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UofGH’s new Marketing Makeover Challenge produces award-winning project

Every year, University of Guelph-Humber Media and Communication Studies students put their skills and knowledge into practice through Emerge, a multidisciplinary capstone project. Emerge recently added a new feature: the Marketing Makeover Challenge.

For the challenge, teams of fourth-year students work on a consulting project as part of their Media Practices course. They get the opportunity to work directly with a client and develop solutions for real-world marketing challenges.

The Marketing Makeover Challenge was introduced just last year—but one project has already received acclaim. A team from UofGH was awarded first place by the College Media Association Pinnacle Awards for Best Social Media Strategy. The prestigious Pinnacle Awards honour the best student work produced for a college media organization.

The team—which included Hilary Alves, Claire Fraser, Natalia Geisbacher, Michelle Santos, Fallon Streef and Grace Woodland—partnered with North York Harvest Food Bank for the Marketing Makeover Challenge. Their award-winning campaign was titled “Feed the North,” cleverly branded to highlight their goal of increasing food donations to North York. The team’s strategy included finding sponsorships and partnerships, as well as reaching out to social media influencers.

“I had great feedback from the client about this team,” said Media and Communication Studies instructor James MacDonald, who advised the group throughout their project.

“They worked to their own strengths and creativity in coming up with a campaign. It was catchy, it was memorable, and it was something that really spoke to what they were trying to achieve.”

To gain a better understanding of North York Harvest Food Bank, the team even spent a day visiting and volunteering. Hilary Alves, one of the team members, said their experience left them eager to get started and confident in their next steps.

“That made a world of difference for our project,” said Alves. “We had individual interviews with people who worked there. Taking that time and really diving deep into your client’s needs is so important.”

Though the team was ultimately unable to make their final presentation last spring due to the pandemic, the Pinnacle Award was an appreciated—and unexpected—recognition.

“We were all just so shocked. We were not expecting it, but it feels amazing,” said Alves. “I had an amazing team. We were all very much on the same page and we all brought different things to the table. It was a lot of work and we put in so much effort, but it was worth it.”

The Pinnacle Awards also recognized Emerge for several other honours. Teams from UofGH placed as finalists for Best Ad Campaign, Best Special Section Cover and Best Social Media Presence.

The challenge goes virtual

After a successful and well-received inaugural year, the Marketing Makeover Challenge is continuing virtually for 2021.

“I'm going to try to equip students with some skills that will help them to be productive in a virtual environment, but the fundamentals are the same,” explained MacDonald.

Students will begin by meeting with their clients to learn about their industry and specific needs. Teams will then collaboratively develop solutions and deliver a final report and presentation with ideas that their client could realistically implement.

Teams are partnering with four new clients this year, including two UofGH Media and Communication Studies alum now successfully working in the field: Megan Storey from retail consulting and brokerage firm Beauleigh and Connor Vincent from Georgetown Hospital Foundation. Other clients include the Toronto Chelsea Hotel and Pantera Press, the Marketing Makeover Challenge’s first international client.

Alves, now an alumna, emphasized the relevance of the Marketing Makeover Challenge.

“I would say this is probably as close as possible to getting to working in a marketing firm. Everything that you have learned comes together, and you really understand everything that you're doing,” Alves said. “This is a project that I still speak on, even when I have interviews for jobs. It was one of the biggest things I've taken away from my experience at Guelph-Humber.”

MacDonald hopes the Marketing Makeover Challenge will give students first-hand experience in the field and a chance to build their portfolio.

“I tried to come up with a program that really relates to some of the things that they have done over the years—something that is a real-world experience and something that mimics what would happen once they get out into the work world,” MacDonald explained.

“Having learned the theory behind everything over the previous years, now this is an opportunity to practice it and to put something together that could actually be used and put to work.”

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