Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business

Marketing students turn pandemic into epic learning experience


Michele Cauley’s marketing students aren’t letting the COVID-19 health crisis get in the way of their learning. In fact, they’re leveraging it.

DCEC team members meet.
Developmental Center for Exceptional Children team members had a classroom meeting before classes went online.

“It’s experiential learning at its finest,” the College of Business professor of practice said. “These students will be forever changed by what they’re experiencing, which is going to provide them with a positive outcome from an otherwise negative situation. New skill sets are being formed, they’re learning how to adapt and be flexible, all of which they’ll need to do in their careers.”

Cauley’s two marketing classes were thrown a curve ball when they resumed classes online following spring break. Not only did they not return to normal classroom learning, they had to rethink the directions of their curriculum and projects because of the pandemic’s impact on them.

Social Media Marketing (3220) pivoted from its semester playbook and leveraged the health crisis to learn how companies, locally and nationally, responded to the pandemic. The class is examining various social media aspects of the crisis, from monitoring the spread of misinformation on the virus, to ranking brands on how well, or not, they are responding to the global crisis.

Helen's Hugs runner
A Helen’s Hugs ‘virtual’ runner posted his photo on Facebook.

“We’ve also had virtual presentations from local companies and agencies who shared with us the real-time adjustments these organizations are making to stay afloat and to serve their clients during these very fluid times,” Cauley said. “The insights these speakers shared with students were one of the silver linings of this otherwise dismal environment we’re living in now.”

Her Non-Profit Marketing (4290) class had teamed up to develop marketing plans for 16 area non-profit organizations. Before spring break, students presented their research and began mapping marketing plans for their clients.

“Of course, everything changed when we resumed classes online after spring break,” Cauley said. “All of their marketing campaigns had to be overhauled and it was done with everyone working remotely. Because many of the non-profits had fundraising campaigns, deliverables had to be shifted from event planning to more immediate needs like social media campaigns for donations and needed supplies.”

The course provides students real-world marketing experience while deepening their understanding of non-profits and their role in society, how they can leverage marketing communications to serve a community and address social issues.

One such non-profit is Helen’s Hugs, a local family foundation established in memory of Helen Corontzes, who was killed in a vehicle accident in 2006 in Myrtle Beach. In memory of Helen’s propensity for warm, authentic hugs and her love of horses, the foundation funds therapeutic equestrian riding for special needs children.

The foundation’s 14th annual 5K walk fundraiser, scheduled for May 3, was canceled due to COVID-19 social distancing restrictions. So, instead of planning for a real-time event, students proposed a virtual 5K that encouraged supporters to give back to their communities in memory of Helen and post their activities on social media.

MacKenzie Slade, a junior marketing major, said after spring break the Helen’s Hugs marketing team regrouped with a new strategy, and were determined to turn the canceled event into a positive.

“People walked, biked or ran 5Ks on their own time and volunteered time for community projects. They posted their activities on Helen’s Hugs social media channels, including Facebook and a new Instagram page we created @HelensHugs that now has more than 170 followers,” MacKenzie said.

Beyond the gratification of this service-learning project and experiencing how to adapt a marketing campaign, MacKenzie said there were other benefits.

Michele Cauley at laptop
Michele Cauley, professor of practice, conducts her non-profit marketing class remotely.

“The fact that we’re doing this virtually and not from a classroom, is motivational in itself and makes us focused on putting more time in on the project. The entire group is inspired and is stepping up. We are motivated to make this work for the family, given the hand COVID-19 dealt us.  We have a real client and are not about to let that client down.”

Lesa Corontzes, Helen’s mother and co-founder of the Helen’s Hugs, said when the decision was made to cancel this year’s 5K “it took the wind out of our sails.” She said MacKenzie and the marketing team immediately put the wind back in those sails with their enthusiasm and creative ideas.

“I’ve been absolutely blown away by the creativity, positive attitude and outstanding communication skills these students showed,” Corontzes said. “Every time I saw an email from MacKenzie, I was excited because I knew another creative idea was coming our way. They gave life to Helen’s Hugs and they did it out of kindness and caring for not letting the pandemic conditions we’re dealing with stop us from moving forward. I’m honored to have been given the opportunity to work with these students.”

Cauley said through the non-profit team projects, she witnessed attributes of the Gen Z students that reaffirmed her beliefs about what was important to them.

“This is a generation that wants to make a difference in the world in their own way. The project empowered them to create something positive out of a spiraling global health issue,” she said. “They stepped up for these organizations and showed selfless acts of service to people who help the hungry, homeless, disabled and those with addictions. The students have been committed and passionate about finishing the semester strong, and they’re doing it in a very positive way.”

The 16 non-profits participating in the marketing experiential learning project included: Developmental Center for Exceptional Children, Pendleton Historic Foundation, Lachlan’s Hope, Family Promise, Creating Habits and Norms GUiding Ethical decisions, Helen’s Hugs, Community Foundation of Greater Clemson, Clemson Center for Career and Professional Development, Envision Williamston, Miracle Hill Ministries, Clemson Chamber of Commerce, Road 18 Charities – Spitoono, FAVOR Greenville, Clemson Community Care, Clemson Corps, Fort Hill Clemson Club.

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