Starting a new venture with students two weeks into what is supposed to be their summer break is tough. The last place they want to be is back in a classroom, and while I need to teach them a variety of skills, I also want to make sure they are having fun, gelling as a team and learning all at the same time. Managing the MassChallenge partnership for Wheaton College is a challenging one. I purposely chose students from a variety of majors. Each of them brings different pieces of experience to the table and part of my job is figuring out how to put all of them together into a finished puzzle.
I chose to start the week with an exercise I do in any marketing course I teach to help me gauge the student’s knowledge of the digital marketing landscape.
The students choose a consumer product that we are going to sell, and then we step through all the things we need to create and manage to be successful. This time on the merry-go-round they decided that we were going to be making and selling “sustainable silly string.”
On our whiteboard, we walked through our needs for a website, social media accounts, and a successful supply chain. The talk quickly switched to tactics, stunts and other ways we were going to create content to help raise awareness and market our product.
As I hoped, there were many detours into specific topics during this exercise. Discussions happened around if we were going to manufacture overseas or find a way to make it "American-Made." They loved the idea of showing off the product at farmer’s markets and other events, but I forced them to come up with ways that we’d sell our product with these stunts.
The purpose of this exercise is two-fold. First, it gets the students active and engaged. A perfect way to start off the day and wake their minds up. Second, it highlights areas that they need to learn. A big revelation is that none of them knew how press releases worked and why they can be helpful. This will undoubtedly be an upcoming lesson.
On top of learning from me, the intern team from the WiN Hub across campus joined us so that one of them could give a presentation on HubSpot and what inbound marketing is all about. Students sharing knowledge with other students is always beneficial when it can happen.
The other major topics of the week focused on content marketing and influencer engagement. Two items I know a lot about from years of experience.
It is refreshing to take topics that I know so well and expose new minds to them. The questions that arise and the discussions that follow. Me teaching the students, but them also opening my eyes to new creators/influencers/brands that I have never heard of.
To put into practice what they learned, I split the group into two teams and gave them a couple of hours to go away and brainstorm what kind of influencer campaign we might be able to do for the Mexico Tourism Board. They had to come up with five individuals that they’d want to approach to take part in the campaign and to justify their choices.
They came back with a variety of ideas and individuals. I smiled as I watched them take what they had learned moments ago and showed me that they were listening and learning. We even received a helpful reply from the tourism board on Twitter.
To end our week, we had a guest lecture. Gene Begin is the Vice President of Marketing & Communications at Wheaton College and an old friend of mine.
He shared the process his team uses when working with clients to take their ideas and make them a reality. I want these students to hear from other people out in the field doing the work. Understanding how a department at Wheaton College requests a new brochure, video or other creative asset and the steps that Gene and his team take to ensure that everyone is happy will be beneficial when the team begins working with clients at MassChallenge.
Thank you, Gene, for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your expert knowledge with the team (and bringing some fun branded schwag for them and me too).
Sitting here with my coffee looking back at the week, we accomplished a ton. It feels good to see the team coming together and their confidence building.
The team's homework for the weekend is to make sure that their LinkedIn profiles are up to date. We are going to be taking new headshots and diving into each of them to make improvements. Mine certainly needs a refresh, so I’m looking forward to their suggestions.
I may have thrown them into the deep end of the pool, but I have confidence that they’ll be swimming laps in no time.