Launch of New Experiential Marketing Program A Success for Students, DPSG
The Wall Street Journal
"Real Work for Future M.B.A.s"
May 3, 2012
In mid-May, MBA students Nicole Quesada and Ashley Weber spent two days at the Dr Pepper Snapple Group's (DPSG) Dallas headquarters, presenting to DPSG executives a Yoo-hoo brand strategy plan on which they had worked the entire semester.
But this wasn't just a student exercise. Quesada and Weber had been serving as Yoo-hoo's real-world brand managers, and their plan will be implemented this summer and fall.
The students and DPSG are the first participants in the McCombs Brand Experience, an experiential learning initiative launched this year by the Center for Customer Insight and Marketing Solutions (CCIMS) at McCombs. Quesada and Weber were assigned to bring a fresh, innovative approach to marketing DPSG's Yoo-hoo chocolate drink, taking the spring semester to research and create a plan, and the summer and fall semesters to implement it. If all goes as planned, a new team of McCombs MBA students from the class of 2014 will take over Yoo-hoo or another DPSG brand in January 2013, and the program will be extended to more students and companies.
At the May meeting, Quesada and Weber's strategic growth plan for Yoo-hoo won the company's approval, so Quesada will continue to work as a paid intern at DPSG this summer, while Weber works on an internship elsewhere. The two will reunite in the fall semester to finish the Yoo-hoo project.
The groundbreaking part of the program, according to CCIMS director Lamar Johnson, is the creation of MBA Brands, a limited liability company, or LLC. DPSG will contract the students (and a coach) through the LLC on a consultant basis, which means they can take on their own projects and not simply help an executive with a project. “The LLC structure allows for much more of a real-life experience. It’s a breakthrough in marketing education,” said Johnson.
Instead of receiving pay for their first semester's work, Quesada and Weber received praise from DPSG and the go-ahead to execute their strategy in the summer and fall semesters of 2012. They also gained the right to add this experience to their resumes.
And that, said both students, is well worth the work-for-free tradeoff.
In contrast to the opinions of Johnson and the students, a Wall Street Journal article that mentioned the program challenged the idea that working for free was equitable or valuable for MBA students:
The two students, picked via a rigorous selection process, each spend up to 20 hours a week on the project, their combined effort contributing almost the equivalent of one full-time employee. (McCombs graduates who took jobs in brand management last year earned an average of $94,300 a year.)
They report directly to the chief marketing officer and other senior executives and are expected to vie for a slice of the marketing budget alongside the company's other brand managers. When the students graduate, others will step in.
The hope, says Andrew Springate, senior vice president of marketing at Dr Pepper Snapple, is that the students will oversee the brand, "soup to nuts," for the foreseeable future. "There's no real risk, no downside at all," he says.
The students signed a contract and serve as unpaid employees, and Dr Pepper Snapple covers operating expenses and travel costs. It also pays a former employee to serve as a coach to the student team, and it expects to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in the students' research efforts.
In addition, the company pays $25,000 as one of a half-dozen sponsors of the school's Center for Customer Insight & Marketing Solutions. The payment isn't in exchange for the students' work per se, but sponsorship does open the door to projects like the Yoo-hoo initiative. Lamar Johnson, the center's executive director, is considering reaching out to the other sponsors for similar long-term partnerships.
For their part, many students say they don't mind working without pay—at least, for the moment. "The experiential learning is more valuable than the money at this point," says Nicole Quesada, a McCombs student with a chemical engineering background who is working on Yoo-hoo.
She will intern this summer at Dr Pepper Snapple before returning to the unpaid position in the fall. She says her summer salary is "very competitive."
After the successful presentation of their brand strategy recommendations in May, Quesada and Weber sounded enthusiastic and eager to continue working with DPSG and the Yoo-hoo brand. Said Weber, "DPSG leadership appreciated our thoroughness and tenacity in tackling the challenge they gave us in the very beginning: to find a growth opportunity for Yoo-hoo. We initiated and conducted consumer research that helped us identify a new, key insight that we collectively agree could be rich territory for the brand to explore."
Both students came to the McCombs MBA program as "career switchers," and said they felt the experiential learning opportunity gave them invaluable insight and experience as they prepare for new careers.
Said Quesada, "As a career switcher, from engineering to marketing, this program has given me the unique opportunity to further expand my marketing knowledge and experience that will prepare me well for a career in brand management."
Weber added, "I also came to business school to make a career change—from advertising to brand management. This program has given me a clearer understanding of the role of a brand manager and the impact that marketers can have in an organization. I look forward to seeing how this program evolves over time and am honored to be a member of the founding team."