THREE ANXIOUS YOUNG WOMEN KNOCK ON THE DOOR OF ROOM 517 IN ZANE SHOWKER HALL. Dubbed "The Tan Clan," the three chat about their big idea with Theresa Flaherty. "We are so excited," they tell her. "We're obsessed." "I have feedback," Flaherty says as she hands over a sealed envelope with a confidential communication that she had received from Germany earlier in the day. Inside the envelope is word from Adidas on the students' marketing campaign for the international company's newest product. All fall long, Adidas' F50 soccer shoe had been the top-secret centerpiece of Flaherty's MKTG. 484, Integrated Marketing Communications class, while the company was also preparing to launch the shoe with its own campaign, which it did on Dec. 1, 2003. Because of the highly competitive athletics shoe market, the class project required each of the 26 students to sign a confidentiality agreement and to keep their ideas for the launch a secret from even the other groups in the class.
Andrew Lux ('00), global marketing communication manager for Adidas football -- soccer in the United States -- in Germany, provided the Adidas connection to make the partnership a reality. Lux, who was in Flaherty's first MKTG. 484 class at JMU, has worked with his former professor for the last year to bring their "big idea" to fruition. He says the project began when Flaherty sought his input for a group in her class that chose Adidas as the parent company for an invented product. Lux provided feedback on their analysis, leading Flaherty to ask if her next class might be able to work on a real project with the company.
"After careful consideration, I suggested a product I felt would be appealing to the students," Lux says. "We envisioned a win-win situation: real-world experience for the students and fresh insights and new ideas for Adidas." The students, predominantly seniors, say this real-world experience made a difference in their classroom experience. "I feel like this is what I could be doing in real life," says Tan Clan member Katie Sioss. "I think it shows a lot for the JMU business program that he's working for this huge international company, and he's willing to work with us and take our ideas."
The class was divided into five groups of four to six members each. The groups chose their names based on the color of the Adidas hat Flaherty gave them on the first day of class. In addition to the Tan Clan, the rainbow of groups included Gold Medal Marketing, the Red Hot Tamales, Tang Marketing and Team Blackout.
"We've all taken general business classes and general marketing classes," says Gold Medal member Kara McKenzie. "In this class, you see how it all comes together."
Along with the confidentiality clause, the fact that the groups were also competing against one another led members to keep ideas hush-hush.
"We don't talk about it," says Red Hot Tamales member Jessica Lapierre. "We're not mean. We just don't talk to them [students in other marketing groups]."
"It's very integrated into what we are learning," says Tan Clan's Melissa Tenenini. "It's fun that you can't talk about it."
To augment the students' knowledge in preparing for their campaigns, Flaherty enlisted College of Business librarian Katherine E. Clarke to help find information about athletics marketing, extreme sports athletes and soccer for the students.
"It's been a lot of responsibility but in a good way. We've been able to run with it," says Team Blackout member Kim Winn. "In some aspects, [the competition] makes you want to work harder."
As the students turned in their ideas and research along the way, both Flaherty and Lux's global marketing group at Adidas provided feedback.
"The students are definitely more involved in their projects this year," Flaherty says. "It's for a real company. I've never seen them pay more attention." Getting input from Adidas and then having to rework parts of their projects was an excellent opportunity for the students to understand how the marketing process works for a professional company, she explains.
"I think it was a great practical experience for them -- particularly when the students received feedback from Adidas on their midterm benchmark," Flaherty says. "They had to make revisions to their project, and I think that surprised some of them. It wasn't like they got their grade and went on with life. They actually had to revise their project for the final plan."
In previous classes, students invented a product and then created an integrated marketing campaign for it. At the end of the semester, the groups presented their campaigns and the class voted on which group did the best job. The first year Flaherty taught the class, Lux's group won the top honor. Flaherty still has the presentation board that his group used to promote an invented Yoplait dairy product.
