URI business team takes first place in national marketing challenge

Team uses social media to generate enthusiasm

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Top Social Marketers: Business students pose for a shot after delivering their winning marketing presentation to executives at the Acura Division of American Honda Motor Co. in California. Shown here left to right: Alison Plunkett of North Kingstown, Tara Larson of North Smithfield, Samantha Valenza of Plainview, N.Y, Taylor Burns of Cranston, and Kristina Cheamitru of North Smithfield. The presentation was made on behalf of their fall semester Social Media for Marketing class. Photo courtesy of EdVenture Partners

KINGSTON, R.I. — December 20, 2016 — At the University of Rhode Island one business class was driven to perform at the highest levels and at top speed during the fall semester. And they did.

The Social Media for Marketing class was one of 20 to compete in the 2016 Acura ILX Marketing Challenge for a campaign to reach the millennial marketplace. The class won first place and Acura awarded the University a $5,000 scholarship in recognition of the team’s achievement. The University of New Mexico earned second place and Johns Hopkins University earned third place.

“We are so proud of these students and Professor Christy Ashley. This achievement is one more to showcase our advanced and applied teaching and learning. The students’ innovative and creative thinking, combined with their hands-on skills are so fundamental to the state and nation’s economic development. It is wonderful to have these skills applauded nationwide,” said College of Business Administration Dean Maling Ebrahimpour.

This was the first time URI had participated in the contest, yet as Assistant Professor Christy Ashley put it “the class performed together seamlessly, like old pros.”

“Our class’s campaign emerged with lots of positive energy and speed,” said Ashley. “The students formed their agency called Vital Innovative Promotions (V.I.P.), right away to create and execute their multi-level marketing campaign in just over nine weeks. All with finesse. They were passionate, fast, and fearless social media marketers.”

Fast was how the project moved through all the stages of the process—from challenge to research, creative design, and implementation to polished presentations. After submitting their campaign results in November, URI’s team became one of three finalists, and five of the V.I.P. leaders were soon on a flight to California, ready to deliver a 20-minute marketing presentation to the management team at American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

Within hours of their presentation in California, the judges announced V.I.P. as the winners.

“It was such a thrilling experience to see our hard work rewarded—and unanimously by all the judges,” said senior Alison Plunkett of North Kingstown. “This was an exciting opportunity that allowed us to showcase our marketing and presentation skills to real corporate executives, as well as to network with some of the largest companies in both the automotive and marketing industries,” she added.

There were many take-away lessons for the 34 undergraduates involved (see list below).

The real-world aspect of the experience was important to senior marketing major Samantha Valenza of Plainview, N.Y. “It’s important we learn different ways to market using social media since research shows its popularity as a marketing tool. The whole project was an entirely new experience—working with real money, managing real events, having a real company with clients that expected us to have a measurable impact,” she said.

“The experience was truly not like any other. It was refreshing to see just how valued our ideas were by both Honda and Mullen executives, and we couldn’t be happier that they saw importance in our ideas and delivery. While we had some real nerves going into it, we knew our class had done some amazing things and delivered outstanding results, and that our presentation of the campaign would make it stand out. It truly was an ongoing team effort that brought us home the win and we could not be happier,” said Tara Larson of North Smithfield.

“This isn’t the easiest way to teach, or to learn, but the actual learning that takes place is much deeper. This pulls the learning out of the textbook and computer and lets students see the cause-effect of the marketing lessons they’ve been learning,” Ashley said. “It’s also a great lesson on teamwork, something they’ll face in the workplace.”

Funding for the competition from Acura’s marketing agency, Mullen, and EdVenture Partners, an organization that develops industry-education partnership programs. A budget of $2,000 was provided for the students to design and implement a social media plan for the 2017 Acura ILX.

For more information about the campaign, visit the team’s website.

Other institutions participating in the Acura Marketing Challenge were the University of Houston, University of New Mexico, Johns Hopkins University, Florida International University, San Jose State University, Georgia State University, University of Arizona, University of Pittsburgh, Aurora University, Drexel University, Middle Tennessee State University, Michigan State University, Virginia Tech, Boston University, San Diego State University, Texas Christian University, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Illinois and Syracuse University.

The URI College of Business Administration, with more than 2000 undergraduate students and 350 graduate students, has served as the leader in business education, research, and outreach for the State of Rhode Island since it was founded in 1923. It is the first accredited business school in Rhode Island (1969) and has the first accredited accounting program at both the undergraduate and graduate levels in the Northeast (1993).

URI’s Winning Team Members:

All students in URI’s Social Media for Marketing class took on different areas of specialization to prepare the entire Acura marketing challenge:

Agency Coordinator: Samantha Valenza of Plainview, N.Y.

Advertising team: Ali Plunkett of North Kingstown, R.I.; Francesca Branca of Cranston, R.I.; Lucie Feufeu of Yarmouth, Mass.; Derek Lisinicchia of Bedford, N.Y.; Brad Larsen of Phelps, N.Y.; Maggie Dunn of Skaneateles, N.Y.; Lauren Kennedy of Westfield, Mass.; Shannon McArthur of Framingham, Mass.; Alexandria Tierney of Warwick, R.I.; Victoria Von Reine of Bethpage, N.Y.; Carissa Loria of Lincoln, R.I.; Miriam Nichols of Granby, Conn.

Strategy & Implementation team: Tara Larson of North Smithfield, R.I.; Katie Paul of North Attleboro, Mass.; Emily Kronyak of Carlstadt, N.J.; Carly O’Connell of Shrewsbury, Mass.; Rebecca Semanski of Lake Hopatcong, N.J.; Cory Woodbine of Cranston, R.I.

PR Team: Taylor Burns of Cranston, R.I.; Jen Doucette of Norwood, Mass.; Leah Hupal of Greenwich, Conn.; Alyssa Altonaga of Wyckoff, N.J.; Christian Torchia of Little Compton, R.I.; Justin Perras of Preston, Conn.

Research Team: Kristina Cheamitru of North Smithfield, R.I.; Danielle Wolf of Doylestown, Penn.; Leonel Alfaro of Central Falls, R.I.; Nick Hilton of Cumberland, R.I.

Reports and Presentatons: Callie Carchedi of Westerly, R.I.; Kenna Melkonian of Falmouth, Mass.; Renee Burdon of Southington, Conn.

Finance: Corey Biale of Flanders, N.J.; John Gomes of Londonderry, N.H.