Students pitch on-the-spot marketing plans

Public relations pros judge students' pitches for Dunkin' Donuts, Ben & Jerry's

Photos/Robyn Spector

Winning team with the judges, back row, left to right, Jennifer Zak, human resources associate at Cone; Alan Weatherbee, vice president of Human Resources at Cone; Karen Hu ’12, Bank of America team assistant at Hill Holliday; Christopher Strachan, account executive at Hill Holliday; Michael Clinton, talent acquisition manager at Hill Holliday; and Sara Mirson, new business manager at Hill Holliday; front, row, Elana Reuven '13, Rachel Nelson ’13, Lenny Schnier ’13, Noah Berman ’15.

What do Ben & Jerry's and Dunkin' Donuts have in common with communications giants Cone Communications and Hill Holiday and with the campus community? A lot, it turns out.

Students stood before a panel of expert judges from these top Boston-based communications agencies to pitch on-the-spot marketing plans for the quirky ice cream company and popular coffeehouse last Friday at the Hiatt Career Center’s first ever Perfect Pitch event.

The event brought together account managers, human resources professionals and alumni from Cone Communications and Hill Holliday to offer feedback to Brandeis undergraduates interested in pursuing communications-related careers. The event challenged students to work in small groups to respond to either a Ben & Jerry’s or Dunkin’ Donuts marketing challenge and present their recommendations to a panel of six judges, which included Karen Hu ’12, a recent Brandeis graduate who now works at Hill Holliday.

The Ben & Jerry’s exercise was originally created by Brandeis alumnus Marc Berliner ’95, vice president of Cone Communications and member of the Brandeis Alumni Association board of directors, as a diversity initiative to increase exposure to the public relations industry. Perfect Pitch is the first time Cone has taken this exercise on the road.

Hill Holliday followed suit by preparing an exercise featuring Dunkin’ Donuts, which is a client of the agency. Both exercises required students to develop a fully integrated marketing campaign for their “client” in only 15 minutes, paying special attention to social media, popular culture, and the company’s core brand and consumer.

“Brandeis students are savvy and witty,” said Christopher Strachan, an account executive at Hill Holliday and a judge on the panel. “I thoroughly enjoyed seeing their thoughts come to life through this program.” Another panelist said he would be lucky to hire any one of the student participants for his agency’s internship program.

After students had delivered their pitches, the judges huddled to offer feedback and declare a winner. The winning group – Team Brain Freeze – had rebranded a Ben & Jerry’s flavor of ice cream to coincide with Hurricane Sandy relief, adding sea salt and graham cracker crumbles to New York Super Fudge Chunk to reflect the effects of the storm on the East Coast. The marketing plan also included a partnership with the Red Cross to donate 75 percent of proceeds.

Rachel Nelson, a Brandeis senior who worked to bring the Today Show to campus earlier in the year, was on the winning team, and participated in the event because she is considering a career in advertising or public relations after graduation.

“Perfect Pitch was an amazing experience,” Nelson says. “You see TV ads and campaigns all the time but don't really realize how much thought and strategy goes into every aspect. It was really great to be able to creatively brainstorm in a group and have the opportunity to present our ideas to people who do this for a living and receive feedback about how we could improve.”

In keeping with the career development focus of the event, participants were also required to deliver an “elevator pitch” for the panel, introducing who they are, what communications experience they have, and why they are participating in the pitch event. This aspect of the event was an opportunity for students to stand out in front of top-notch employers in advance of internship and full-time recruiting deadlines at the firms.

Jackie Blesso, a career counselor at the Hiatt Career Center and the event’s co-chair, stresses the importance of students being able to clearly communicate their interests and goals to employers and alumni both when networking and searching for jobs and internships.

“For all industries, especially communications, the elevator pitch is such a crucial piece of your career toolkit,” says Blesso. “You never know when you might meet a representative from your dream company, so being well-prepared to present and market yourself will allow you to take full advantage of the opportunity and make a positive first impression.”

Representatives from a variety of communications firms will be on campus on Jan. 30 for the Hiatt Career Center’s third annual Communications Forum, which features a keynote by IW Group CEO/Founder Bill Imada, followed by round table networking.

Categories: Business

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