The University of Georgia’s Jennifer Osbon isn’t the average book, lecture and exam kind of teacher.
A full-time lecturer in the Terry College of Business’ Department of Marketing, Osbon wants her students to come away with a valuable, marketable skill set after taking her Digital Marketing Analytics course.
The best way to ensure they really master the concepts she’s taught them is by using their marketing knowledge in the real world.
Inspired by a project in which she and other volunteers helped build 48 websites for 48 nonprofits in 48 hours last summer for Atlanta’s 48 in 48 event, Osbon partnered with five Google-grant-qualifying nonprofits in the Atlanta area for her MARK 4650 course.
“As a learning tool, it’s natural for students to create plans. We do lots of planning in school,” she said. “Now they get to do a plan, they get to actually invest the money, they get to see how it performs and make tweaks and changes and recommendations for the future. So they’re not only helping the nonprofit, but they’re also getting the real-world experience of actually investing—not playing around with it or getting close to it or seeing how it works—they actually do it and look for actual results.”
The nonprofits received the grants from Google as a way of growing their online presence. It works like this: Every time someone searches Google, paid advertisements show up at the top of the search results. Each click-thru to the advertised site has a cost for the organization or company. Google grants gives nonprofits $10,000 a month to invest in Google AdWords, meaning that instead of paying Google, they can focus on increasing their volunteer base and expanding their brand’s reach online.
In Osbon’s course, students become certified in Google Analytics Individual Qualification and Google AdWords Fundamentals and another advanced AdWords test with topics ranging from search advertising, mobile advertising or shopping advertising. The Google Analytics certification shows potential clients that a student is knowledgeable in how to use Google’s tracking system for online usage. AdWords, on the other hand, is a marketing system used on Google that lets advertisers pay to show up in relevant Google searches, and certification allows recognition of an individual as an online advertiser.
Coming out of the course with these professional certifications makes the students very competitive in the industry, she said.
This semester, students in the class are working with Warrick Dunn Charities, which helps single parents and their children; International Community School, which helps educate refugee and immigrant children; Race for the Orphans, which sponsors annual races to raise money for families looking to adopt children; Pebble Tossers Inc., which helps people find volunteer projects for youth; and the YWCA of Greater Atlanta, which focuses on empowering young girls and women through advocacy and education.
The goal for the class projects is to increase the donation bases of the nonprofits and to increase their volunteers by attracting more attention to the causes, Osbon said.
Each of the five nonprofits has five groups of four students working on their marketing efforts.
Because the grant money isn’t hard cash, there’s a bit of a “safety net” for the students, Osbon said. If the advertising campaigns are successful, that’s great, but if they aren’t, there isn’t the fear of wasting someone else’s money.
“At the same time, because you know it is a large sum of money that could help, it makes you feel more inclined to work harder and actually do the work,” said Kelsey Clark, a junior marketing and finance major taking the class.
Clark is working for Warrick Dunn Charities this semester, a cause that is close to her heart as she was raised by a single mom.
But the project is useful on a practical level as well.
“As a junior, it’s been really helpful in interviews for internships because I can tell them that I’m actually handling $10,000 a month and working with an actual company and charity that is making a difference instead of just saying we had to write a paper explaining what we would do,” Clark said. “I can say we actually did this. These were our results, and this is how it helped the charity.”
The nonprofits aren’t left high and dry at the end of the semester, though. As the students learn how to manage the grant money and marketing efforts, they pass on that knowledge to the workers at the nonprofits. Osbon is also considering adding an intern who will manage the five charities over the summer until next fall’s class can take over where this semester’s students left off.
Osbon wants to continue to grow the program, something that is definitely doable given the demand for her classes. Every semester, she gets emails from students begging to be let into her courses. In addition to her two sections of Social Media Marketing Strategy and one section of Digital Marketing Analytics, Osbon is also teaching an extra “overload” class on the subject every semester until at least spring 2017.
But “the demand is just thrilling,” she said.