Pitching for grades
Case competition gives marketing students a taste of the real world

One of the nagging criticisms of business schools is that graduates are well-versed in theoretical knowledge, but poorly prepared to hit the ground running when they move into the job market.

That's particularly true in the advertising world, where agencies are just as likely to draw creative talent from design schools as they are from universities. But participants in the Publicité Club de Montréal's Concours de la Relève Publicitaire are a big exception.

During the past two weeks, seven teams of six students from Quebec's universities' top marketing programs have been taking part in the competition, in which they designed a real advertising campaign for a real client.

The campaigns, which included both strategy and creative components, were "pitched," to a six-person jury that includes representatives of both the client, Les Publications du Quebec and its agency, LG2 in late April, and the winning team will be announced at the province's advertising awards show on May 30th.

The contest is now in its 13th year, and in the past, the winning ideas have often been used in the clients' actual marketing campaigns. Many contest veterans have gone on to top positions within Quebec's advertising community.

According to Harold Simpkins, a senior lecturer at Concordia's John Molson School of Business and the team's coach for the past 12 years, the competition's success in producing industry leaders is in large part because of the hands on experience participants get.

"Advertising has somewhat of a glamour aura about it. But it's basically a business," said Simpkins. "The contest gives students a taste of what it's really like. It's viciously competitive."

Each of the seven teams is given $1,000 in expense money to cover the out of pocket costs of producing a pitch such as photography, design and art board printing, but teams are encouraged to dig up additional funds if they can. The Concordia group, which Simpkins hand picked from the top students in a strategy class that he teaches managed to drum up an additional $1,500.

According to Marielle Séguin, general manager in charge of government information at Les Publications du Québec, the quality of this year's presentations was exceptional.

"I found the students to be incredible. It's very stimulating to get so many new ideas from young enthusiastic people," Séguin said. "They bring a freshness that is not always easy to keep up in an established organization."

Séguin participated herself in a past version of the competition, and when the PCM approached her about helping them to find a suitable client-sponsor she suggested her employer.

Les Publications du Québec is a branch of the Quebec government's Ministère des Relations avec les Citoyens et de L'Immigration, which is charged with marketing about 4,000 government publications such as laws, information booklets and the Gazette Officielle du Québec.

These are distributed in about 1,000 sales locations, and 100 partner bookstores, which carry Les Publications du Québec displays. The organization's annual marketing budget is about $350,000, but Séguin told the students to prepare a plan using twice that amount, with the idea that certain elements would be implemented over a two-year period.

According to Alexis Robin, one of the six Concordia team members, Les Publications du Québec's small ad budget ruled out a large television campaign. So the group decided to focus their suggestions on print, out-door and in-store advertising, as well as other areas that generated a maximum bang for the buck.

"For Publications du Québec, relations with the retailers and partner bookstores are very important," Robin said. "We visited several of them and found that the layouts left a lot to be desired. Many just shoved products into a small space and paid little attention to the look."

The Concordia team's recommendations centered on strategy and execution. But they also included suggestions such as asking retailers to store big-sellers face forward on the shelf, since many were spiral bound and had no printing on the spine, and to place items targeted at older people at eye level so they would not have to bend over.

According to Robin these ideas may seem simple, but the competition teaches demonstrates that in the real world it's often the little things that matter.

"The competition gave us a good overview of what marketing and communications are," Robin said. "We don't just write down our proposals on a piece of paper, like in other classes. We explain them to the client. You see the white of their eyes."

According to Julie Dubé, a strategic planner at Les Publications du Québec's ad agency LG2, the competition's success in producing jobs for its participants should continue on track this year.

The agency had planned to offer one student from the winning team a summer internship, but decided to upgrade that to two full-time positions. They will be interviewing several participants including two from the Concordia team.

But according to Robin, getting a job or winning the competition while important, is not the only criteria for judging the event's success.

"Sure I'd like to win this thing," said Robin. "But at this point we've all learnt so much, that everybody is coming out of this a winner."

 

 

Photo caption: According Harold Simpkins, a professor at Concordia University's John Molson School of Business, the practical experience students acquired participating in the Publicité Club de Montréal's Concours de la Relève Publicitaire, will be invaluable when they enter the job market.

Sidebar :The Concours de la Relève Publicitaire

o Teams of six students from seven universities, including Concordia, compete in the contest, which consists of designing a real advertising campaign for a volunteer client.
o Concordia's coach Harold Simpkins chose his team from among the top students in his advertising strategy class. The group raised $1,500 in addition to the $1,000 each team was given by organizers to pay expenses such as photography and graphic design.
o This year the client, Les Publications du Québec, and its agency LG2, asked students to devise a plan to help the organization better market the government laws, documents and information books.
o Students were participated in four information sessions, including an initial briefing, meetings with the design and strategy teams and the final pitch.
o The contest is well known throughout the ad industry, and at least a dozen ex-participants have gone on to jobs in the province's top agencies.

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