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Ready, Set, Pro: Immersive Marketing Courses Give Titans a Real-World Test

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Students in lecturer Scott Sorrell’s Marketing for Entrepreneurs course — Marketing 462 — often are asked to think outside the box and outside the classroom. In fact, it’s more like an obstacle course at times.

Each semester, small teams of students ‘speed date’ potential clients in a quick round of questions and answers, and then spend a semester guided by a Titan mentor, researching and crafting a plan to boost that company’s revenue, social media presence, branding or search engine optimization. Lorenzo Bizzi, assistant professor of management, guides similar teams in the graduate capstone course for the master’s degree in business administration.  

The schedules, requirements and even the clients can be challenging. Weekly meetings with the Orange County companies can set a pace at a crawl or a steady climb, and detailed, well-researched reports are the hurdles along the path.

“I’m extremely demanding and I don’t settle for excuses,” Sorrell says. “Students tell me this is the hardest class they’ve ever taken.”

Sorrell seems satisfied with the title if it means his students walk away ready to run a marketing campaign, and, better yet, ready to hit the ground running for a potential employer or their own startup business.

“They’re getting ready to launch into the real world. If they don’t have the skill to deal with the challenges they’re going to fold at the first hiccup or disappointment,” he says. “Every obstacle is a chance to learn and grow and find a new way. I teach them about it, but it’s when they actually experience it — that’s when the learning comes in.”

The teams work with banks, dentists, app developers and many emerging entrepreneurs, some who require confidentiality agreements. Each client — often referred by the Mihaylo College for Business and Economics’ Center for Entrepreneurship — hopes the experience sets a course for future success and growth in business.

The graduate students in Bizzi’s Business Strategy capstone course are preparing for a not-so-distant future. Consulting is the first choice of MBA graduates, he said.

“The students acquire critical thinking, problem solving and teamwork skills, which are simply the most important skills employers desire in graduate students,” he said. “They work a lot of hours on the project, several hundreds. They go to the clients, listen to their problems and devise practical, actionable and concrete solutions that impact the profitability of companies.”

Coached by their mentors, the consultants gain confidence and skills to research and promote their marketing plans, said mentor and alumnus Rick Balzer, ‘93 (B.A. business administration-marketing) president of IntelesysOne, in Ontario.  

“It’s a true look at the inner workings of the business world,” Balzer said. “There is no substitute for real-world experience. I wish I had a class like this in my college days.”

Sanjay Patel said partnering with student consultants gave Commercial Bank of California an opportunity to work with informed minds and to gain fresh ideas on relating to customers.

“We learned to do things differently, things we have not tried before, and that gives us the opportunity to try a new way of thinking around our marketing and sales opportunities,” said Patel, vice president of analytics and innovation for the bank.  

The clients retain a student as a marketing consultant or a freelancer from one in four projects, Sorrell boasts.

Donny Ritcharoen, ‘18 (B.A. business administration-entrepreneurship) worked on a team that revamped the marketing plan for Keller Williams in Irvine. The team redesigned logos and websites, developed a new, dynamic social media presence and strategic advertising campaign and improved rankings and the quality of online search results using search engine optimization — all on a tight deadline.

“Each group project is assigned a real company with real deliverables that matter,” he said. “The real-world experience before graduating gives students a leg up on the competition for jobs.”