Kellogg World Alumni Magazine, Winter 2004Kellogg School of Management
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Without a net (almost)
The Kellogg Advanced Marketing Practicum lets students tackle the complex world of business in a way that resembles what they’ll encounter after earning their MBA

By Matt Golosinski

Sometimes teaching marketing can feel like performing surgery without patients.

That’s an analogy Professor Gregory Carpenter suggests when he discusses the Advanced Marketing Practicum (AMP), a new Kellogg School course that brings students together with real-world practitioners to solve tough business challenges.

In medical school, says Carpenter, students begin in the classroom learning from anatomy textbooks and lectures. Then they advance to courses that train them in surgical or other techniques. And finally these future physicians will apply their skills on actual patients.

“It’s a graduated process,” says Carpenter, the James Farley/Booz Allen Hamilton Professor of Marketing Strategy. “Obviously these students don’t get near a live person in the operating room until after they have demonstrated satisfactory technical progress. There is a middle step between the classroom and the real world.”

This is true for medical students, and now it’s also true for Kellogg School MBA students looking to gain experience with more complex business problems, Carpenter notes.

Kellogg provides this “middle step” by strengthening the overall academic experience for its marketing students through AMP, a course that was offered for the first time last winter. About 25 students were thrown into the “deep end of the pool,” says Carpenter, to work with corporate partners, including Leo Burnett, on actual business challenges.

Read the related story: "Best in Class"

The course is structured along less traditional lines, compared to many Kellogg offerings, to enable students to experience some of the complexity that awaits them once they assume leadership roles in marketing. In fact, AMP is designed to provide special value for those looking to launch careers as marketing experts, rather than for students seeking a little functional familiarity in marketing, but who do not anticipate delving too deeply into the discipline.

Says Bobby Calder, the Charles H. Kellstadt Distinguished Professor of Marketing, and the practicum’s co-director: “The students in our inaugural class faced real projects and worked with a real corporate team looking to solve actual client problems. They had an opportunity to see how complex life outside the classroom can be when you are managing these types of challenges.”

Zero coddling
The corporate partners had high expectations of the Kellogg team, and treated them similarly to the way they would treat colleagues or consultants. There was zero coddling; they wanted results. Some students were a bit surprised by the intensity of the experience, say Calder and Carpenter.

For Seth Goldberger ’04, however, the practicum worked perfectly to provide him with a challenging, if unconventional, academic environment. Goldberger calls the course “student-driven” and “loose,” but says it was these qualities that helped deliver fresh, valuable insights for the participants.

“Our team had a unique opportunity to work for a large CPG company and advertising firm in a ‘safe’ environment where the only fear was a potentially bad grade, versus the fear of being fired in the real world,” says Goldberger, now product marketing manager for the online business of American Greetings Corp.

The students didn’t have to memorize difficult formulas or textbook chapters, he says, but the practicum really tested their ability to think on their feet.

“There was an infinite number of potential solutions that my team and I had to choose from,” Goldberger explains, adding that their project involved enhancing the branded characters associated with the Kellogg breakfast cereal line. “We had to think for ourselves. This is a bold assignment for a professor to give a group of eager, imaginative MBA students, and we took full advantage of the situation.”

  Without a net (almost)

Real problems, real solutions, real learning
Student thought leadership and team leadership come together in the practicum to produce a rich learning opportunity that leverages and tests classroom insights. Strategies that looked strong in the abstract or on the textbook page can sometimes show their limitations when applied in a real context. Similarly, ideas that at first glance seemed improbable can, when honed, lead to compelling opportunities.

For their part, the corporate partners with whom the Kellogg teams worked were pleased with the practicum — and especially the creative energy the students brought to their work.

“It was great to be able to harness fresh young minds to share in the concepting of new marketing channels for time-cherished brands,” said Laura Caraccioli-Davis, senior vice president and director of Chicago-based marketing firm Starcom Entertainment, one of the companies that participated in the practicum.

Starcom’s associate director, Tom Weeks, said that his company came away from the experience with novel perspectives from the students, while the students benefited “by learning how to sell that thinking through at a client level.”

This kind of benefit is precisely what some students, and many recruiters, had been requesting, says Carpenter.

When Kellogg recently conducted a curriculum review and interviewed students, alumni and recruiters to gain their perspectives about the school’s marketing program, the data indicated that students were pleased with the summer internship between their first and second years, but that they also wanted more actual work experience before graduation. Recruiters, meanwhile, found Kellogg students exceptionally well trained in concepts and skills, but suggested that those strengths would be bolstered with the addition of a new course such as the Advanced Marketing Practicum.

So the Kellogg administration moved forward to meet this request, with Carpenter and Calder spearheading the effort.

Designing the course proved challenging, even for these seasoned professors. One hurdle with which they had to contend involved striking the proper balance between structure and complexity, giving the students a real-world academic experience but delivering it within the parameters of a 10-week class. Carpenter says this challenge of “finding the right kind of problem” to give to students is a perennial one, but it is especially important to address in a course such as AMP.

Professor Greg Carpenter  
© Nathan Mandell
Professor Gregory Carpenter

“The material has to be sufficiently structured, yet complex enough,” he says. “If you make the material too real and complex, it’s impossible to complete in 10 weeks.”

On the other hand, with a teaching tool such as the case study, realism is preserved at the expense of complexity, notes Carpenter. With AMP, Kellogg tries to deliver both.

“That’s a little tricky,” Carpenter admits, but achieving the mix is key for successfully preparing marketing majors for the rigors of post-graduation life.

Calder says that in addition to the traditional marketing problems, such as how to use marketing to be more innovative and how to tap into the consumer experience to gain the insights to be more innovative, other conundrums exist.

“One of the cutting-edge problems facing marketers involves the structure of brands within organizations, and how to orchestrate that structure,” says Calder. “There are no obvious answers to some of these questions.”

Other issues of concern to marketers include those associated with the mass market, where fragmentation has created thousands of potential audiences. And these audiences have grown more savvy at using technology to customize their media experiences. (Think TiVo.)

“How do you market through these challenges?” asks Calder.

The questions may never get easier for marketers; but by blending theory with practice, Kellogg gives its students an excellent shot at discovering answers to some of the most pressing challenges.

“Giving students a real-world experience is what Kellogg is all about,” says Marc Landsberg ’89, executive vice president of corporate strategy and innovation at Leo Burnett and member of the Kellogg Alumni Advisory Board. “There is a constant permeability between theory and practice, which is what makes the Kellogg learning environment so rich.”

Landsberg adds that he is “amazed” at the value of the contributions that Kellogg School students bring to the table as part of their AMP experience.

“They bring a different perspective, and the analysis is unusually thorough and rigorous,” says Landsberg. “Value-added? No doubt.”

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University