USF Poly Students Win National Championship

LAKELAND, Fla. (May 18, 2009) – In college, decades can pass before a school wins a national championship. It took Notre Dame 101 years to win its first. The University of Florida needed 143 years. Yet the University of South Florida Polytechnic, practically the new kid on the block, won a national championship in only its twenty-third year.


USFP’s victory, however, took place not on the gridiron but in the classroom and the marketplace.


Applying classroom theory to marketing reality, a class of USF Poly marketing students won first place in the Park the Van Challenge, a national marketing contest. USF Poly outperformed 12 other schools, including USC, Arizona State and Notre Dame. In claiming the victory, the USFP team designed a campaign to increase sales of the new CD “Fate” by the rock band Dr. Dog.


Rocket Science, a record label services company in Los Angeles, posed the challenge to colleges and universities when its client Park the Van Records wanted to promote its recording artists, including Dr. Dog.


According to Carol Osborne, who teaches USFP’s Promotion Management class, “Our students won the challenge purely by unbound creativity, intense energy, mega-enthusiasm and the drive to compete. They really blew me away with how enthusiastically they adopted the campaign. I merely served as a guide and tried to stimulate their imagination when they were brainstorming their initial approaches. This fun project became a 15-week marketing practicum.” 


Osborne divided the class into two teams, and students Matt Mays and Haley Welch volunteered to serve as captains.


“I couldn’t wait to get involved,” says Mays. “I love marketing, music and leadership, so it was a perfect match”.


In developing their marketing plans, students had access to the band’s music and material from Park the Van Records. Osborne urged the class to be as creative as possible.


“We had no budget,” says Welch, “so all our marketing activities had to be of little or no cost. We stayed away from traditional marketing strategies and focused mainly on viral, direct, and guerilla marketing.”


Tactics included making and wearing Dr. Dog T-shirts, hosting a dog wash and CD sale, giving away free water bottles with the Dr. Dog logo and website on the label, making a video and posting it to YouTube, creating fan pages on Facebook and MySpace, raffling off a dog goodie basket, surveying students and passing out promotional CDs, making flyers and posters, sending mass emails, visiting local businesses and asking them to play the CD in the store and post a link to Dr. Dog from their websites, using sidewalk chalk to promote the band, even renting a dog suit for the band’s February concert in Tampa. 


According to Mays, “We had a goal to meet the band, and that’s how the dog suit came into play. I was sitting in my office when it hit me. I turned to Brandon Pickard and said, ‘We need to get a dog suit, and you are going to wear it!’


“Wearing the dog suit, a doctor’s coat and stethoscope, he handed out concert flyers in Lakeland and Tampa. At the concert, he was brought up on stage and danced with the band during a song. It was an experience that I will always remember. The atmosphere was intense, the music was loud, and there was a definite feeling of accomplishment. I think at that point in the game, all of us fell even more in love with the Dr. Dog project and sensed that victory was within our grasp.”


Having to plan and execute marketing simultaneously challenged Osborne and her students. “They learned by doing, which is basically on the job training,” she says. “The course coincided more with hands-on training than anything like traditional classroom instruction. That’s the polytechnic approach.


“College kids are close to the heartbeat of what it takes to promote a band. Still, the project forced them to think outside their target audience. They learned different types of marketing, including viral marketing, social media marketing, buzz marketing, sales promotion, online marketing and guerilla marketing. They also learned how to get information and CDs to the right people. They saw how many pieces it takes to market a record, even for a small band.”


To win the championship, the USF Poly team had to raise CD sales in the school’s market (Tampa Bay DMA per Nielsen--10 counties) by a higher percentage than other schools.  Rocket Science based the challenge on percentages rather than actual sales numbers due to the varying sizes of the markets in which participating schools are located and because the band already had large fan bases in some  markets.  Results were measured on Nielsen’s Soundscan system, the same sales database used to determine the Billboard charts. As the national champion, USFP received a trophy and the right to book a Dr. Dog concert.


Students say the hands-on class and contest taught many valuable and practical lessons.


“The main thing I learned from this project was that marketing is a lot more complex than I thought,” says Welch. “There are so many more steps to promotion than just coming up with an idea and implementing it. We had to go through so many people to get approvals for different things. You just have to stay focused and learn to accept the good with the bad.


“This class, Promotion Management, offered exactly what the polytechnic vision is. We couldn't have asked for a more hands-on project. We actually promoted a band for a record label and successfully increased brand awareness and raised CD sales in the Tampa Bay area. Not a lot of students can say that about their college experience. I think it definitely differentiates us from other students when we enter the private sector.”


Mays also says the course opened his eyes to the realities of marketing: “I learned more about the real world of marketing and how difficult it can be. I also learned that no idea is bad but instead can be an opening to catch another’s eye. There are so many different ways to market a product that sometimes the more you have the better. “


Osborne’s influence, says Mays, played a key role in the victory: “She taught us a great deal of real-world marketing. She showed us that the world is tough and the environment and the people that you work with and for is even tougher. We took a lot of risks this past semester, but in the end we succeeded.  It could have not been accomplished without her guidance. Carol Osborne is a wonderful professor!


“I would definitely recommend this class to any student. Promotional Management is a 100 percent, without a doubt, hands-on learning experience. We communicated directly with Park the Van Records and Rocket Science. We formed our own marketing plan, and we had to do everything ourselves. We took notes from class and applied them in our hands-on learning. We talked to people in the community and different businesses. In all reality, we were a real hands-on marketing team. The only difference was that we weren’t getting paid for it. In the end, we won the challenge, all the hard work paid off, and we have a better appreciation and understanding for the music business and marketing world.”