool, crazy ideas. So do them now and get a kicka** portfolio from it! Get ready to take the bull by the horns and make some of the best memories of your college career!"
-Lindsay Oien '18, B.A. in Mass Communications: Advertising and Marketing
"Campaigns pushed me right up to the edge of my comfort zone and then shoved me out of it, headfirst. While challenging, it pushed me to grow, solve problems without much guidance, learn to work with a team and settle differences, and learn to delegate effectively (because you’ll drown if you don’t). The long nights and moments of “How on Earth are we going to get all of this done in time???” were made worth it by the “Aha!” moments after a group brainstorm, the feeling of crushing a pitch and the countless memories of laughter with my teammates. To any students going into campaigns, heed these words:
- It goes fast. Like, really really fast. Cherish it.
- Build unbreakable bonds with your team – fight constructive fights but then unite to make something truly awesome.
- Take risks, be bold and be okay with the fact that you might fail – it’s the perfect time to do it and learn from it!
- You’re going to be uncomfortable. Own it! You will be so happy that you pushed yourself far beyond what you ever thought you could do, and you will impress the hell out those interviewing you.
-Zach Spanton '17, B.A. in Mass Communications: Public Relations