IMC undergraduate certificate students create campaign for Fox Sports

Justine Johnson-Makuch (WCAS12) took Entertainment Marketing as part of her IMC course plan. It was supposed to be just another undergraduate marketing class. Instead, it became a real-world career experience.

“I was shocked at how worthwhile this was,” Johnson-Makuch said.

Instead of working with a hypothetical client and audience, the fall 2012 Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) class paired its students with an actual client, Fox Sports.

“The class is all about understanding a brand, understanding the consumer and connecting them using entertainment marketing,” said IMC Lecturer Marty Kohr, who taught the class. Fox Sports reached out to Northwestern as part of its Creative University initiative, which seeks to give undergraduates a real marketing experience.

“Creative University was started five years ago by the top executives at Fox Sports,” said Christina Appleton, Manager of Strategic Partnerships at Fox Sports. “We started with two programs we had athletic relationships with, University of Southern California and University of Florida, in our first year and it was extremely successful.”

Students at the schools paired with Creative University in its first year created award-winning marketing campaigns for Fox Sports. Following this success, the company expanded Creative University to more colleges. Today, there are 15 schools in the program.

In Kohr’s Entertainment Marketing class, the Creative University project was introduced in the course’s first week. Representatives from Fox Sports, including Appleton, gave a presentation to the undergraduates about Creative University. The class then split into groups and were each given the same task to complete by the end of the quarter: outline the social media strategy for Fox Sports.

“This was all about deepening the fans’ engagement with Fox Sports using social media,” said Kohr. “It’s right at the epicenter of what’s going on in the real world.”

Just as if they were members of an actual marketing agency, the groups competed against one another to strategize for the best idea. Fox Sports returned to the class for a mid-quarter meeting with each of the groups, and then again at the end of the quarter to help judge final presentations.

Johnson-Makuch was part of the winning team, along with fellow graduating Northwestern seniors Mackenzie Barth, Rajul Parekh, Ceri Roberts (BSJ13), Sanjana Shankar and Jimmy Morrow.

“We weren’t super well-versed in the area of sports,” said Johnson-Makuch. “But that wasn’t what ended up being important for the social media campaign contract. It was really who was going to be able to connect with the consumer best.”

The team identified key issues in Fox Sports’ current social media presence, such as a lack of engagement with fans and the absence of a unified, relatable personality.

“We were working through it a lot, couldn’t really come up with anything that we loved and then all of a sudden we just had this idea.” said Barth. “And we just ran with it.”

After looking into a campaign done by P&G that honored mothers and fathers, the team decided to try a similar approach with Fox Sports. Their idea was that through a social media campaign, Fox Sports consumers could interact with the brand by sharing stories about their biggest fans: the parents.

In their final presentation, the group suggested that Fox Sports utilize humor and personal stories to bring a more human element to the brand, as well as invite fans to share their stories and foster two-way conversations through social media. The group predicted that Fox Sports could develop positive relations and brand loyalty with its audience. Down the road, the campaign could expand via apps, commercials and live events.

“They won because they had a strong idea,” said Kohr, “But then they put it together in a marketing communication strategy, creative messaging and engagement plan.”

Although the class ended in December, it wasn’t the last time the students heard from Fox Sports. In May they got word that the company was going to implement the plan.

In mid-June, Appleton returned to Evanston along with a video crew and other members of the Fox Sports marketing team. They filmed man-on-the-street interviews in downtown Evanston and invited the winning student group to join them, as well as participate by sharing stories of their experience with the campaign.

“When we got the idea from the students we really loved it, we loved the insight but at the same time we have to figure out, okay, how does this fit in with our current business initiatives?” Appleton said.

In collaboration with Fox Sports’ national social media and digital teams, the fan videos will be uploaded to a division of the Fox Sports website, which will also ask consumers to engage and share their own fan stories as well.

“That’s one of the things we really talked about a lot in our marketing classes, is storytelling and being able to connect with different consumers,” said Johnson-Makuch.

“And I think that having Fox Sports there, sort of in the background, always available to answer our questions and get feedback was really, really helpful.”

“We do a lot of classroom projects with the real world, particularly at the IMC graduate level,” said Kohr. “This was unique to be able to do one with Fox Sports and undergraduates.”

Kohr said that after this year’s experience with Fox Sports, Entertainment Marketing will continue its partnership with Creative University next year.

“It opened my eyes up to the value of having a real client.”