In Principles of Marketing, students usually explore marketing fundamentals and identify strategies for clients. This year, Sara Hanson, assistant professor of marketing, decided to give the students a real shot at making a difference for two local companies, by having them carry out their proposed strategies over the course of the semester.

“The purpose of the course is to introduce students to the topic of marketing as part of the business core,” Hanson said. “The project itself is meant to develop students’ strategic and creative thinking by applying concepts learned in class to a real world project.”

She connected students with Jacob’s Chance, a nonprofit providing inclusive programs for children and young adults with different abilities throughout Richmond, and ReRunner, a retail return service that picks up and returns items for the consumer. Hanson says she was blown away by the results.

Eliza Hancock, ’21, worked with Jacob’s Chance.

The task of our semester-long project was to develop strategic marketing recommendations and then execute them by applying the marketing skills we learned throughout the course,” Hancock said.

She and her group, including Michael Baker, Claire Burke, and Will Tamplin, ‘21 recommended applying for a Google Grant, a program that provides up to $10,000 per month of free advertising for nonprofits. Shortly after applying, they got their answer. Kate Mardigian, the nonprofit’s founder, was there to receive the news. She had received the grant.

“She was thrilled,” Hancock said. “After the final presentation, I think she was relieved that the grant could be used going forward even though we had concluded our portion of the project.”

“My experience working with the students was beyond my expectations,” Mardigian said. “We were so thankful for all of the time and effort that was put in, as well as the amount of knowledge we received.”

Google advertising grants display nonprofit messaging to people who are searching for similar content. Qualifying nonprofits, like Jacob’s Chance, receive $10,000 in in-kind Google advertising every month.

“Working with the students opened my eyes to the importance of social media and marketing,” Mardigian said. “They reworked our website to better fit the needs of our audience, and explained different strategies for flyers and ways to promote our upcoming events.”

The other half of the class, including Emma Alvarez, Max Hasegawa, and Natalie Gillisse, ’21, worked with ReRunner to create strategic marketing recommendations to the company and execute them. The team suggested attending First Friday’s, a monthly art walk throughout the Richmond Arts District, to tell people about ReRunner.

“Working with a real client and carrying out our ideas made the project a lot more hands-on and tangible, therefore we were willing to put in more effort,” Alvarez said. “Learning about the company insights and trying different strategies allowed us to better understand how the concepts we learned about in class come into play with a real marketing situation.”

Sarah Abubaker, founder and CEO of ReRunner, connected with Dr. Hanson through the University of Richmond’s Career Services, and says working with the students gave her new ideas for boosting company awareness in the area.

“Each group found that there was a lot of potential for ReRunner if people became aware of the service,” Abubaker said. “They also thought that the launching an app would provide a good deal of new exposure and customer acquisition. I agree with those observations, and that is something that we are pursuing.” 

She said she appreciated the students’ enthusiasm for the project, and was grateful for Dr. Hanson’s expertise.

“I typically run this project differently where presentation of strategic ideas is the outcome, rather than actual tactical execution. However, given the value that 42 insightful and enthusiastic UR business students can provide, we altered the project to allow students to run the marketing programs they recommended,” Hanson said. “As many students express interest in starting their own businesses, I think this was a unique experience that provided some initial exposure into the world of entrepreneurship.”