An elite team of students from the University of Houston's Jack J. Valenti School of Communication accepted the challenge from the prestigious National Student Advertising District Competition—an ironman contest testing their advertising and public relations mettle. Twenty teams in the district that include UH considered a communication challenge involving a real-world business and competed to create the best strategy. This year's challenge involved JC Penney and how to encourage women ages 25-34 to change their perception of the retailer.
"Our students develop a fully integrated communication campaign, from a marketing problem to advertising, public relations, social media and digital solution, and that's really where the business is going, an integrated, total problem-solving solution," said Professor Larry Kelley, who, together with Professor Rosario Laudicina, mentored the UH team.
Twenty-one students were selected from a pool of 60 for a semester long class that incorporated the competition. The project demanded time, lots of time—early mornings, late nights, weekends and Spring Break. Three months were willingly surrendered for the benefit of Team Cougar Concepts.
"My parents were like, 'why are you gone all the time, even Spring Break', and I was like, 'I promise I'm at school!'" laughed Mike Le, part of the Cougar Concepts media team.
Students took into account consumer trends, cultural trends and communication trends as they pursued the case study of the retailer. Their research included consumer surveys, in-store interviews and a communication program that also addressed how merchandise would operate in the stores.
"I worked with the team, where we were going to buy the media, what we were going to spend, how we were going to spend, the flow chart, when it was going to run," said Scott Gilbert, head of the media effort. "You get to learn everything from interpersonal communication, leadership—we all took leadership roles—and just being able to do that and seeing that, 'hey I can accomplish that,' has been really cool."
The result was a 32-page summary of their work and a 20-minute presentation. Their efforts garnered a second place award—the second straight award-winning effort for a UH team.
"I am really honored to have been a part of this team," said Stephanie Villacorta, who headed up the team's in-store communication efforts. "People need to start looking again at UH, Tier One is well deserved for us...and I graduated from UH."
Cougar Concepts is part of what's happening at the University of Houston. I'm Marisa Ramirez.
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