J Blue: Deep Dive into Advertising’s Ocean
Textbook learning is put into practice at Creighton’s student-run advertising practicum.
First, there was Portfolio Practicum in the 1990s. Then, in the early 2010s, the iJay Practicum entered the Heider College of Business experiential learning scene. With a new decade comes a new practicum player – J Blue Practicum.
J Blue is a two-semester course that replicates the advertising agency experience for junior and senior marketing and business intelligence and analytics (BIA) students who are considering a career in advertising. It provides extensive, real-world experience; students work with actual clients to develop a complete marketing and branding campaign, from discovery meetings to vision board development to final pitches.
“This class focuses on two streams of knowledge: agency management and creative execution,” says creator of the agency practicum, Tim McMahon, PhD, associate professor of practice in the Department of Marketing and Management.
“We had a profitable inaugural semester,” McMahon continues, referring to J Blue’s spring 2021 semester, “recruiting two clients and developing identity, marketing strategy, positioning materials and social media.”
Eight students were divided into two teams of four dedicated to either Portage Bank in Ceylon, Minnesota, or Full Circle Global, a Nebraska-based firm committed to establishing a cattle-raising and beef-processing company in Ghana, Africa. Teams were formulated according to complementary talents required to address strategy development and execution for their particular client, says McMahon.
The course is designed so that students from the first semester advance to a second semester and assume leadership roles. Seniors Emma Roth and Carlee Cline capitalized on their experience from J Blue’s introductory semester to become account supervisors for new clients Creative Hair Design and Decker Plastics Corporation in fall 2021.
Cline, a marketing and BIA major from Overland Park, Kansas, was seeking new skill sets by enrolling in J Blue. Her past internships, including co-working startup Populus, focused on corporate marketing. J Blue, however, immersed her in a typical ad agency environment and provided practice in developing client relationships that are integral components of marketing positions.
“I’ve found this practicum to be a crash course in what my future will be like,” she says.
Cline led the team assigned to Decker Plastics, a family-owned packaging business in Council Bluffs that produces custom flexible plastic solutions. Focusing on brand building and web design to increase their client’s visibility, the J Blue team proposed a modest rebrand and rebuilding the company’s website to make it more navigable. One specific strategy was to introduce Decker Plastics to new or prospective clients and reconnect it with past or current clients through a Christmas card campaign.
As team leader, Cline also got a crash course in management. In a traditional classroom setting, she is only responsible for her own work, she observes. How she performs on tests, papers and projects is largely a reflection of her individual efforts. But as a team leader, “I am also responsible for the growth, duties and success of others,” she says. “I am responsible for my team’s relationship with the client and making sure their needs are meet.”
Cline says her two semesters in the practicum have not only taught her hard marketing and analytics skills, but also transferrable skills emphasized in the Heider Mindset Curriculum.
“I’ve learned how I personally work best in a team and what to look for when I apply for future positions,” she adds. “I’ve also learned how to communicate with a client, and I am now confident in my emailing and interpersonal skills.”
Roth joined Cline as the second returning senior to the practicum this fall. The marketing major and management (entrepreneurship track) minor headed the team assigned to Creative Hair Design. Its focus was social media, in particular, creating guidelines for the salon’s social media platforms to boost awareness and increase follower numbers.
“It was exciting to teach a wide range of their stylists how to showcase their work on social media accounts,” says Roth.
“Creativity, collaboration and hard work will contribute to the success of a client. Because the class is so small, each individual has a big role to contribute to solving the client’s problem,” the Omaha native says.
McMahon is proud of what the first two J Blue cohorts have accomplished and expects the current third cohort to build on their successes. He considers his role in their success as more of a coach than a teacher and is excited to welcome Peggy Rupprecht, PhD, associate professor in the College of Arts and Science’s Computer Science, Design and Journalism Department, as an advisor to the course spring 2022.
McMahon had always intended to open the course to arts and sciences students, and in particular, those studying public relations. The practicum, he says, readily lends itself to cross-campus collaboration. Small enrollment allows J Blue students a truly meaningful experience, so it will grow to 12 students once he has the space to accommodate this growth.
“I would recommend J Blue Practicum to any student who is curious about how a company portrays itself and the work that goes into creating that image,” says Roth. “It taught me more than any single lecture or marketing book could.”