Bringing real-world marketing challenges into the Berkeley classroom

December 17, 2018

Female student in classroom sitting at desk smiling with blurred image of other students in backgroundIt’s the week of finals at UC Berkeley. Some students have spent days reviewing lecture notes and textbook material, but the students of Krystal Thomas's Product Branding & Entertainment (PBE) class have been working diligently on developing their team marketing launch campaigns.

Thomas, a faculty lecturer at the Haas School of Business, launched the PBE course in 2010 as a means to develop the next generation of branded entertainment executives. “The goal of the class is to produce student leaders with skills to develop engaging, connective, and financially productive marketing campaigns,” said Thomas. “Fundamentally, the course exposes students to practical applications of marketing theory by exploring real-time business challenges.” 


In the class, students have the opportunity to work with companies like Under Armour, LinkedIn, The Cooking Channel, Western Digital, and Bank of the West. Initially, each team was assigned to work with one client, but the course has since evolved to hosting “two clients per course with multiple teams ‘competing’ for the client win.” Thomas noted this process “simulates what happens when ad agencies pitch for business.”

A learning experience for students and companies

Haas-UA PanelistsThis semester, Under Armour challenged students to work on a product and brand re-launch effort for the company’s women’s division, with a focus on recent graduates and those entering the job force for the first time.

Working directly on real issues with industry leaders benefits students beyond the definitions and written theories they learn in the classroom. “It’s one thing to have memorized the theory, but when you test the ideal against the real, it's immediately apparent what works and what doesn't,” emphasized Thomas.

“Case studies of this nature are real case studies that Under Armour is also working on in real time,” noted Kayla Santos, associate brand marketing manager for Under Armour. “These types of situations really help students take their foundation and apply it in a way that can then give them vision into what their projects might be like after graduation.”

Companies also praise the benefits of classroom engagement. As a prime target audience for many industries, students can provide direct feedback and suggestions on current campaigns, products, and services. Santos noted that at times executives can “lose sight of outside perspectives,” but having student input is influential to giving companies a diverse viewpoint.

“Students bring objective perspective and ideas to our industry leaders, free from the internal politics or group think that can stifle ideation and imagination inside of even the best companies,” said Thomas. “When executives take PBE ideas back to their teams, it gives them ammunition to interact with all levels of their organizations for critical discussions they otherwise wouldn't be able to have.”

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