"I have to admit that the experience I had in the MKTG. 484 class was the most beneficial course experience I had in college when looking at the tasks I have today as communications manager for Adidas Global Marketing Communications Soccer," Lux says. "The IMC project helped me understand the many forms of marketing communications, how they all tie together and how important an integrated approach to IMC is for a brand like Adidas. Thus, I hope to help give other students the same great experience I had."
Last fall, all the students focused on the sleek black soccer shoe dubbed F50 that Flaherty kept discreetly in a box in her office amid posters and magazine cutouts that paper her walls. An innovation in athletic wear, the F50 features a "fusion frame" for optimal performance, exchangeable cleats and a specialized lacing system. Finding a product for her class to focus on was the first step, integrating the course objectives within that framework was the next. Flaherty says she did not have to make too many changes to the class, but Lux worried that the expectations might be too high.
"Looking at the comprehensive requirements Dr. Flaherty and I have defined for the project, I initially had concerns that it might be overwhelming for the students," he says. "After reading the midterm benchmarks, however, I was proved wrong and impressed by the amount of insight the students showed when defining target consumers, analyzing market and competitive conditions, and the amount of creativity in coming up with names for the product."
Lux says he has enjoyed partnering with JMU students on the project, even though it has added to his workload. "While it has been a lot of work aside from my daily duties, it was more than exciting to implement the project, and it worked really well thanks to the amazing effort and amount of work Dr. Flaherty has put into this project," he says. "I wish I would have had the chance to talk to the students more often than only the one time when I came into class for the initial briefing session -- but unfortunately, it's quite a commute from Germany."
Lux flew in from Germany to meet with the class in September. However, their Thursday night appointment had to be postponed due to Hurricane Isabel. Still, a majority of the 26-member class turned out for his early Saturday morning presentation on Adidas' newest extreme sport shoe, meant for soccer, featuring removable cleats.
"I think it is inspiring that he's moved up so quickly at Adidas," says Gold Medal member Christina Chow. "But he wasn't standoffish when he came. He gave a great presentation. I think we all appreciated that he took time to spend with us."
Flaherty and Lux say the partnership has worked so well, they plan to continue it for the MKTG. 484 class project in the spring of 2004. "I'm hoping that more alumni will participate like this," Flaherty says. "It's a win-win situation. The students have exposure to a client-based product."
When the students presented their final projects on Dec. 2, Tang Marketing won peer accolades and most impressed Lux with their work. Their campaign plan that labeled the new shoe "The Dragon" created commercials and promotional materials to launch the product with the slogan "The Dragon is Coming." Focusing on the "x-edge player" -- a young extreme sports athlete, who is especially interested in soccer -- Tang Marketing concentrated its campaign on 10 major soccer cities in the United States. They appealed to consumers through humor. One commercial showed a young man talking to his father, who did not understand his lingo about extreme sports. The commercial ended with the young man saying, "This is my game," setting the shoe apart for young athletes.
Giving away CDs with fun music for anyone who purchased the shoe on the Internet, using comedy in promotions and creating store displays featuring a colorful dragon were just a few ways in which the group integrated different marketing techniques to promote the Adidas shoe.
"I just really liked the fact that a lot of what you learn, you can simultaneously apply it to what you're doing in class," says Tang member Emily Orrell.
Lux says he was impressed with the student's work, adding that one group's idea for the name of the shoe is being considered for another shoe. He and his colleagues reviewed the teams' final projects and videotapes of their final presentations. The spring offering of Flaherty's marketing course had students working on another secret project with Adidas.
While in marketing, "the big idea" is often considered the key concept that launches a campaign. In this class, the Adidas project has given students other big ideas.
Flaherty is now working with Lux on the possibility of having students do internships in Germany. Lux says Adidas might pay the $300 fee for the work permit for any of the members of the winning team to come to Germany to intern, and Flaherty says several students are interested. All five members of the Tang team are applying for internships.
"I think it's so inspiring," says Orrell. "He is a JMU alum, and now he's in Germany working for Adidas. It shows us options we never knew we had."
Story by Donna Ragsdale Dunn ('94)
Photos by Casey Templeton ('06)